Fortunately, the Suns have taken care of business at home recently to pull their season out of the muck and into 9th place in the West. One final win on this homestand tonight against Houston can pull the Suns within 1/2-game of a playoff spot. Sounds rosy, right?
Unfortunately, the only thing rosy about the subsequent 15 games are the thorns.
Starting Tuesday in Miami, the Suns play 12 of their next 15 on the road with two of their home games against Western powers San Antonio and Los Angeles (Lakers). Ouch. If you look at current records and team strengths, the Suns would be favored to win only 4 of those 15 games.
After the jump, take a look at the Suns' upcoming opponents as well as the schedules of their immediate competition for a playoff spot (including pretty charts).
*All graphs courtesy of basketball-reference.com
Playing only the odds, the Suns could comfortably be expected to win just 4 of those 15 games (Cavaliers, Hornets, Kings and Jazz). But really, that's even a stretch since only 1 of those games (Hornets) is a home game. The other teams will likely be tanking though, enhancing the Suns' chances for a needed W.
But what of the other 11 games in that 15-game stretch? Which of those can the Suns hope to win? Maybe Orlando, the NBA's best impression of Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe Indiana, who just got smoked by an energized Knicks team twice in a row. Maybe the Timberwolves, sans Rubio. And maybe Houston, who the Suns seem to be able to beat fairly often.
So, if all goes really well, then the Suns might take 7 or 8 wins out of this 15-game stretch. But you can't put those 7 or 8 wins in your back pocket. Just thinking reasonably, the Suns will lose at least 2 of those "winnable" games. To offset those losses, the Suns would have to pull off a couple of upsets against better teams just to come out of this 15-game stretch with a .500 record.
A reasonably optimistic final record after the schedule gets a lot tougher? 33-33.
Now the big question: is that enough to make the playoffs?
Here are the current standings...
According to basketball-reference.com, the Suns project only to 31 wins (a 9-13 finish) and an 11% chance to the make the playoffs (behind Houston, Portland, Minnesota and Utah).
Let's take a look at the playoff projections:
As you can see, the Suns project to have the toughest finishing schedule of any team close to them in the standings. Sure the projected record for remaining games is similar (ranging 9 to 12 wins), but 3 games is a huge difference in the standings.
Will Portland AND Utah tank the rest of the season, dropping them out of the hunt? Probably.
Will Minnesota lose more than half their remaining games without Ricky Rubio? Maybe.
But will Houston lose most of their remaining games? That's the big "I dunno". They've been bad recently, despite Dragic "killing it" in the last few, but they picked up Marcus Camby at the deadline and remain, overall, more talented than the Suns.
That's a lot that has to go right for the Suns to make the playoffs, BSotS fans.
What say you? Will the Suns earn the right to play OKC in the first round?
Last night, the Phoenix Suns took care of business at home by beating the Detroit Pistons who had previously won five of their last seven games. The Suns led early but fell behind in the second quarter, and although the Suns kept it close, the Pistons held onto the lead all the way until the fourth quarter. But the determined Suns just kept pouring it on, hitting clutch shots and getting crucial stops at the end of the game to pull ahead and eventually win the game 109-101.
But this wasn't just any game. No, this game was a milestone of sorts that would prove to the fans, the NBA, and also the team itself that the Phoenix Suns were back. After a disappointing start to the season and plenty of struggles along the way, the Suns have seemed like a different team altogether since the All-Star break, winning eight of their ten games against some tough competition. This was the Suns' third game in just as many nights, and after winning their first two, the Suns were in position to go undefeated over the taxing three-game stretch.
By winning the third game in a row of a brutal back-to-back-to-back stretch, the Suns not only joined the prestigious ranks of the Miami Heat, OKC Thunder, and Chicago Bulls as the only teams to win all three of their consecutive games, they also brought their playoff hopes back to life by earning a record of 22-22 and reaching the .500 mark; an NBA barometer of sorts that separates the wheat from the chaff, or the contenders from the pretenders if you will.
The Suns are now in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, and only two games behind Denver for the 8th and final playoff seed. Even better, the Western Conference is so bunched together that the Suns are also only three games behind the L.A. Clippers for the fourth seed. What once seemed like an impossible long-shot now seems well within reach...The Suns are officially back in the playoff hunt.
The win last night was a total team effort with multiple contributions that helped make a difference. It seems like just yesterday that the only consistency the Suns could count on was from Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. However, last night nearly every player that stepped on the court found a way to help the team win, and I believe that has been the biggest difference in the recent success of the Suns.
Here are some of the other reasons I believe the Suns were successful against not only the Pistons last night but since the All-Star break as a whole:
Keys To Victory:
As long as the Suns continue to play hard as a team and the individual players continue to work hard at improving their games, I see no reason why this team can't continue it's winning ways. I never would have thought the Suns would be in this position after such a rough start to the season, but they have fought very hard to prove that they can be a winning team who can compete with anyone when they are playing well together. Their 8-2 record since the All-Star break is among one of the best in the league, and the rest of the NBA is beginning to take notice. The Suns may not have the flashiest players, or an owner with the deepest pockets, but they do have a real team atmosphere they've built together headed by two ageless vets who also happen to be two of the finest, classiest ambassadors of the game that the league has ever known. I believe their influence, along with the overall attitude and climate of the organization, has done wonders for bringing these players together and helping each and every one of them truly buy into this team's philosophy and the belief that they can win.