Dysfunctional, controversial, and just plain bad is the only way to sum up the Phoenix Suns over the past few seasons. They have been the bottom feeders of the Western Conference for nearly half a decade and before the season got suspended in March, it seemed that their 2020 campaign was heading in the same direction.
However, despite their season looking dire, they were able to qualify for the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. To everyone’s shock, the Suns have burst out of quarantine with vengeance. The steaming hot team led by rising superstar Devin Booker has yet to lose a game in six contests since the restart. Can this Phoenix team really defy the odds and sneak their way into the playoffs?
Six games are definitely a small sample size, but what the Suns have shown during this brief period is very impressive. For starters, the competition they have faced is legit, with all the teams within the bubble being playoff contenders. Some notable opponents that Phoenix has managed to defeat have been the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, and Miami Heat; all of whom are expected to go far in the playoffs. They have just been an overall consistent team, having an average margin of victory of 11, with some fantastically played blowouts, as well as close games where their players have been able to come through during crunch time.
Possibly one of the best plays from the restart is Booker’s game winning buzzer beater over Paul George and the Clippers. The young guard has been able to carry his team to victories for the first time in his career, averaging 30+ points per game in the bubble so far.
Booker has been phenomenal, but all the success is not just to his credit as Phoenix’s young core consisting of Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and Cam Johnson have also helped contribute, while veterans like Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric have played well too.
Right now, everything is clicking for the Suns as they are exceeding everyone’s expectations and are looking to do some more damage in this packed Western Conference. Though, even with everything going smoothly for Phoenix, closing out is key and they still need a lot to happen in order to make their first postseason in a decade.
With all the obstacles that the NBA had to tackle as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, an adjusted playoff system seemed necessary for this season. This change still consists of the traditional sixteen team bracket style system, but with an added layer for the lower seeds. This involves a play-in tournament that will determine the eighth playoff seed. This only occurs if the eighth seed is four games or fewer ahead of the ninth seed.
As of August 11th, the Suns are only 1.0 game back of the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies, but the Portland Trailblazers stand in between the two teams. Even if the Suns are within four games of the eight seed, they will still be eliminated if they finish as the tenth seed in the west. Therefore, they need a few events to happen. Here is the remaining schedule for the Western Conference teams still in contention:
Currently 8th seed (33-38)
Remaining schedule: BOS, MIL
Portland Trail Blazers
Currently 9th seed (33-39)
Remaining schedule: DAL, BKN
Currently 10th seed (32-39)
Remaining schedule: PHI, DAL
San Antonio Spurs
Currently 11th seed (31-38)
Remaining schedule: HOU, UTA
The Suns only need to catch the ninth seed, though ideally, Phoenix wants all these teams to lose their remaining games. One positive for all the teams left is that there are no overlap games with competing teams. For instance, the Trail Blazers will not play the Grizzlies, which is good for teams like the Suns and the Spurs because that situation would guarantee one of those teams a win, effectively hurting the Suns or Spurs chances.
Competition wise, Phoenix might have the greatest advantage down the stretch. They are facing a Philadelphia team that just lost Ben Simmons for the season and will not have Joel Embiid, then a Dallas team that has a chance at being locked in at the seventh seed by the time they play Phoenix, meaning there would be a very high chance that many of their star players would be resting that game.
When glancing at the competition of the other teams, it looks much less favorable. Memphis will be battling a red-hot Boston team, coming off their third consecutive victory, and a Milwaukee team that might be resting, but with a roster as deep as the Bucks, counting them out is never an option.
Portland will be facing off against Dallas first, who will still be fighting for better seeding and then a Brooklyn roster that has surprised many. San Antonio may have one of the toughest remaining schedules with two extremely well-run Western Conference teams that will be going all out for positioning until the very end.
For the Suns to have a chance, it would really help if they won their two remaining games. Because playoff seeding is based on win percentage and most teams have played a different number of games, each game plays such a crucial role in seeding. Phoenix can theoretically still make it if they happen to lose one game, however, needing to rely on the least number of outcomes is always better.
Portland will finish the season with one more game played than Phoenix and currently have a 0.5 game lead on the Suns with one more win and the same number of losses. The Suns need to win both remaining games and have Portland lose one, as the alternative would be if they lost a game, they would need to rely on two losses from the Trail Blazers.
A Suns loss would also mean that they would need San Antonio to lose at least one game because they currently have the same record as them, however, the Suns do hold the tiebreaker over the Spurs.
If both Memphis and Portland lose out, then Phoenix would hold the eight seed if they win out, but if all the teams end up winning out, even if the Suns finish 8-0 in the bubble, then they will be on the outside looking in. If just Memphis loses out and Phoenix wins out, then they do not need to worry about Portland or San Antonio. The Suns’ chances increase dramatically if they are able to stay undefeated in their final two games, but they are still going to need help from other teams.
Shall Phoenix make it to the play-in tournament, then they would have to win two consecutive games against whoever the eighth seed is to earn the final playoff spot. If they somehow secured the eighth seed, then they would only have to win one game.
The Suns had a 5.9% chance at making the playoffs prior to their most recent victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That number definitely increased, but the road ahead for them will still be very strenuous if they want their postseason hopes to become a reality. Phoenix has been astonishing the sports world; can they continue down this path and achieve the unthinkable?