Phoenix Suns need to be prepared for next three "weak" opponents

Speaking of splits - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

The Phoenix Suns have three straight games on the road against cellar dwellars in the NBA. The combined records of these three opponents is 9-32. Easy wins, right? Maybe not... Underestimating these teams would be like counting chickens before they're hatched.

The following is not meant to foreshadow the results of the next three games. From all accounts, the Suns are likely better than their next three opponents. But... winning on the road in the NBA is difficult. Even most good teams struggle mightily to win half their road contests. For bad teams one could consider a different factor, because while bad teams are historically putrid on the road they generally have a chance at beating the great majority of the teams in the league on any given night.

At first, it would seem like the preponderance of players wearing purple should prevail. But you already know that's not what this article is about (or at least I hope you do). Look at the slim pickings from the next three adversaries.

Cleveland 3-10

Detroit 3-11

Toronto 3-11

So the Suns are going to trounce this trio, right? Don't be so sure. Allow me to present a cautionary tale... At the crux of my argument is what I alluded to earlier. Home court advantage. This article from hoopdata.com makes my case for me (and I didn't even have to lift a finger - just clicked one a couple times). The median (not mean, because I don't like being atrabilious) is 3.1 points from the study. Not too bad, right? That's 3.1 based on a neutral site. Since we all know that NBA teams don't play on neutral sites the real difference is 6.2 points. Last year the median difference between playing at home versus on the road was 6.2 points per game.

By now you're probably asking, "What does that have to do with this article and the Phoenix Suns?" But I jest. In actuality, I'm sure you all know what I'm getting at by now. You're a pragmatic, keenly discerning bunch.

**Warning - small sample sizes are not to be trusted (but the 2011-12 stats pretty much make the case)**

Cleveland Cavaliers 3-10 (2-2 home, 1-8 road)

Cleveland hasn't had a very large gap in their home/road performance. Burn the outlier! For a heads up, I'm linking all of these splits to their pages on basketball-reference.com, my personal Mecca for NBA stats (this is my Mecca of all that is basketball).

Cleveland -4.5 home, -5.5 road

Only one insignificant point. That means that the Suns 107-105 thrashing of the Cavs in Phoenix earlier this year should hold up, right? More on this later. Can a bad team beat a good opponent at home? Well, Cleveland beat the same Philly team that just snuck by the Suns by nine points at home earlier in the season, 92-83.

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Detroit Pistons 3-11 (2-3 home, 1-8 road)

Detroit +1.2 home, -10.0 road

There we go, some meat and potatoes, or turkey and mashed potatoes for those of you that still have some leftovers in the refrigerator (Damn, I talk a lot about food in my articles).

That's an 11.2 point swing. Jumbo large. Based on that, and the Suns 92-89 victory over the Pistons at home this season, that means Detroit is going to pummel us by eight points. That would be no bueno. The Pistons best home victory was a 103-83 debacle for the Boston Celtics.

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Toronto Raptors 3-11 (2-4 home, 1-7 road)

Toronto +1.0 home, -7.3 road

8.3 points. That's still pretty significant. With no previous match to base a rematch on, let's just surmise the Suns better show up for this game. Like the Minnesota Timberwolves didn't, when the Raptors crushed them by 19, 105-86.

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Now, we get to our beloved Suns. Our purple paladins riding in on their orange chariot to vanquish the insolent heathens.

Phoenix Suns 6-8 (5-3 home, 1-5 road)

Phoenix +3.5 home, -11.2 road.

14.7. That's the biggest disparity of the lot. The Suns are the most bipolar team of this grouping. Let's take this back to Cleveland. The Cavs game could turn from a nailbiter to a cushy win for Cleveland based on the Suns mercurial nature. What also seems alarming is that the Suns road record is shockingly similar to these other "bad" teams. In fact, teams with bad road records, like the Suns, are traditionally what these other bad teams feast on at home. Deliciously bad teams. The Suns do have a road win against a team with a winning record, the Charlotte Bobcats, but at this point I don't think that qualifies them as worldbeaters.

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What do all these stats mean? Nothing... I think not. The splits throughout time support this same dynamic, which is also a perfectly reasonable assumption. If it looks right, sounds right and is supported by the complete history of the league in terms of empirical evidence then it must be... unreliable in predicting the outcomes of games over a very small sample size. Do you like how I used that one way to make my point and then flipped the script to discredit myself? I knew you would.

What it ultimately means to me is that the Suns need to be focused and play with heart and desire. Anything less could lead to a truly catastrophic road trip. This could be a tipping point. There are no gimmes. Not this season. Not for these Suns. And if this incarnation of Phoenix basketball starts counting chickens they might just get their asses plucked.

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