When you sit back from afar an analyze a schedule, you begin to make predictions. Based on your knowledge of the opposition, understanding of your teams strengths and weaknesses, and accounting for variables such as travel, elevation, potential rest days, and location, you can begin to make assumptions as to what a teams record could be.
Granted it is not an exact science. If it was, then forecasting articles wouldn’t be written, schedule prediction podcasts wouldn’t be recorded, and games would not need to occur. If we could predict everything, then what is the point? That is not a world I want to live in!
As the Phoenix Suns began embarking on their 2020-21 journey, knowing that we would only receive the schedule for the first 37 games, we began our final team record prophesies. I landed on the 44-28 mark. Based on the Suns performance thus far, I may have undersold that final total. There is plenty of basketball left in the season with an infinite amount of outcomes and variable only Dr. Strange can navigate, so for now, I’ll stand by my number.
Following the Suns 112-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, the team sits at a 5-2 record. The Suns strength of schedule thus far this season, per Power Rankings Guru, has been the 5th hardest. The combined record of the teams faced is 23-20 (.535).
Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN have the ‘Expected W-L’ record for the Suns at 5-2, basing their assumptions on the Pythagorean 16.5 Method. Deep stuff, I know. But we are where we should be to this point, maneuvering thorough a tough first seven games of the season, and coming out the other side tied for the best record in the Western Conference
One way to approach the season is to break it into segments and create goals based off of those sections. Similar to a basketball game, if you focus on winning the next 5 minutes, you can put together a complete game. Eddie Johnson regularly references this mental approach to the game when the Suns face a deficit.
The same goes for a season. With 7 of the 72 games in the rearview, the Suns are nearly 10% of the way through the season. Although a 5-2 record every 7 games may seem unsustainable, it is a goal that would have the Suns end the season with a 51-21 record. Why not approached the schedule 7 games at a time and create a goal of 5-2 every 7?
The Next Seven
Looking at the next 7 opponents the Suns face, the goal of 5-2 appears to be achievable. Four games will be at the friendly confines of To Be Determined Arena with a three-game Eastern Conference road trip sandwiched in between. The team plays 7 games in 11 nights.
FiveThirtyEight.com, a site that makes its living off of predictions, has the following prognosis for the upcoming Suns schedule:
- Toronto Raptors — Raptors 36%, Suns 64%. Suns -3.5 favorites
- @ Detroit Pistons — Suns 75%, Pistons 25%. Suns -6.5 favorites
- @ Indiana Pacers — Suns 43%, Pacers 57%. Pacers -1.5 favorites
- @ Washington Wizards — Suns 62%, Wizards 38%. Suns -3.0 favorites
- Atlanta Hawks — Hawks 32%, Suns 68%. Suns -4.5 favorites
- Golden State Warriors — Warriors 17%, Suns 83%. Suns -9.5 favorites
- Indiana Pacers — Pacers 34%, Suns 66%. Suns -4.0 favorites
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Suns will be 11-3 after 14 games. Note that they had the Suns winning 4 of their first 7, so as stated above, it’s not science. The last time the Suns had that record though 14 games was 2009. Last year’s team, which shockingly began 7-4, was 7-7 by the 14-game mark.
The combined record for the Suns next 7 opponents* is 19-23 (.452). Three of those teams (Hawks, Pacers twice) have above .500 records.
Toronto (1-4) is trying to pick up the pieces following the departure of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka from the front line, replacing them with former-Suns’ centers Alex Len and Aron Baynes. Detroit (1-5) is trying to find itself, as are the Wizards (2-5). Golden State (3-3) is feeling the departure of Kevin Durant and the absence of Klay Thompson more than ever.
The Suns face two back-to-backs (at Detroit, at Indiana and home against Golden State, home against Indiana). You read that right. Both matchups against a T.J. Warren-less (out due to left foot surgery) Indiana Pacers team come as the second game of a back-to-back.
Trae Young, the Hawks, and his foul-baiting 10.3 FTA will be a unique challenge. Of the next 7, that is the one I have circled on the calendar. Atlanta is a team that likes to put up points, currently averaging 120 points-per-game (2nd in the league). They have an offensive rating of 118.1. They will clash with the league best 100.3 points-per-game that Phoenix allows and our 104.5 defensive rating. Get the popcorn ready.
Plenty can happen between now and game 14. Injuries, suspensions, COVID...you truly can’t predict the next two weeks. The Suns are in a great position with favorable matchups ahead. Given the uncertainty that lies ahead, every win carries more weight to it.
Stack up the W’s now knowing the future is hazy.
*At the time this piece was written