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The Rest of the Season

[Ed. Note: NBA.com posted their Nifty Numbers today. The Suns need a combination of 9 wins and opponent losses to seal their spot in the playoffs. This well thought-out post goes along with that theme, so bumping it to the top. Thanks, Chboddis! -TexSUN]

Anyone taken a look at the Suns remaining 14 games this season? Ouch.

8 of 14 on the road, 9 of 14 versus playoff-bound teams, and 12 of 14 against teams with a winning record. And of the two alleged gimmes on the schedule, only Memphis looks like a guaranteed W, since Minnesota has beaten the the Suns 2 out of the previous 3 meetings this season.

Currently, the Suns are a less-than-dominant 13-10 versus the remainder of their schedule. Here's a breakdown of how I think the remainder of the season should play out.

3/22 vs. Houston and 4/11 @ Houston
Must win. We're currently 1-1 vs. Houston on the season. As a potential playoff opponent and candidate for either the 1st or 4th spot in the West, we must win the 2 remaining games vs. Houston. A tall order given the way the Rockets have been playing lately, but as a legitimate championship contender, this should be within our grasp. (A split is disappointing but understandable here.)

Update [2008-3-23 23:33:19 by Chboddis]: Nice! Got the first win here. Turnovers were an issue again, but gotta love Shaq putting up some points. With Detroit showing some weakness against the Wizards today, the Suns need to strike while the iron is hot and pounce on the Pistons in the 2nd game of a back-to-back to run this streak to 8!

3/24 @ Detroit
Must win. After getting absolutely destroyed by the Pistons at home, the Suns need to redeem themselves by punking Detroit on their own court. They don't need to go in and win by 30 (God, that game sucked), but the do need play with some gumption and come home with this W.

Update [2008-3-30 16:8:16 by Chboddis]:Ugh! So close on this one. I wasn't able to watch it, but it sounds like the Suns played well. They just caught some tough breaks at the end. I guess we'll call this one a moral victory since Los Suns played well enough to shake the idea of being owned by Detroit this season.

3/26 @ Boston
I'll give the Suns a pass on this one. Yeah, ideally they want to go out on a 20-game winning streak (who doesn't?), striking fear into the hearts of the entire league, but a season split with the owners of the best record in the NBA is acceptable.

Update [2008-3-30 16:8:16 by Chboddis]: Glad I gave us a pass on this one! I knew this was going to be a tough game, but I didn't expect the Suns to get blown out. Apparently, this team is going to live and die by their ability to take care of the ball. Aside from chronic turnovers, I can throw this one out as a stinker that all good teams throw up from time to time.

3/28 @ Philadelphia
Must win. Sorry, this team should not be going 0-2 to a barely .500 7th seed in the East. Not if they want to be taken seriously at least.

Update [2008-3-30 16:8:16 by Chboddis]:This game became even more of a "Must Win" after dropping two in a row to Detroit and Boston. Fortunately, the Suns channeled the disappointment of those two losses into a first-class ass-whooping.

3/29 @ New Jersey
I'll categorize this as a "Should Win" instead of a "Must Win." It's certainly a bad time to drop a game to a middling Eastern Conference wannabe like the Nets, but on the 2nd night of a back-to-back with a full slate of Western Conference heavyweights coming up, this is not a game the Suns NEED TO WIN.

Update [2008-3-30 16:8:16 by Chboddis]:Well, the Suns certainly played this one like a "Should Win" coming out a little flat and not taking a lead until halfway through the game. While the level of play was inconsistent, the Ws against lesser teams should keep team confidence afloat heading into the home-and-home with Denver. Which, by the way, are "must wins." I know a split is a much more realistic goal, but I stand by my 12-2 finish as the ideal Suns scenario (which at this point requires winning out). Dave Ang of the Run'N'Gun Phoenix Suns Podcast (Episode 30) argues that 7-7 is how he sees the Suns finishing the season, but I think that's setting the bar low as well as playing with fire in the seeding race. No one has clinched a berth yet and the distance between 1st and 9th is too small to be playing .500 ball at the point in the season.

3/31 vs Denver and 4/1 @ Denver
Must Win. Again, this is no time to be dropping games to Western Conference opponents, especially those that won't be making the playoffs. While I'll understand a split here, the Suns record against the Western Conference is 24-18, the worst among Western playoff teams. That's a stat that could use a little padding.

Update [2008-4-8 15:10:42 by Chboddis]:Split. Only made more unfortunate by the woulda-coulda-shoulda nature of the loss of the second game. .500 in this home-and-home was probably to be expected, but at this point every win counts.

4/4 vs. Minnesota
MUST DESTROY. 2 of Minnesota's 17 wins have come at the Suns expense. At home, down the stretch, the Suns need to hang a 25+ point beatdown on these lottery chumps.

Update [2008-4-8 15:10:42 by Chboddis]:Sean Marks had 5 points. Mission Accomplished.

4/6 vs. Dallas
Must Win. A win gives the Suns the season series versus the Mavs. And these guys are neither legitimate contenders, nor are they as dangerous with Jason Kidd as they were with Devin Harris. Go figure.

Update [2008-4-8 15:10:42 by Chboddis]:Embarrassing as this loss was, what with a double-digit lead being blown and all, no big red flags went up for me. The Suns just went ridiculously, freakishly, flukily, inexplicably cold in the 4th. There was no Dallas defensive clampdown or commensurate scoring explosion. While watching the game, I was struck by how little playoff atmosphere surrounded the whole affair by either team. Both of them seemed to be on cruise control. It was a double whammy from a viewing standpoint: boring and a loss. The biggest bummer here is that the Suns' chances of catching the Lakers for the Pacific crown basically evaporated with this loss.

9 games into this final 14, the Suns are 5-4. The tragedy is that if they had pulled out those close ones against Detroit and Denver and not gone frigid in the 4th versus Dallas(I'm sure there's a "Suns have trouble with D" joke in there somewhere), they could be 8-1.

4/8 @ Memphis
Blow them out and get the bench some burn. And rest the starters for...

4/9 @ San Antonio
Must Win. While nothing will quite say "over the hump" like beating the Spurs in the playoffs, winning the regular season series should certainly give the Suns a mental boost in the playoffs. And they need all the quality Western Conference victories they can get going into the post-season.

4/11 @ Houston
See Rockets entry above.

4/14 vs. Golden State
Must Win. A win splits the season series versus the Warriors. Going into the playoffs, the Suns need to demonstrate the ability to beat both the bangers (Spurs, Pistons) and the runners (Nuggets, Warriors). Let's not be showing any Achilles heels (or, dear God, signs of fatigue) down the stretch.

4/16 vs. Portland
Must win. Does anyone really want to go into the playoffs coming off a loss?

So, in a perfect world, the Suns go 12-2 through arguably their toughest stretch of the season. This is probably not going to happen. However, given the nature of their competition during this run and the tightness of the Western Conference playoff race, I really believe that 10-4 (a ridiculous .714 winning percentage) is the worst they can do and still be considered legitimate title contenders (or even guarantee themselves a spot in the post-season). These are statement games at a time of the year when loud, bold statements must be made.

Keep in mind that I didn't even take into consideration playoff seeding, our playoff competition's remaining schedules, or the injury to Raja Bell. Because none of that matters at this point. The Suns need to write their own ticket as best they can. And with their Big 3 in place, they need to be able to do it without supporting players like Bell, Hill, Barbosa, and Diaw for stretches.

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