Selection Sunday has come and gone and the Phoenix Suns still find themselves a bubble team. But what if the playoffs did start today... and what if the NBA altered their ineffective playoff seeding format?

The Suns made a statement to the selection committee with their early morning romp against the Toronto Raptors, but still have their work cut out for them with just 16 games to go.

Memphis is still one game up on the Suns and also own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Since starting just 15-19 while dealing with injuries the Grizzlies are 24-8 over their last 32 games.

Dallas is 1.5 games ahead of Phoenix and has won 14 of their last 20. The Mavericks start an eight game home stand tomorrow and their remaining schedule is far from daunting.

Golden St. and Portland are almost out of striking distance.

The battle for the playoffs may very well come down to the very last games that include Dallas vs Phoenix on 4/12, Phoenix vs Memphis on 4/14 and Dallas @ Memphis on 4/16, the last night of the regular season.

There's a real chance it's going to take 50 wins to get in.

Unless you're in the Eastern Conference. At 27-40 the New York Knicks still have an outside chance. If the Atlanta Hawks continue at their current pace they will finish around 37-45.  That means NY might make it interesting if they can close out 10-5.

37 wins. That's all it takes. Maybe less. The Suns already have 38.

Obviously the current system in the NBA sucks. But if we know anything about broken systems in professional sports it's that they tend to be perpetuated for interminably and excruciatingly long periods of time (see college football) before even some movement is made in the right direction.

Seeing as how I'm caught up in NCAA Basketball mayhem I decided I'd take a stab at seeding the NBA teams in a 16 team bracket and see how it compared to the match ups we would be "looking forward to" under the current rules.

Rankings_3

*Table courtesy of teamrankings.com

This table is part of what I used in my seeding process. I factored in things like win/loss vs best opponents, injuries, how teams have played in the second half of the season compared to the first, etc...

To be quite candid, I didn't pore through all of this in excruciating detail. Like the real committee I was able to throw something together by the seat of my pants. Of course, I'm sure you'll be interested where I've got our beloved Suns slated.

#3 Seed (10 overall), South Bracket, Phoenix Suns 38-28

Good Wins - @ Houston Rockets 97-88 12/4, @ LA Clippers 107-88 12/30, @ Indiana Pacers 102-94 1/30, vs San Antonio Spurs 106-85 2/21,  vs Oklahoma City Thunder 128-122 3/6

Bad Losses - vs Sacramento Kings 106-113 11/20, vs Utah Jazz 104-112 11/30, vs Cleveland Cavaliers 101-110 3/12

Last 10 5-5

Intangibles - Return of Eric Bledsoe

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Here's the rest of the bracket starting with #1 overall seed Oklahoma City in the Midwest bracket.

Midwest

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (1)

2. Memphis Grizzlies (8)

3. Portland Trail Blazers (9)

16. Minnesota Timberwolves (16)

South

1. San Antonio Spurs (2)

2. Golden St. Warriors (7)

3. Phoenix Suns (10)

4. Washington Wizards (15)

West

1. Los Angeles Clippers (3)

2. Houston Rockets (6)

3. Dallas Mavericks (11)

4. Brooklyn Nets (14)

East

1. Indiana Pacers (4)

2. Miami Heat (5)

3. Chicago Bulls (12)

4. Toronto Raptors (13)

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The Bracket

Bracket_3

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The current NBA playoff structure based off of the Conference and Divisional seeding is a joke. Travel and regional considerations have much less importance than they once did.

Why the hell does it make sense that each Conference should be represented in the Championship game of a sport?

Here's where college basketball and football are doing better than the pros. The NFC was a much stronger conference in the NFL last season. The Western Conference is much stronger than the East in the NBA. Not only should teams not be left out of the playoffs based on this (Arizona Cardinals), but it actually creates an even bigger competitive disadvantage from the standpoint that a team in the weaker conference has an easier road to the championship game. Less of a chance to get worn down and beaten up.

The Miami Heat have one series (Indiana) to get to the Finals.

OKC could have Memphis, Houston and San Antonio.

That's ridiculous.

This adds to the bottom end talent, too. By culling Atlanta and Charlotte it adds Minnesota and Phoenix. The darling Suns and Kevin Love are just slightly more watchable than those two godawful teams. I can guarantee you that there's no way in hell I'll watch a playoff game that involves Atlanta or Charlotte, perhaps even if players on their rosters are in the stands cheering on real playoff teams.

The seeding premise is just based on the NCAA bracket theme. The real idea is this.

Seed the teams by record 1-16 and let them at it irrespective of divisions and conferences. I might even tweak it different ways, but this would be a pretty damn simple and easy to implement improvement.

The wake up call came a bit earlier than usual for the Phoenix Suns, but it didn’t seem to phase them at all. The Suns rolled out of bed and into a shootout with the Toronto Raptors, grabbing the...

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I hoped you like excitement with your bacon and eggs!  The early match-up between the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors was a high-scoring, fast-paced treat and a nice change of pace from the quicksand sloppiness of the Suns' victory over the Boston Celtics.  Phoenix kept up their winning ways, downing Toronto 121-113 to sweep the season series versus the Raps.  Gerald Green rediscovered his shooting touch, scoring 28 points on 9-18 shooting.  The whole team rediscovered its defensive focus.  Despite giving up 113 points, Phoenix held Toronto to 49.4% shooting and 30.4% from downtown.  And they absolutely destroyed Toronto on the boards, outrebounding them 45-26.  It was a much-needed solid win over a playoff-bound team.

Goran Dragi? put up a now-typical line of 19 points and 4 assists.  Eric Bledsoe did most of his damage at the free throw line, going a perfect 10-10 en route to 14 points.  Markieff Morris was invaluable, gobbling up 14 rebounds to go with his 16 points and P.J. Tucker did an excellent job on Raptors' leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, holding him to 17 points on 6-16 shooting.

Hats off to a terrific Toronto team who stayed with the Suns till the last minute.  Kyle Lowry started slowly, but finished with 28 points ant 13 assists.  And Toronto's starting frontcourt was tremendous offensively, but offensive defensively.  Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross combined for 57 points on 23-36 rebounds, but only managed a meager 8 rebounds between them.

Phoenix will need to continue its momentum on both ends of the court against the Nets tomorrow night in Brooklyn.

First Half

The pace favored the Suns early if the score did not.  Miles Plumlee drew 2 fouls in first 5 minutes and went to the bench early, sparing Suns fans more in-and-out jump hooks.  It didn't matter who was guarding Jonas Valanciunas as he was killing the Suns in the paint and from the wing, going 6-8 for 13 first quarter points to pace the Raptors.  For Phoenix, Goran Dragi? carried the offense early until Gerald Green entered the game and re-discovered his touch, hitting his first 5 shots to match Valanciunas' 13 points.  The offense was firing on all cylinders even if the defense continued to struggle.  Despite giving up 65% shooting, the Suns took a 37-35 lead in to the second quarter.

The fast pace continued into the second, but not the hot shooting.  After both teams shot over 60% to start the game, they went a combined 2-12 in the first 3 minutes of the second stanza.  The Phoenix bench found some long-absent defensive intensity and managed to open up and maintain a 7 to 9 point lead.  P.J. Tucker continued his strong play, going to the line on consecutive possessions after getting fouled grabbing big offensive rebounds.

The defensive intensity continued once most of the starters re-entered the game.  After allowing 35 first quarter points, Toronto only managed 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the second.  But the last 2 minutes of the second quarter were disastrous, as Toronto went on a 10-2 run to close a 10-point gap to 2.  At the half, the Suns lead 61-59.

Second Half

Hey!  Remember back when Miles Plumlee looked like a total steal?  He looked like that again in the second half, taking Valanciunas off the dribble and then showing some fine footwork on an up-and-under move for 4 straight Suns points early in the third quarter.  Further helping the Suns' cause, P.J. Tucker continued to lock up DeMar DeRozan.  After the Raptors got calls nearly every time they entered the lane, the Suns got strips on consecutive possessions with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.  On the second, both Raptors coach Dwane Casey and DeRozan drew technical fouls.  Eric Bledsoe hit both free throws to extend the Phoenix lead back to 10, 80-70.

And that was just the beginning of the fireworks!  P.J. Tucker forced yet another turnover which led to 2 more Eric Bledsoe free throws. Then Miles Plumlee blocked an Amir Johnson dunk attempt which led to a Tucker fast break lay-up, stretching the lead to 14 before a Terrence Ross lay-up stopped the bleeding for the Raptors.  It was a tremendous defensive stretch for a Suns team that has struggled on that end for several games. Sadly, it didn't last as Kyle Lowry proceeded to demonstrate that his All-Star snub was just as egregious as The Dragon's, scoring 10 of Toronto's next 16 points to cut the Suns' lead to 2.  The Suns recovered to lead 96-90 after three.

The fourth quarter started with continued strong defense by Phoenix, holding Toronto scoreless for the first 4 minutes, while stretching their advantage to 14.  While Toronto never gave up on the came, they were unable to get any closer than 7 points as the game came to a close.

Time: 10:00 a.m. MDT TV: FSAZ When last the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors faced one another this season, the direction of both were facing in opposite directions. The Suns were slightly above...

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What: Phoenix Suns vs. Toronto Raptors

Where: Air Canada Center - Toronto, ON

When: Sunday, March 16 - 10:00AM ARIZONA TIME!

Set your alarms, Arizona and West Coast Suns fans!  The Phoenix Suns (37-28) will make like the real sun and rise and shine for an early morning tip-off against the Toronto Raptors (37-27) on Sunday morning.  I can't find the statistics to back it up, but I can't help but think the 1:00PM local time tip-off bolsters an already significant homecourt advantage for the Raps.  As they say in neighboring Quebec, "C'est la vie!"

The Opponent - Toronto Raptors

Toronto currently sports the third best record in the Eastern Conference and is a sturdy 20-12 at home.  They are even a respectable 14-12 versus Western Conference opponents.  The Raptors owe some of their seeding to some tremendous underperforming by the Chicago Bulls (due to injuries) and Brooklyn Nets (due to systemic underperformance).  Nevertheless, they have earned their wins via a calculated and efficient offense and stout defense.

There are a lot of similarities between these two ball clubs.  Like Phoenix, Toronto learned the benefits of addition by subtraction, sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes (most of whom form the core of Toronto's bench unit).  Along with Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was tapped for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in December.  Similarly, this is a young athletic team led by a dynamic guard duo in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Continuing the likenesses, Toronto loves the 3-ball, garnering 25.2% of their total points scored behind the arc, vs. 26.5% for the Suns.

Unlike Phoenix, these Raps don't run.  At 23rd in the NBA in pace, they are the kind of slow deliberate team that have given the Suns fits all season long.  Combine that pace with the 6th ranked defensive rating in the NBA and this is a tough match-up for a Phoenix team that's struggled in the half court all season long.  Playing the role of wild card for the Raptors is second-year forward Terrence Ross.  Ross averages 10.7 points per game, but is capable of going off, notching a 51-point game earlier this season.  With a strong bench comprised mostly of solid veterans, ALL of the Suns will have to come ready to play for Phoenix to get out of Canada with a win.

The Suns

Phoenix has clearly been struggling lately.  The defensive intensity has dropped from earlier in the season and as Dave King pointed out, there are cracks showing in the team's confidence.  Perhaps after 60+ games, this team is no longer "stupid enough" to just think they can win.

All is not lost by a damn sight, however.  Phoenix just snapped a 3-game losing streak by gutting one out versus the Boston Celtics.  Eric Bledsoe is looking as athletic as ever in his two games back from injury.  Goran Dragi? is playing as good or better than all but a handful of players in the NBA every single night.  P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee are double-double threats every time they take the floor.  Markieff Morris continues to make his case for Sixth Man of the Year consideration.  And coach Jeff Hornacek continues to inspire confidence in players and fans alike.

Your Phoenix wildcards for the game: Channing Frye and Gerald Green.  When one or both of those guys are hitting on offense, the Suns are nearly unbeatable.  When, they combine for a gnarly 3-18 from the field as they did against Boston... well, you get a team that struggles to score 90 points despite a season average of nearly 105 points per game.  Both players have struggled lately after having near career years from behind the 3-point line.  Toronto could be the cure for what ails them: despite that #6 defensive rating, Toronto allows the 10th highest 3-point percentage to opponents in the NBA.

The Stats

Suns-raptors_stats_medium

The Lineups

Suns-raptors_lineup_medium

The Key Match-up

Battle of Wills - These teams are evenly matched.  This game will go to whoever wants win number 38 the most.  The answers to the following questions will loom large in the outcome. Will Phoenix be able to get out and run or will Toronto manage to slow things down to the glacial pace they prefer?  Can the Suns manage a strong defensive showing for a second straight game?  Can Dragi? and Bledsoe outplay DeRozan and Lowry?  Will Frye and/or Green take advantage of the one weak link in Toronto's defensive prowess?

The Prediction

Toronto is playing to maintain home court advantage in the first and/or second round of the playoffs.  Phoenix is playing for their playoff lives.  The question of who wants it more shouldn't be a question at all.  As much as I think the matinee tip-off is a handicap for Phoenix (and could lead to a dreaded slow start), I think the Suns find a way to translate that desire into a close win over Toronto.  103-100, Phoenix.

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