It's like pulling off a band-aid. Either you do it slowly, or you yank it off hard and get it over with. The Suns finally yanked.
After last night's loss to Portland, the Phoenix Suns (38-37) are now 4.5 games back of the 8th and final playoff spot in the West and fading fast with only 7 games to go. They spent the past month pulling ever so slowly on the band-aid, staying at a steady 2.5-3.5 games back since losing on the road to Cleveland in early March. Now, within two days that deficit has ballooned to 4.5.
The Suns players know it's over. They showed that by going through the motions against a motivated Portland team playing to their home crowd as they clinched their second consecutive playoff spot with a 48-25 record and seven games to go before the "real" season starts.
The coaches know it's over. Hornacek said we'd see "what kind of character" the team has over the last two weeks of meaningless games.
Give the team a pass for last night's no-show, less than 24 hours after watching their hopes and dreams get crushed by OKC. Playing the next night against a charged up Portland team that just barely beat the Suns three days ago is like asking a hung over partier to run a 5K.
Meanwhile, for the second year in a row it appears that plenty of traded-away Phoenix Suns will get to the playoff dance party in droves.
Last year's tradees
Last year, no less than five Suns from the 2012-13 debacle made it to the playoffs the next season on the team to whom they were traded: Marcin Gortat (Wizards), Luis Scola (Pacers), Jared Dudley (Clippers), Jermaine O'Neal (Warriors) and even Michael Beasley (Heat) all saw playoff action.
"We're all happy now," Scola said in February 2014. "It's really painful to me that...everybody wanted to forget that year, including me. That's hard for me to swallow."
He swallowed fine, enjoying a playoff run he wasn't going to get in Phoenix.
Of those five, all but O'Neal (retirement) and Scola (Pacers) are likely to see the playoffs for the second year in a row. Dudley is on the Bucks now, and Beasley is playing even better this year than he did last year for the Heat. Gortat is still starting for the Wizards.
This year's tradees
Now a year later, the playoff-less Suns might just watch a new set of SIX traded players make the playoffs with their new teams while they make vacation plans.
Despite losing 15 of 20 games since acquiring Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, the Milwaukee Bucks have a stranglehold on the 6th spot in the LEastern Conference. Neither has made a big impact on their new team, but each will play into late April anyway.
Plumlee (3.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, .64 blocks in 10 minutes per game) has appeared in 14 of the Bucks 21 games since the trade. He's made 45% of his shots and 25% of his free throws.
Ennis has fared slightly better, getting some run because Knight's replacement Michael Carter-Williams has been awful. Ennis has appeared in 20 of the 21 games, putting up 4.2 points and 2.4 assists in 15 minutes per game. Ennis is shooting 36% from the field, and 60% from the line.
While the Bucks have been unimpressive since acquiring Plumlee, Ennis and MCW for Brandon Knight, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have slightly improved and now are in the 7th and 8th positions in the East.
The Boston Celtics have gone 13-10 since the trade deadline with Isaiah Thomas carrying a HUGE load when healthy. IT has been a big lift for their offense, leading the team in scoring (18.9) and assists (5.3) while playing in 14 of the 23 games. He missed 9 games due to injury (tailbone).
He's not converting at a high rate, making just 39% of his shots (32% of his threes), but he's been a catalyst for the Celtics who now have the 8th spot in the East with a 32-41 record.
Not everyone is excited about the Celtics unexpected playoff run in the middle of a rebuild.
Also on the Celtics is Shavlik Randolph, who hasn't seen much playing time. He's only appeared in 5 games since December, but even if he gets into one playoff game that's one more than any current Phoenix Sun.
The Miami Heat currently sit right between the Bucks and Celtics in the standings in 7th place, with a 34-39 record after winning 12 of 21 games since acquiring Goran Dragic, despite losing Chris Bosh (blood clots on lungs) on the same day.
Dragic has been pretty good in Miami, putting up 16.0 points and 5.4 assists per game as the primary ball handler. He's played in 18 of their 21 games. Yes, he's sharing the ball with Dwyane Wade (21.8 points, 5.1 assists), but it's better to share with a Hall of Famer if you're going to have to share, and in the East he's very likely to make the playoffs so there's that.
His brother Zoran has, like Shav, appeared in 5 games since being traded from the Suns, averaging 2 minutes per appearance. Yet, if he checks into one playoff game that will be more than P.J. Tucker has ever done.
Meanwhile, back in the desert
The Suns, on the other hand, are going home early again despite having a winning record (so far).
Sure they'd be 6th in the East, ahead of all of the Bucks, Heat and Celtics, but they don't play in the East. In fact, the 9th, 10th and 11th teams in the West just might make the playoffs if they'd base the last 6 spots on record rather than conference splits.
It is what it is, Suns fans.
Next up, a thrashing on TNT by Golden State.