The Phoenix Suns are still picked to lose the battle for the playoffs vs. Memphis and Dallas, but a closer look at the numbers shows the Suns are the best of the three teams.

With just a few games to play, most NBA observers are still counting the inexperienced, upstart Phoenix Suns out of the playoff picture despite the Suns holding a one-game lead over Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th spot and being just one win behind Dallas Mavericks for the 7th spot with four games to play.

Current standings:

  • Dallas 48-31, 7th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis
  • Phoenix 47-31, 8th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis, Sacramento
  • Memphis 46-32, 9th place, remaining games against Philadelphia, Lakers, Phoenix, Dallas
If you credit Memphis with wins over the lowly Sixers and Lakers, and Phoenix with a win over Sacramento, that gives all three teams 48 wins with the only games remaining against themselves or the San Antonio Spurs.

Crikey!

Phoenix MUST end the season with more wins than Memphis, since Memphis has the tiebreaker over the Suns no matter what happens in their game. If Phoenix beats Dallas, then Phoenix has the tiebreaker over Dallas.

In a three-way tie, Phoenix would lose out because of the 4 losses already to Dallas and Memphis this season.

Looks like it could take 50 wins to make the playoffs in the West, and that a 49-win team could be sent home without a ticket to the dance.

But who is playing best?

Memphis has gotten a lot of publicity for charging back into the playoff picture once their center, Marc Gasol, got healthy and Dallas has Dirk so... of course they are going to close out the clutch wins.

But it's the Phoenix Suns who are playing the best basketball of the three teams fighting for those last two spots.

Let's take a look at how each team has fared in their last 25 games with their preferred starting lineups. Everyone's healthy, so let's match up each other's best and duke it out.

But hey, you say, that could just be because the Suns have played the easier schedule. Certainly, the mighty Grizzlies with Gasol and Randolph and fiesty Mavericks with closer Dirk will be better on the bigger stage against playoff-worthy foes, right?

Against playoff teams (East and West), during that 25 games
  • Phoenix Suns - 10 wins, 4 losses against current playoff teams
  • Memphis Grizzlies - 7 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
  • Dallas Mavericks - 5 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
Hmm, so the Suns are doing pretty well against the playoff teams too? That's strange. The Suns sport an "upstart" lineup full of also-rans, underachievers and journeymen. How can this be?

Maybe the Suns are just feasting on the weak teams in the East. Certainly, against the mighty West is where the Suns will come up short.

Against Western Conference playoff teams (during that 25-game stretch)
  • Phoenix Suns - 6 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
  • Memphis Grizzlies - 2 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
  • Dallas Mavericks - 4 wins, 4 losses against West playoff teams
So, while the Suns have only played nine of those games against West playoff teams, that's more than the other contenders. The Grizzlies have only played five, while the Mavericks have split eight.

I encourage the nation to think again about which of these three teams will fail the head-to-head test over these last few games of the season. During wins over Portland and Oklahoma City in the past week, opposing coaches and players admitted the Suns just wanted it more. The Suns outworked, outhustled, and outplayed those playoff teams who were fighting for their own seeding position in the West.

It is SO FITTING that these three teams play each other at the end of the season. It really is a play-in series, and may the best team win. Certainly, the hottest team and most successful of the three is the Phoenix Suns.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Phoenix.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

#ignited

After missing a year with an enlarged heart, Channing Frye is now being recognized for having an over-large heart on and off the court.

We all know that Channing Frye is a good guy, and his story is quite inspiring. His name itself mean "buffet of goodness". Now, former NBA players are showing respect for how he approaches and plays the game.

Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye has been named a finalist for the 2013-14 NBA Sportsmanship Award, an honor that reflects the ideals of sportsmanship, ethical behavior, fair play and integrity.

Frye (Pacific) is one of six divisional winners, which include Boston's Jeff Green (Atlantic), Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy (Central), Washington's Bradley Beal (Southeast), Portland's Damian Lillard (Northwest), and Memphis' Mike Conley (Southwest). Each team nominated one of its players for the award, with former NBA players selecting the six divisional winners from a pool of 30 nominees.

NBA players will vote on the award, with eleven points given for each first-place vote, nine points for each second-place vote, seven points for third, five points for fourth, three points for fifth and one point for each sixth-place vote received.

Former Sun Grant Hill previously won this award three times (twice as a Phoenix Sun), after the 2004-05, 2007-08 and the 2009-10 seasons.

Frye missed all of last season with an enlarged heart - a viral condition with no cure other than rest and relaxation. There was no guarantee Frye would live, let alone play basketball again.

"Nothing is more important to us than the health and well-being of our players," said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. "Channing and his family have the full support of our organization. His health is our primary concern and we are committed to helping him in any way he needs."

A year of rest, golf and yoga later, he was cleared by multiple doctors and finally by the Suns to return at the beginning of training camp.

He did not exercise, or even break a sweat, for a full year. Suddenly, he's back on the practice floor a month before regular games begin. When he began working out with the team, Frye warned that he might not be ready by the beginning of the season. But he progressed quickly, and never had any restrictions or setbacks.

When the season began, Frye found himself in the starting lineup and he has never left it. Frye leads the team in games played and starts (78). The only Marcus Morris and Gerald Green have likewise played all 78 games, both coming off the bench for many of them.

I can't tell you how mind boggling it is that after taking a year off he has never had a physical setback. NBA basketball is no joke. The greatest athletes in the world congregate to some of the toughest endurance sports, including soccer/football and basketball.

Channing Frye is one of those athletes.

The greatest recipient of Frye's influence on the game has been his connection with Goran Dragic. Together, they lead the league in points per pick-and-roll possession (1.3). Even more than actual scoring, the threat of the score is what makes the Suns offense run.

Frye forces the defense to hug up on him at the three-point line, which opens the lane for drivers like Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to pick apart the defense.

Dragic explained it to Zach Lowe of grantland.com last week.

How much easier is your life when you can run a pick-and-roll with Channing Frye - a screener who can kill teams with outside shots?

Oh, man, a lot easier. It's a huge difference from this year to last year, when Channing was out. Everybody was so much inside the paint, that you could not create. You could not get to the inside. And right now, it's so much easier. They're so afraid he's going to knock down shots.

Defenders just have to stick to him, instead of helping against you as you go around the pick.

They have to be close to him. And that's one man less in the paint. It's so much easier.

There's one kind of drive you get - when your defender gets between you and Channing's pick, like he wants to send you away from the pick, but Channing's defender is sticking right to Channing. You can just drive into open space away from the pick, right?

Exactly. My guy is already on the side of me, and it's just much easier to penetrate. And if they help, of course, I'm going to find Channing.

Frye is a lifetime 38.5% three-point shooter who was well over 40% this season until recently.

But it hasn't all been roses and daisies this year for Frye. He likely denies it, but it's clear to many that his body has slowed down in the second half of the season. He is not moving as quickly (and he never did move that quickly) and is missing many of his shots.

His three-point percentages are dipping precipitously by the month:

  • December - 42.9%
  • January - 42.1%
  • February - 32.9%
  • March - 28.6%
  • April - 25.0%
Just in the last week, Frye sandwiched a 4-for-5 streak against the Clippers with 0-10 duds immediately before and after that run. At the same time, his rebounds per game have dropped from 5.7 in December to 3.0 per game in April.

But you still cannot discount the impact that Frye imposes on the opponents' defense. He is a career 40% shooter on three pointers, so they cannot leave him open at the three-point line even if he's in a slump. Frye could break out of that slump any time given enough opportunities and he won't stop trying.

Coaches cannot afford to ignore any Suns shooter, except maybe Ish Smith behind the three-point line that is.

ESPN just rolled out a new stat called 'Real Plus Minus'.
Drawing on advanced statistical modeling techniques (and the analytical wizardry of RPM developer Jeremias Engelmann, formerly of the Phoenix Suns), the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player.

The RPM model sifts through more than 230,000 possessions each NBA season to tease apart the "real" plus-minus effects attributable to each player, employing techniques similar to those used by scientific researchers when they need to model the effects of numerous variables at the same time.

RPM estimates how many points each player adds or subtracts, on average, to his team's net scoring margin for each 100 possessions played. The RPM model also yields separate ratings for the player's impact on both ends of the court: offensive RPM (ORPM) and defensive RPM (DRPM).

The stat is intended to point out the contributions of players that go beyond the box score. We have always known that some guys have a bigger impact on the game than others. There are also some guys who look better than they are because they play most of their minutes with the team's best players.


Screen_shot_2014-04-09_at_6
You guessed it. The Suns own Channing Frye leads the team in this new stat. Looking at the list, it passes "the smell test" for the most part but of course it isn't perfect.

Other Suns made the list as well. Goran Dragic is 26th in the league, while Eric Bledsoe is 31st. That's three of the league's top 31 players from the Suns. Not bad at all.

Still, it's nice to see Channing leading the way on something like this. Goran Dragic swears Channing is the lynchpin for this team. Opposing coaches have said their biggest worry is Channing Frye. After Frye burned them in the first quarter last month, the Wizards simply assigned Trevor Ariza to hug up on Frye the rest of the game. That took Frye out of the equation, but opened up the floor for everyone else, just as Dragic described to Lowe above.

As the season comes to a close, you know that Channing is chomping at the bit to break out of his slump. Hopefully, his body respond and he will find his stroke in the closing games of the season, as well as the playoffs.

In the process, we also hope he wins this Sportsmanship Award. At least, he won the Pacific Division!

It was not pretty. It was not very entertaining. But the Suns’ 94-88 win over the New Orleans Pelicans was still a win. And that is all that matters at this point in the season. We’ll start with the...

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Anthony Davis missed tonight's game for the struggling Pelicans, and it looked like the Suns had a chance to pull away early as New Orleans scored only 14 first quarter points. Then the Suns allowed the Pelicans to win the second and fourth quarters behind surprisingly strong bench play, and the Suns had to sweat it out in the end before finally vanquishing their shorthanded foes.

Tonight's game won't be sent to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for display. An injured and overmatched New Orleans Pelicans team gave the Suns all they could handle, as the Suns looked discombobulated and short on energy for most of the game before finally securing the critical 94-88 win.

Eric Bledsoe was scoreless until nearly midway through the third quarter before exploding for 12 points in the quarter, ending up with 16 points and 6 assists. Gerald Green continued his scorching play with 21, and Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker chipped in 20 and 15, respectively.

This game was a lot more difficult than it should have been for the Suns. New Orleans is 13 games below .500, had lost 5 straight going into tonight's game, and played without rising star Anthony Davis, out with a back injury. Nevertheless, the Suns struggled through a terrible second quarter, losing that period 32-24, and then trailing with 88-87 with 1:56 remaining in the game before the Suns sealed it with a 7-0 run.

The Pelicans were led by their bench, and strong performances from Jeff Withey, Anthony Morrow, Luke Babbitt and Austin Rivers. That isn't exactly a murderer's row there, but the Suns played an uneven game and, outside of Green, none of the Phoenix bench players could find a rhythm, nor could Channing Frye (4 points on 2-8 shooting).

With the win, the Suns maintain their 1 game lead on the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoff race. In the end, we won't remember this game for anything but the W, and that's enough. A loss tonight would have been catastrophic, and the Suns avoided that.

We can choose to see it that they mailed in tonight's performance, and that is inexcusable for a team in the Suns must-win position. Or we could see it that the Suns had an off night, yet still found a way to pull out the crucial win in the end, making all the plays down the stretch in that 7-0 to end the game.

Unfortunately, the Miami Heat were not able to help the Suns, losing to the Grizzlies 107-102, so the Suns failed to gain a game in the playoff race.

PHOENIX — It’s pretty simple for the Phoenix Suns. Win, and go to the playoffs. Somehow, that’s made Jeff Hornacek’s team find itself playing the best basketball of the year....

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