Congratulations to the Phoenix Suns for blowing out the New York Knicks 112-88 in a game that Goran Dragic acquired yet another soon-to-be scar, with the Suns moving themselves into the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, there’s no time to cheer, as the toughest test is yet to come.
The race for the playoffs is the most difficult regular season test that the Suns will have to face. The Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are foaming at the mouth, fighting for their playoff lives, looking up at the 44-29 Suns, who have now won six straight games.
The schedule makers didn’t do the Suns any favors, either. Take a look at the remaining schedules for the Suns, Mavs and Grizzlies:
Phoenix Suns (44-29)
Memphis Grizzlies (43-29)
Dallas Mavericks (43-30)
|at Lakers (24-48)||at Blazers (47-27)||vs. Kings (25-47)|
|vs. Clippers (51-22)||at Nuggets (32-41)||vs. Warriors (45-27)|
|at Blazers (47-27)||at Wolves (36-35)||at Clippers (51-22)|
|vs. Thunder (53-19)||vs. Nuggets (32-41)||at Lakers (24-48)|
|at Pelicans (32-40)||at Spurs (56-16)||at Kings (25-47)|
|at Spurs (56-16)||vs. Heat (49-22)||at Jazz (23-50)|
|at Mavericks (43-30)||vs. 76ers (15-57)||vs. Spurs (56-16)|
|vs. Grizzlies (43-29)||at Lakers (24-48)||vs. Suns (44-29)|
|at Kings (25-47)||at Suns (44-29)||at Grizzlies (43-29)|
|vs. Mavericks (43-30)|
|Record of remaining opponents: (374-278, .574)||Record of remaining opponents: (378-346, .522)||Record of remaining opponents: (336-315, .516)|
All I can say is…ouch. The Suns have to face the top three seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the two teams that are chasing them in the playoff race. It is fortunate that they’ll face the Clippers and Thunder at US Airways Center.
The biggest issue I see here is that there are no “easy” games. The three home games are all against playoff teams. The games against inferior teams are all on the road, which in the NBA, even terrible teams tend to play fairly well at home.
That’s one of the big reasons why the Suns current six-game winning streak is so important. They needed to get some wins while they could, to create a bit of space and some room for error. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies and Mavericks weren’t on board with that theory and have also put together solid stretches. The Suns lead over the No. 9 seed (Mavs) is only one game.
Looking up in the standings, the Suns have a chance to go as high as the No. 5 seed. They’re currently 2.5 games behind the Blazers for No. 5 and 1.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors for the No. 6 spot.
What’s it going to take for the Suns to make the playoffs? They’re going to have to sweep the games against the Lakers, Pelicans and Kings. Luckily, the Suns have gone 3-0 against the Lakers and Pelicans this year, with the Kings acting as some sort of kryptonite — the Suns are just 1-2 against them.
There is good news. The Suns control their own destiny. If the Suns falter in a game or two, they’ll have a chance to make amends with games against the Mavericks and Grizzlies. The Suns are also trending in the right direction. In games that Dragic and Eric Bledose start together, they’re 21-7.
Markieff Morris continues to make a strong run at the Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 26.3 minutes per game. Gerald Green would probably get edged by his own teammate for the Most Improved Player award, but he’s doing his part by averaging 15.4 points on 39.2 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
As long as the Slash Brothers continue to do their thing, there’s no reason why the Suns shouldn’t be able to get through this stretch and pass the test. Remember the beginning of the season when we thought this team would tank? Coach Jeff Hornacek wouldn’t allow it. Why should we feel any different about it now?
I’ll leave you with this — the Suns could make the playoffs, gaining valuable experience, and still have three first-round picks in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft. Think about that for a minute.