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Suns biggest obstacle to 2021 playoffs could be the West-heavy schedule

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The NBA is considering keeping all the 2020-21 games in-conference.

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Since the dawn of time, your Phoenix Suns are undefeated. That is, if you believe time itself was reborn in July 2020 and that anything else will forever be called “The Before Times”.

But the Suns unbeaten record is in grave danger if the NBA decides to, as John Hollinger of The Athletic posits, eliminate non-conference games for the 2020-21 season.

The NBA is faced with trying to execute a full(ish) game schedule — to keep the TV revenue intact — amid a still-unchecked pandemic within the limitations of indoor arenas. And they need to finish said schedule by end of June to avoid summer ratings losses, the Olympic and NFL TV-viewership competition, and allow for a potential return to “normal” for the 2021-22 season.

To achieve all those goals in a 72-game schedule, Hollinger believes the league is heavily considering having teams play only within their own conference for the entirety of the regular season, followed by a play-in tournament to decide the bottom of the playoff seedings.

Hollinger suggests:

  • 8 games against each of your division rivals (for the Suns, that’s the Pacific division)
  • 4 games against each of your non-division, in-conference rivals

Holy sh*t.

In full Chandler Bing voice, could there BE a worse outcome for the Suns?

In a normal season, each team plays 4 games against their division rivals, 2-4 games against of their non-division-in-conference rivals, and 2-3 games against each of the teams in the other conference. That’s 29 teams over 82 games.

In Hollinger’s plan, the Suns would play 32 games against the Pacific division, 40 games against the other 10 West teams, and none against the East. That’s 14 teams over 72 games.

Let’s break it down by the Suns record in the 73-game 2020-21 season in each of those groupings:

  • 6 wins, 9 losses against the Pacific division (Lakers, Warriors, Kings, Clippers)
  • 13 wins, 18 losses against the rest of the West
  • 15 wins, 12 losses against the East (a winning record!)

While the Warriors will be MUCH better in 2020-21 with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson returning, along with whatever they get out of the No. 1 overall draft pick, the Suns did only go 2-2 against the Warriors in 2019-20 anyway.

If you give the Warriors a 3-1 head-to-head series in 2020-21 and leave the rest the same, you end up with a 12-20 record against the Pacific. That’s a 48% win rate in 32 games against three teams likely to finish top-6 in the West (Lakers, Clippers, Warriors) and only one team (Kings) expected to be worse than the Suns.

Using their 2019-20 success against the other West divisions, again assuming no roster improvement, you get a 15-25 record. That’s a 39% win rate in 40 games against the 10 teams that round out the Western Conference.

Suns West-only 2020-21 record? 27-45.

Yes, all the other West teams would have to play each other too, but 10 of those 15 other West teams aren’t in the Pacific division. They would only have to play 12 games against the Warriors, Lakers and Clippers, whereas the Suns have 24 such games — a full ONE THIRD of their entire 2020-21 schedule!

Gulp.