With just a few games to play, most NBA observers are still counting the inexperienced, upstart Phoenix Suns out of the playoff picture despite the Suns holding a one-game lead over Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th spot and being just one win behind Dallas Mavericks for the 7th spot with four games to play.
- Dallas 48-31, 7th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis
- Phoenix 47-31, 8th place, remaining games against San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis, Sacramento
- Memphis 46-32, 9th place, remaining games against Philadelphia, Lakers, Phoenix, Dallas
If you credit Memphis with wins over the lowly Sixers and Lakers, and Phoenix with a win over Sacramento, that gives all three teams 48 wins with the only games remaining against themselves or the San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix MUST end the season with more wins than Memphis, since Memphis has the tiebreaker over the Suns no matter what happens in their game. If Phoenix beats Dallas, then Phoenix has the tiebreaker over Dallas.
In a three-way tie, Phoenix would lose out because of the 4 losses already to Dallas and Memphis this season.
Looks like it could take 50 wins to make the playoffs in the West, and that a 49-win team could be sent home without a ticket to the dance.
But who is playing best?
Memphis has gotten a lot of publicity for charging back into the playoff picture once their center, Marc Gasol, got healthy and Dallas has Dirk so... of course they are going to close out the clutch wins.
But it's the Phoenix Suns who are playing the best basketball of the three teams fighting for those last two spots.
Let's take a look at how each team has fared in their last 25 games with their preferred starting lineups. Everyone's healthy, so let's match up each other's best and duke it out.
- Phoenix Suns - 20 wins, 5 losses in their last 25 games with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, PJ. Tucker, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee as the starting lineup
- Memphis Grizzlies - 16 wins, 9 losses in last 25 games with Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tayshawn Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as the starting lineup
- Dallas Mavericks - 18 wins, 7 losses in last 25 games with Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert as the starting lineup
But hey, you say, that could just be because the Suns have played the easier schedule. Certainly, the mighty Grizzlies with Gasol and Randolph and fiesty Mavericks with closer Dirk will be better on the bigger stage against playoff-worthy foes, right?
Against playoff teams (East and West), during that 25 games
- Phoenix Suns - 10 wins, 4 losses against current playoff teams
- Memphis Grizzlies - 7 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
- Dallas Mavericks - 5 wins, 7 losses against current playoff teams
Hmm, so the Suns are doing pretty well against the playoff teams too? That's strange. The Suns sport an "upstart" lineup full of also-rans, underachievers and journeymen. How can this be?
Maybe the Suns are just feasting on the weak teams in the East. Certainly, against the mighty West is where the Suns will come up short.
Against Western Conference playoff teams (during that 25-game stretch)
- Phoenix Suns - 6 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
- Memphis Grizzlies - 2 wins, 3 losses against West playoff teams
- Dallas Mavericks - 4 wins, 4 losses against West playoff teams
So, while the Suns have only played nine of those games against West playoff teams, that's more than the other contenders. The Grizzlies have only played five, while the Mavericks have split eight.
I encourage the nation to think again about which of these three teams will fail the head-to-head test over these last few games of the season. During wins over Portland and Oklahoma City in the past week, opposing coaches and players admitted the Suns just wanted it more. The Suns outworked, outhustled, and outplayed those playoff teams who were fighting for their own seeding position in the West.
It is SO FITTING that these three teams play each other at the end of the season. It really is a play-in series, and may the best team win. Certainly, the hottest team and most successful of the three is the Phoenix Suns.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Phoenix.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!