The Weekly Checkup is back after a much longer than expected hiatus. Christmas preparations and travel are done. Post-Christmas catchup on neglected chores is finally done. Time to get back into the swing of things, which will include far more attention to this blog than it has received in the past month (thanks everyone for the patience).
Since the last time a Weekly Checkup graced the front page here on a Sunday evening (December 2), the Suns have gone 11-6, and briefly held the West lead. For comparison, the once-again West-leading Spurs have gone 8-6 during that same time, and the Mavericks have gone 11-5. The Suns also played practically the entire month of December on the road, and in spite of that, have the second best road record in the West, and the best road win to home loss record as well. In fact, the Suns' road win to home loss record is miles ahead of both Dallas and San Antonio, both of which have losing records away from home. So, why did I entitle my latest weekly checkup "Cautiously Pessimistic"? Because games like the one last night and the one on Christmas Day have left me feeling immediately afterward that I might not need to worry about scheduling my mid-year vacation around the month of June this year.
First things first, it isn't that I expect the Suns to win every game. The criticism launched at uneasy fans all season has been that expectations have grown to the point any loss sends us all into a tizzy. This isn't about that. I fully realize that in an 82-game season, there are going to be times when human nature and/or physical exhaustion, like it or not, will rear its ugly head and the end result will be a loss that, on paper, should have been a win. The Suns are on pace for a very respectable 57-win season that most teams in the league would kill for. No matter what the level of competition, that is something to be proud of and grateful for. However, it isn't the record that concerns me right now as much as who the Suns are having trouble beating this year.
In his latest blog entry, Paul Coro points out that the Suns are 1-6 against the teams that would make the playoffs if they started today. It helps that the one win came against San Antonio (on the road even), but as Coro points out, it cannot be overlooked that the Spurs were without Tony Parker that night. As for the other teams, the loss against Dallas is nothing new (the Suns haven't won a pre-All Star meeting with the Mavericks since 2004), but the pair of losses against the Lakers is troubling, as is the drubbing by the Warriors and the two losses to the Hornets. These are teams the Suns have beaten consistently in recent seasons, yet seem unable to do so now. Either the Suns are guilty of a classic case of underestimating their opponents--multiple times in some cases--or else the opponents have simply gotten better. In all honesty, I think it's more of the latter, which brings me back to the pessimism. If the Lakers, Hornets, and Warriors keep it going (and that's a very big "if"), there's a good chance the Suns will face one of these three teams in the first round of the playoffs. The way they're playing right now, I'd say any one of them is capable of pulling off a Mavericks/Warriors-style upset, or at least dragging out the series to an exhausting seven games. That's assuming the Suns win the Pacific to begin with, which is hardly the no-brainer it seemed to be at the beginning of the season. The West is just that tough.
However, all that said, I am tempering my pessimism with a healthy dose of caution. If there's one things the Suns have proved over the past few years, it's that when people start doubting them, they start proving the doubters wrong. This isn't the first time the Suns have been called out for having trouble with the best of the West. In fact, we were hearing the same thing a year ago. Were it not for one cheap shot and two impulse reactions, the 2006-07 team might have ended up with the rings the Spurs are sporting these days. So, here's hoping the Suns are just saving their best for the playoffs.