You can go back and read my Schedule Analysis from the preseason for a little reminder of how this crazy schedule looked before we'd seen these guys play together. Obviously the first third of the season went WAY better than I ever imagined. Of course, I also said if the Suns excelled there, they'd have a good shot at making the playoffs, despite the downbeat note I ended the article on.
For argument's sake, I'm including the preview section of the remaining portion of the season. How do you think the Suns will fare now as opposed to a billion months ago when I wrote this? Assuming they can stay healthy, I'm a little bit higher on how they will do against the better Western Conference teams and obviously, they are more than just a borderline playoff squad at this point.
March 4, vs. Utah; March 6, vs. Indiana; March 12, vs. LA Lakers; March 14, vs. New Orleans; March 16, vs. Minnesota; March 19, vs. Utah; March 21, vs Portland - That's seven, count'em, SEVEN home games in a row. Combine that with the relative ease of their late February schedule and the Suns are in a pretty good position to make a late push for the playoffs. Sure, most of these teams were in the playoffs last season, BUT, at this point in the season the Suns should know who they are. And if they are serious about making some noise in the post-season, then taking 5 of these 7 shouldn't be too much to ask. (Oh, and dig that wacky 6 day break between the Pacer and Laker games. 6 days without Suns basketball? That's like the opposite of Shark Week!)
March 28, @ Minnesota; March 30, @ Chicago; March 31, @ New Jersey; April 2, @ Detroit; April 3, @ Milwaukee - That final scheduling whammy I alluded to earlier? Here it is: a 5-game tour of the midwest with 9 games remaining in the season. Again, if these Suns are in fact a playoff team then that shouldn't matter. These teams are not the cream of the crop and road trip or not, this needs to be a 4-1 or 5-0 streak to close out strong.
April 7, vs. San Antonio; April 9, @ Oklahoma City; April 11, vs. Houston; April 13, vs. Denver; April 14 @ Utah - Yeah. About that closing out strong thing. San Antonio, Denver, Utah. Not exactly one's ideal closing stretch, but a good test of what this team is made of heading into the post-season. If the Suns can't take at least 3 of these 5, they probably weren't going to do a whole lot of damage in the playoffs anyway.
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As I said, the first third and maybe even the first half of this season is going to require some patience. About the only thing I will say for certain is that if the Suns do come out hot and and start winning early in the season, that bodes well as the bulk of their heavy lifting is front-loaded onto the schedule. But for that same reason I wouldn't take anything terribly troubling away from a mediocre to below-average start.
After going through the entire schedule, I feel pretty comfortable saying these Suns are a borderline playoff team at best. There's only so many times I can look at the schedule and think to myself "They have to play <insert Western Conference playoff team here> how many times?!" While Houston is pretty much a shell of its former self, the remainder of the 2008-2009 Western Conference playoff squads are formidable teams. Hopefully that's good enough for the Suns to land an eight seed.