The surging Phoenix Suns, winners of 11 of 16 games, face the mighty Borg-like San Antonio Spurs who appear to be able to beat any team with any lineup.
The Suns are about to face a difficult second-half schedule, starting with the Spurs tonight in Phoenix.
Those crazy Spurs are somehow able to beat any team with any lineup. On Wednesday night, they sat Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker (variety of maladies) and still beat the Portland Trailblazers behind 29 points from Patty Mills (of course) and 20 from 3-point champ Belinelli (of course). The Blazers were missing Aldridge though, so that kind of evened the score, right?
The night before that, the Spurs beat a fairly healthy Los Angeles Clipper squad (missing only J.J. Redick) without Parker and Leonard.
Speaking of Tony Parker, he missed the last game before the All-Star break and has been declared out "for the foreseeable future" for a "variety of maladies" since the break. But he magically was okay for the All-Star game itself, by effect not allowing another injury substitution which could have been Goran Dragic.
The Borg is the Borg. They know their roles so well they can beat anyone with any lineup. Who knows who will play tonight against the Suns - just expect great execution. And if the Suns can't find a way to play better than they did against Denver and Boston this week, expect a loss to the Spurs.
Despite playing poorly, the Suns found a way to win their two winnable games this week - in Denver, and hosting Boston. Neither game was a big challenge, but for a young Suns team unaccustomed to being favored, that's a real plus and should be seen as a positive sign for the rest of the season.
You WANT to be able to win games even when you're not playing well. That's the Suns lately, who have now gone 11-5 in their last 16 games without Bledsoe after a 2-5 dip in the first 7 without him.
Check that again: 11-5 in their last 16 games without their second-best player. That's pretty good.
No one knows who the Spurs will play or sit until later in the day, and sometimes just before tip. With Duncan resting on Wednesday, I assume he will play tonight. Leonard is probably, so he might replace Green or Belinelli in the starting lineup.
Parker is out "for the foreseeable future", per the coach, with officially listed injury called "wrist sprain/body soreness". It's possible that Popovich couldn't see to Friday as of Tuesday, so it's anyone's guess whether Parker will play.
We know the big names, and if they play they will play well. It's the other guys on the Spurs who can derail the Suns' hope for a win.
While Mike Lisboa predicts a loss (see the '29 to go' article this morning), I'm going to break the mold and predict a win.
I think the Suns will come out firing on their home court and ultimately scratch and claw to a win. And the Spurs will shrug and move on to the next game because they are the Spurs.
The surprising, upstart, when-are-they-gonna-come-back-to-earth, cant-win-a-playoff-round Phoenix Suns need to win more than they lose the rest of the way to safely make the playoffs. Can they do it?
Predictions are a fool's errand. I'm pretty sure a few days ago I wrote that we should all burn our expectations for the Phoenix Suns since they keep doing their thing regardless of what anyone else expects of them. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by statesmen and philosophers and divines.
Foolish consistency has been the name of the game in Phoenix this season. Noted philosopher P.J. Tucker himself said:
For the lack of a better word, we're just kind of stupid. We're just like, ‘We're going to win.'
And Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough was foolishly consistent in thwarting expectations by not making any moves at the NBA trade deadline. With the team standing pat, the Phoenix Suns now officially are who we thought they were. ESPN's Playoff Odds predictor gives the Dallas Mavericks a 68.2% chance of making the playoffs by snagging the 8-seed with a record of 47-35. They've got Phoenix with a 78.4% chance in the 7-spot with a projected finish of 48-34.
Armed with that speculative knowledge and the fuel of noted thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and P.J. Tucker, let's look at the rest of the Suns' season and see how they might fare coming into the home stretch. I think 47-50 wins is going to be necessary to make the playoff in the Western Conference. Phoenix needs to win 15-18 of their remaining 30 games. .500 ball isn't too tall of an order, is it? OR IS IT?
I'm making a couple of assumptions here. No further injuries are sustained. If and when Eric Bledsoe returns, his reintegration into the line-up will be seamless. The Suns maintain their current level of play. Let's dive in and see how foolishly consistent this team can be.
Phoenix plays 7 of their next 8 games in U.S Airways Center before finishing with 14 of their last 21 games on the road. Here's my take on the magnificent 7.
Loss - San Antonio Spurs, Friday 2/21 - Phoenix has lost 2 games to San Antonio already this season, and I don't see how they win a third. It's getting to be statement time in the west and I think Tim Duncan and company will be ready for the Suns.
Loss - Houston Rockets, Sunday 2/23 - The Suns' early win at Houston came against an injury-depleted squad with an injured James Harden. In the rematch, the Suns got flat outplayed. I think Houston's too good in too many places for the Suns to overcome.
Win - Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday 2/25 - Kevin Love is coming to Phoenix! Hopefully that's the last time that gets typed this season. The Suns won a nail-biter against the Wolves in Minnesota earlier this season. I don't think they'll need Gerald Green heroics this time around.
Win - AT Utah Jazz, Wednesday, 2/26 - Phoenix is 2-1 versus the Jazz this season. Pepsi Center is a tough place to play. 12 of Utah's 19 wins have come at home. Phoenix is only 7-6 on the second night of a back-to-back, including a loss to Utah. Whatever. Suns win against a Utah team whose every victory hurts their draft position.
Win - New Orleans Pelicans, Friday 2/28 - New Orleans might be a tough team to beat next season. This is not next season.
Win - Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, 3/2 - Phoenix beats a playoff team handily! Eastern Conference playoff team, but still.
Win - Oklahoma City Thunder, Thursday 3/6 - A win? Against the best team in the west? Why not. The Suns played OKC down to the wire in Oklahoma earlier this season. This time, the home team wins.
Results - 5 wins and 3 losses take the Suns to 37-24, just 10 games from the 8 seed with 21 games left.
The going gets tough now. Five of the next 6 Suns games are away from Phoenix en route to the aforementioned 14 of 21 on the road. Phoenix has won 14 and lost 12 on the road so far so they travel fairly well. And they will need to to make the playoffs.
Loss - AT Golden State Warriors, Sunday 3/9 - After winning a close first match of the season, PHX and the Dubs have traded big wins in their last 2 match-ups. I think the pendulum swings toward the home team here.
Loss - AT Los Angeles Clippers, Monday 3/10 - Second night of a back-to-back? Against the Pacific-leading Clippers? I don't like this one bit for Phoenix.
Win - AT Boston Celtics, Friday 3/14 - Scrapfest Part 2! This won't be as close as the first match-up. Phoenix kicks off a 3-game road trip the right way.
Loss - AT Toronto Raptors, Sunday 3/16 - I know what you're thinking: a loss to the Raptors?! Here's my caveat. I started to type "Win", but then noticed the 10:00AM MST start time. I think that's enough to throw a western team off its game against a competitive Toronto squad.
Loss - AT Brooklyn Nets, Monday 3/17 - Second game of a back-to-back on St. Patrick's day in New York City? I'm favoring a Brooklyn team that seems to be finding its legs.
Win - Orlando Magic, Wednesday 3/19 - Orlando might be a tough team to beat next season. This is not next season.
Win - AT Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday 3/23 - Phoenix puts a coffin nail in Minnesota's chances of keeping Kevin Love, spurring an offseason of Love to Phoenix fanposts.
Loss - AT Atlanta Hawks, Monday 3/24 - I'm really hating on the back-to-backs, I know. But I think Phoenix will probably be gassed after a tough game in Minneapolis the night before. And Atlanta is a playoff team after all (snicker).
Win - AT Washington Wizards, Wednesday 3/26 - Hello, Marin Gortat! Remember what winning basketball was like? Because the Suns will remember that home loss and look to return the favor.
Win - New York Knicks, Friday 3/28 - By this point, the Suns will need to have figured out how to function against plodding, life-draining teams like the Knicks. I hope.
Win - AT Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday 3/30 - At this point, beating the Lakers is almost no fun. Just kidding! It's still awesome if a little joyless. Remember this when the Durant-Wiggins-Love Lakers are playing Godzilla to the Western Conference's Japan in a couple years.
Win - Loss Angeles Clippers, Wednesday 4/2 - I refuse to believe the Suns will get punked by Blake Griffin 3 times in a row. Especially not with this game being at home.
Loss - AT Portland Trailblazers 4/4 - Phoenix has had Portland's number so far this season. This will be a chippy-ass affair and advantage goes to the home team.
Loss - Oklahoma City Thunder 4/6 - A championship-minded Thunder put the upstart Suns back in their place.
Win - AT New Orleans Pelicans 4/9 - Unless that mascot suits up, I think Phoenix takes care of business.
Loss - AT San Antonio Spurs 4/11 - Maybe I'm traumatized from the Nash years. I just don't like the Suns against the Spurs, least of all in San Antonio.
Win - AT Dallas Mavericks 4/12 - In a contest crucial to playoff seeding, Phoenix rises to the occasion. On the second night of a back-to-back no less!
Win - Memphis Grizzlies 4/14 - What do we say to the Memphis Grizzlies team that has beaten Phoenix 3 times already this year? Not today.
Win - Sacramento Kings 4/16 - Phoenix finishes strong, riding a 3-game winning streak into the playoffs and helping Sacramento secure a high draft pick.
Results - I've got the Suns going 13-8 over this rough stretch, bringing their season record to 50-32. I like that. To perfectly double their win total from last season is 100% improvement. That should be good enough for the playoffs and maybe even for getting them to the 6th seed. The Western Conference is just too stacked to hope for much higher at this point. Regardless of how right or wrong this projection may be, the Suns don't have to overachieve to maintain a spot in the playoffs. They just need to keep demonstrating that foolish consistency
Think I pegged win where there should have been a loss? Maybe the other way around and Phoenix takes over the Pacific to snag the 4 seed? Let us know in the comments!