14 down. 58 to go.
I recently wrote about a “seven-games-at-a-time” approach to the 2020-21 Phoenix Suns regular season.
In a season that is shortened to 72 games, 7 games represents 10% segments of the year (okay, 9.7%, but we’re rounding up here at Bright Side). If you analyze the season through this lens, focusing just on the next 7, it is easier to understand the peaks and valleys the team faces.
An incremental approach, whether it is basketball or business, is an effective way to navigate the bigger picture. Budgets may be built month-to-month, but the year end focus always remains the end goal. The same approach can be said of a basketball season. Don’t focus on what you’ve done or how much of the season is left, focus on performing well in designated “periods” of the season and try to win those.
While maneuvering through the seven game approach, you learn different things about the team. Period 1 taught us that the Suns, who went 5-2 during that period, have the depth and potential to sustain preseason expectations. The goal now is to maintain that level of success by fortifying those characteristics.
Here we sit with an 8-6 record through 14 games (19.4%) of the season. That equates to a projected win total of 41 games. Will that be good enough for a playoff spot?
The Last Seven
What a wild one it was. Three hone games were postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, negating an opportunity to put some wins on the board at home. After a 5-2 start in the first 7 games (period 1), the team went 3-4 in period 2. The team now sits at 4th in the Western Conference, tied with Portland record-wise.
How did the Suns fare against their predicted outcomes? Using FiveThirtyEight.com as a reference point for this information, here are the results vs. the predicted outcomes:
- Toronto Raptors (W, 123-115) — Raptors 35%, Suns 65%. Suns -4.0 favorites
- @ Detroit Pistons (L, 110-105) — Suns 75%, Pistons 25%. Suns -6.5 favorites
- @ Indiana Pacers (W, 125-117) — Suns 39%, Pacers 61%. Pacers -3.0 favorites
- @ Washington Wizards (L, 128-107) — Suns 64%, Wizards 48%. Suns -3.5 favorites
- @ Memphis Grizzlies (L, 108-104) — Suns 59%, Grizzlies 41%. Suns -2.5 favorites
- @ Houston Rockets (W, 109-103) — Rockets 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2.0 favorites
- Denver Nuggets (l, 130-126) — Nuggets 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2.0 favorites
We were predicted to go 6-1 in this stretch. That would have the Suns sitting at 11-3 on the young season. Man can’t live by predications and projections alone. The games must be played and you know what? Winning an NBA game is hard.
The losses to the Pistons and the Wizards obviously hurt as these are teams that were considered sub-par competition. Whether hobbled by injury or displaced by lack of talent, both organizations reminded the Suns that Phoenix has a target on their back. This is a new feeling for some; knowing the teams are laser focused on defeating them night in and night out.
That target mirrors my love for Notre Dame football. The team is nationally televised weekly and has a long tradition of greatness (although they haven’t won a thing since I was 6...). Whenever I discuss the weekly matchup with my father, whether it be USC or Western Kentucky, we always arrive at the same conclusion: it doesn’t matter who the Irish are playing, they will get the opposition’s best. For small schools, it’s their Super Bowl; their one chance to be on national TV.
The Suns are quickly becoming NBA League Pass darlings. National pundits are expressing their affection for the Phoenix brand of basketball. If opposing teams carry any of the Michael Jordan gene (the one that finds any competitive advantage possible and uses it for the motivation to destroy), they see the love the Suns are receiving and want to change the narrative.
In short? The Suns can’t take nights off. The level of competition in the NBA will not allow for it. That is the lesson I take away from Period 2.
The Next Seven
We now turn our eyes towards the third period of the 2020-21 NBA Season.
The Western Conference is shaping the way many thought it would: a power struggle outside of the Los Angeles teams. The Lakers, the Clippers, and the Jazz have separated themselves from the pack to start the season. While Phoenix currently is slotted at the #4 position in the conference, it’s a crowded dance floor as teams jostle for position while learning who they are and how to win. Teams seeded 4 through 14 are currently separated by 3 games.
The first team to start doing the Dougie will be asked to leave the party.
Never forget the John Wall dougie before his first game in DC. CLEAN pic.twitter.com/qAogbz5Ru0— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) December 3, 2020
FiveThirtyEight predicts the Suns will win 4, lose 2, and one is a pick ‘em:
- Denver Nuggets — Nuggets 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Oklahoma City Thunder — Thunder 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -8.5 favorites
- Golden State Warriors — Warriors 22%, Suns 78%. Suns -7.5 favorites
- @ Dallas Mavericks — Suns 41%, Mavs 59%. Mavs -2.0 favorites
- @ Dallas Mavericks — Suns 35%, Mavs 65%. Mavs -4.0 favorites
- @ New Orleans Pelicans — Suns 50%, Pelicans 50%. Pick ‘Em
- Detroit Pistons — Pistons 16%, Suns 84%. Suns -10.5 favorites
The Suns play game 2 of a back-to-back against the Denver Nuggets tonight. Let’s hope that the team can put the Friday loss behind them. Tough loses are hard, especially when you feel that they have been taken from you by the refs.
okay this is a good angle. Was Booker's left elbow, not right.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) January 23, 2021
However that's STILL after Harris' initial foul on that same arm https://t.co/2n71MJdrKZ
Fans can focus on the refereeing. The Suns need to focus on stopping the Murray/Jokic pick-and-roll late in games. It’s a cheat code that works against Phoenix. Every. Single. Time.
OKC comes to town and, per FiveThirtyEight, it appears to be a lopsided affair. The 6-8 Thunder have surprised many by how frisky they have been. Many thought they would set up camp at the bottom of the conference, roast marshmallows over a warm fire, and begin using the draft capital to rebuild their franchise. Losses to the Nuggets and Clippers set them back, but don’t doubt their abilities.
Golden State has felt a resurgence of late, as Stephen Curry is reminding the league of his unbelievable shooting abilities. He dropped a healthy 62 against Portland earlier this year and is currently 3rd in the league in scoring at 28.2. Could this be the Kelly Oubre Game?
Traveling to Dallas is easily that tastiest portion of the period three meal period. OKC and Golden State are the appetizers, the Pelicans and Pistons are dessert. The Mavericks always have us seasoning the entrée and licking our chops.
The final two games are against teams the Suns have played previously this season. While they destroyed the Pelicans (who have lost 7 of the last 8), they dropped a game eerily similar to the Denver loss in OT at Detroit.
The next seven games provide a chance for redemption, as the last seven did not meet expectations. Is 4-3 a reasonable expectation for Period 3 or should we expect better? The season is a grind. As long as you’re winning the periods, you’ll reach your desired destination. Although 4-3 isn’t sexy, it’ll get the job done.
What lesson will we learn? Time shall tell. On to Period 3.
Where do you believe the Suns record will be at the completion of Period 3?
This poll is closed
15-6 (7-0 in Period 3)
14-7 (6-1 in Period 3)
13-6 (5-2 in Period 3)
12-7 (4-3 in Period 3)
11-8 (3-4 in Period 3)
10-9 (2-5 in Period 3)
9-10 (1-6 in Period 3)
8-11 (0-7 in Period 3)