What’s that up ahead? It is a hitchhiker with their thumb in the wind?
The Suns’ bus keeps driving down the regular season road and as the miles pass, new members are looking to join the fun and jump onto the bandwagon. Good. Welcome aboard. Remember to fill out your application. Dave King will review it.
Phoenix has now completed their 4th set of seven games and are 39% of the way through the 2020-21 season. Knowing that there are 10 such periods in a 72 game season (plus two games at the end), we have taken note of each seven game stretch. We have been observing the team in these periods as they navigate the peaks and valleys that the regular season poses.
Here is how they have fared thus far through 4 periods:
As we enter Period 5, the set of games that will take us halfway through this journey, Phoenix has an 18-10 record and is tied for 4th in the Western Conference. They have just completed their strongest stretch of the season against stout competition (opposing teams were 84-73 entering the 7-game period) with a .857 winning percentage. Outside of an epic 24-point collapse against the Nets, the team knifed their way through the Eastern Conference’s best and ended the period with a dominating 4th quarter against the Pelicans.
As of today, Phoenix has a 96% chance of making the playoffs. We will not be playing the “refresh tank-a-thon” game this year. This is music to my ears. It would take an epic collapse to miss the playoffs this year. Period 4 taught us that epic collapses are possible, however.
The goal is to stay focused. To continue to focus on the road ahead rather than the destination. Seven games at a time.
The Last Seven
The 4th period of the season was filled with victories and happy talk on the Suns JAM Session post game podcasts. That’s right folks, our Phoenix Suns have navigated four segments of the season thus far and have posted a winning record 3 out of the 4 times. That is the goal: to be successful in the sprints and you’ll win the marathon.
The results of the last seven with pre-game predictions:
- Boston Celtics (W, 100-91) — Celtics 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Cleveland Cavaliers (W, 119-113) — Cavaliers 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -9 favorites
- Milwaukee Bucks (W, 125-124) — Bucks 47%, Suns 53%. Suns -0.5 favorites
- Philadelphia 76ers (W, 120-111) — 76ers 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Orlando Magic (W, 109-90) — Magic 23%, Suns 78%. Suns -7.5 favorites
- Brooklyn Nets (L, 128-124) — Nets 38%, Suns 62%. Suns -3 favorites
- @ New Orleans Pelicans (W, 132-114) — Suns 49%, Pelicans 51%. Pelicans -0.5 favorites
Give credit where credit is due: FiveThirtyEight.com had the Suns going 6-1 during this stretch of basketball. Not many of us did. This was no easy task to accomplish what Phoenix has, especially given the challenging competition. Yet here we are on the other side with an 18-10 record.
How did the Bright Siders fare in predicting this?
15 of you called it! Pat yourself on the back, virtually high-five those around you, and start betting on games at your local sportsbook. Another vote for 0-7, eh? I am happy to report that you are wrong. In more ways than one.
So what did we learn? My observation on this run of Suns basketball is this: the team has grit.
Not all of the wins in Period 4 were blowouts. They had to mentally overcome blowing a 12-point lead against the Cavs. They had to survive the final minutes of the 4th versus Milwaukee. They had to come back being down 11 to defeat the Pelicans. Winning in the NBA is hard and if you are not focused on every possession, if you let possessions get away from you, you lose. We’ve seen it for too many years in Phoenix.
This team has absorbed the personality of Chris Paul and personifies it on the court. The matches they navigated during Period 4 will do wonders for this team moving forward. It shows the team that they are never out of it. It is a point of reference when they play difficult competition, knowing they can win. It builds confidence.
It was a fun stretch of games. Like your shrink tells you to do with your feelings, compartmentalize it. It is the past. We look towards the future now.
The Next Seven
Like the seventh track on The Blueprint III, we’re on to the next one. The road that lies ahead contains opportunity. The Period 5 stretch has winnable games against some bad teams.
Only one nationally televised game this period? That’s the Suns I know! Although I was kind of getting used to the national pundits discussing the championship level of defense the Suns play, only to watch it disintegrate and crumble before our eyes. Sorry...that Nets loss still stings when I think about it. Put in a box, John, put in a box...
FiveThirtyEight predicts that the Suns will once again go 6-1 during the run the leads up to the All Star Break:
@ Memphis Grizzlies — Suns 56%, Grizzlies 44%. Suns -1.5 favorites
Portland Trailblazers — Blazers 27%, Suns 73%. Suns -6.0 favorites
Charlotte Hornets — Hornets 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -8.5 favorites
@ Chicago Bulls — Suns 65%, Bulls 35%. Suns -4.0 favorites
@ Minnesota Timberwolves — Suns 68%, Wolves 32%. Suns -5.0 favorites
@ Los Angeles Lakers — Suns 38%, Lakers 62%. Lakers -3.0 favorites
Golden State Warriors — Warriors 21%, Suns 79%. Suns -8.5 favorites
Thank you for the vote of confidence FiveThirtyEight! The record of the teams we face in Period 5 is 101-98 (.508).
First up will be the Grizzlies. If you feel that this is a team that “has the Suns’ number”, you’re not wrong. While the Suns dominated the Grizzlies during the Steve Nash era, Memphis has gone 21-9 against Phoenix Since the 2012-13 including 4-1 in the last five. That includes the national TV 108-104 loss on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January.
Memphis has been a schizophrenic team this season as they currently sit 9th in the west with a 13-12 record. They have had a 7-game win streak to account for their 13 wins, but they have had two streaks of 3 losses of more as well. Which Grizzlies team will we see tonight? Hopefully the one that loses. Dillon Brooks is on my ‘Top 5 NBA Guys Who Annoy Me’ list (headlined by Trae Young) and to see him lose would make for an enjoyable Saturday evening.
I get that C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are out for the Trailblazers, but to give the Suns a 73% chance of winning that game? I believe it is much closer than that. The Suns are Blazers are jockeying for Western Conference positioning and the result of this game could go a long way in determining an end-of-year tiebreaker.
Damian Lillard has been an absolute stud since his running mate McCollum went down with a left foot injury. In the 14 games without C.J., Dame has gone for 31.9 points on 45.9/39.1/92.8 splits. His team during that stretch is 10-4 and currently amidst a 6-game winning streak. I guess that’s not good enough to get him as an NBA starter...
The MVP conversation has been dominated by Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and LeBron James so far. It's time to throw Damian Lillard into the mix: https://t.co/8jl9NEuI6u— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) February 19, 2021
One of the games I am circling during Period 5 is the contest against the Hornets. LaMelo Ball, who Charlotte has decided to move into the starting lineup for the past 8 games, is just plain fun to watch. His court vision and playmaking skills are exceptional for a rookie talent. It isn’t necessarily equating to wins, but they are a team that can...wait for the bad pun...sting you.
A three-game road trip begins in the Windy City against the Bulls, stops over in the Twin Cities versus the Timberwolves and ends in the City of Angels facing the Lakers.
The Bulls are lead by the puzzling case of Zach LaVine. He is a scoring machine, a “walking bucket” some might say. He is doing so in an incredibly efficient manner and is someone the Suns will not want to allow to get going. 28.5 points per on 51/42.7/85.7. Good stats, bad team guy or legitimate All Star? We’ll find out when the Suns play them.
Then it’s the Timberwolves. Oh, the Timberwolves. All of those years we spent contemplating what would happen if Karl Anthony-Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker would team up for a super team. Newsflash: it wouldn’t be super. 2⁄3 of the duo are in Minnesota and, although KAT has only played in 10 games so far this season due to a plethora of challenges, the team plays zero defense. They currently are the worst team in the NBA.
They do have the #1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards. He is exciting! Look at the dunk he had last night:
DUNK OF THE YEAR.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 20, 2021
ANTHONY EDWARDS. #SCTop10 pic.twitter.com/hmnhFvldF0
(Side note: this was 2 of his 7 points as a starter. He shot 3-for-14 from the field and Minnesota lost 86-81. But the dunk was cool!)
The last game of the seven game stint is a make up game hosting Golden State. The Warriors, the team Phoenix beat by 11 in late January, is 6-5 since then. Kelly Oubre has played much better since his 1-for-11 shooting night against his old team. He’s averaged 19.7 since, including a career high 40-point performance against the Mavs.
When this segment of the schedule is complete, it will be time for the All Star Game. The team will be half way through this season. It goes by too fast.
Where do you believe the Suns record will be at the completion of Period 5?
This poll is closed
25-10 (7-0 in Period 5)
24-11 (6-1 in Period 5)
23-12 (5-2 in Period 5)
22-13 (4-3 in Period 5)
21-14 (3-4 in Period 5)
20-15 (2-5 in Period 5)
19-16 (1-6 in Period 5)
18-17 (0-7 in Period 5)