The Suns are winners.
You could tell that with how hard they played in November. It just was affirmed Monday night when a winning season was guaranteed by the Suns notching their 42nd win in a 102-94 road victory over Atlanta at half-empty Philips Arena.
It also said they can be a playoff team. A four-game winning streak has the Suns playing the best of the teams fighting for the Western Conference's final playoff spots. Monday's win with a balanced attack and more consistent defense put them back in eighth place, albeit a tie with a Dallas team that they will have to visit April12 to settle the head-to-head tiebreaker.
By this time a year ago, Suns players already were booking late April trips. This 42-29 Suns team is just trying to punch the franchise's first playoff ticket since 2010 and now is tied with Dallas (42-29), a half-game behind Memphis (42-28), two games behind Golden State (44-27) and three games behind Portland (45-26) with 11 remaining games.
The Suns needed to bail themselves out in the fourth quarter of the previous three wins but this was a steadier effort, although the first half looked like two teams who traveled from day games elsewhere Sunday.
Other than too many fouls (25 for 27 Hawks free-throw points), the Suns were a far better defensive team than the one that gave up 73 first-half points Sunday. They even jumped out to an 11-2 lead and led after the first quarter for the first time in five games.
"They (the Hawks) were 2 for 9 early I haven't looked at the score sheet in a while and seen that at the first time out," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Usually, it's seven for 10, eight for 11 or something like that. The first group got us going defensively and did it at the beginning of the third quarter."
The offense was a scoring relay on the team's 51.4 percent shooting effort that was only slowed by more careless ballhandling for 19 turnovers. Five Suns scored in double figures, led by Eric Bledsoe's 20.
"It's much easier when you have a lot of guys that are dangerous for a basket," Suns guard Goran Dragic said. "You can attack more. The defense cannot relax on one guy. That's the power of this team."
The Suns are winners.