Twenty-one games complete. 51 to go. Following a 17-point win vs. the Detroit Pistons on Friday evening, Phoenix finds themselves 29.1 percent of the way through the season with at 12-9. That is good enough for 5th in the Western Conference and tied with Denver and Portland.
That puts the team on a course for a 41-32 record.
The West, as we know, is tough. The difference between the current #4 seed (Denver, 12-9) and the #11 seed (Sacramento, 10-11) is 2 games. While Phoenix is at the front of the pack, it is still a pack. Stretches of the season are of vital importance during a muted season and one span of poor play can put you in the trunk of the car rather than in the driver’s seat.
Analyzing the team seven games at a time, breaking the season into 10 periods, allows for us to view the team through a specified lens. As we are nearly a third of the way through this season, who are the Phoenix Suns? What have we learned? What improvements need to be made and what characteristics should be fortified?
In Period 1 we learned that this team has the potential to live up to our expectations. Their 5-2 record during the first seven games was impressive as the team showcased dominant defense and the desire to shoot (and make) the three-ball. Although the high pick-and-roll was not effective yet, the gravity it brought to the offense allowed for shooters to be open and we saw an increase in 3 point-attempts-per game (36.7 3PA in our first seven games compared to 31.8 3PA in 2019-20).
Period 2 was a reminder that the target was on the Suns back. They would not have the luxury to take any games off. It didn’t matter if you were playing the Indiana Pacers or the Washington Wizards. Due to the national narrative, the Suns will receive every team’s best shot.
It was a losing effort during the Game 8 to Game 14 stretch of the season; 3-4 consistently equates to (in a 72-game season) 31 wins. That means sitting at home during the postseason. Listen, I sit at home a lot these days. I don’t want to have to do it and watch other teams in the playoffs, okay Suns?
The Last Seven
What did Period 3 reveal about our beloved Suns?
Games 15 through 21 on the schedule provided us insight to the true depth of the team. Phoenix was without the services of multiple players throughout the stretch for a variety of different reasons:
- Jae Crowder missed 1 game
- Abdel Nader missed 1 game
- Devin Booker missed 4 games
- Cameron Payne missed 6 games
- Dario Saric missed all 7 games
The beauty and appeal of basketball is it’s fluidity. The rhythm of the game is artistic. In order to be successful as a team, you need your artists to have the brush in their hand and paint. Due to a plethora of reasons, the Suns didn’t have all of their Rembrandt’s.
Although this stretch of the schedule did not pose the most daunting slate of competition (the combined record of the opposition was 77-97, .443 winning percentage), the adverse challenge of overcoming DNP’s was consistently present. For example, E’Twaun Moore, who averaged 4.7 minutes in 2 appearances prior to Period 3, averaged 15.8 minutes and played in 5 games.
Depth is critical to the long term success of a team. These minutes are valuable as every player knows that on any night they could be called upon to contribute to the cause.
FiveThirtyEight.com predicted the Suns would win 4, lose 2, and one was a pick ‘em. Here are the results vs. the predicted outcomes:
- Denver Nuggets (L, 120-112, 3OT) — Nuggets 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 102-97) — Thunder 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -8.5 favorites
- Golden State Warriors (W, 114-93) — Warriors 22%, Suns 78%. Suns -7.5 favorites
- @ Dallas Mavericks (W, 111-105) — Suns 41%, Mavs 59%. Mavs -2.0 favorites
- @ Dallas Mavericks (W, 109-108) — Suns 35%, Mavs 65%. Mavs -4.0 favorites
- @ New Orleans Pelicans (L, 123-101) — Suns 50%, Pelicans 50%. Pick ‘Em
- Detroit Pistons (W, 109-92) — Pistons 16%, Suns 84%. Suns -10.5 favorites
When the poll was posed to Bright Side readers in the Period 2 analyzation, Period 3 prediction piece, 40% believed that the Suns would go 4-3 during this stretch of the schedule. 40% of you were correct. Pat yourself on the back...then find the 1 guy who voted that they would go 0-7 and ban him from any Suns activities.
The highlight of Period 3 was defeating the Mavericks in back to back affairs, with the exclamation point coming as Devin Booker rose above Josh Richardson for the game winning three-pointer.
The team was a whole, despite being plagued by injury, attacked the 3rd stretch of 10 games and came out above .500. Period 3 taught us that the Suns are deep. In year past the Suns wouldn’t have survived 4 games without Booker. They would lose games without Saric. They would’ve went 2-5 or 1-6 during such a challenging stretch.
Not these Suns.
Kudos to Chris Paul who played in all 7 games, scored 22.7 while dishing out 8 assists, snagged 5.1 rebounds and shot 96.2% from the line. His leadership continues to amaze me.
Is it weird that Chris Paul is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorite Suns?— John Voita (@DarthVoita) February 4, 2021
The Next Seven
Now we look to the next seven games of the Phoenix Suns schedule.
When all is said and done, we will be 28 games in and 39% through the 2020-21 campaign. Period 4 is the stretch of the schedule that includes 6 home games against Eastern Conference competition and a rematch on the road in New Orleans.
The FiveThirtyEight projections for the upcoming games values the home court, as I am puzzled by some of their estimations:
- Boston Celtics — Celtics 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Cleveland Cavaliers — Cavaliers 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -9 favorites
- Milwaukee Bucks — Bucks 47%, Suns 53%. Suns -0.5 favorites
- Philadelphia 76ers — 76ers 42%, Suns 58%. Suns -2 favorites
- Orlando Magic — Magic 23%, Suns 78%. Suns -7.5 favorites
- Brooklyn Nets — Nets 38%, Suns 62%. Suns -3 favorites
- @ New Orleans Pelicans — Suns 49%, Pelicans 51%. Pelicans -0.5 favorites
Phoenix is favored in 6 of the 7 games in Period 4, a tough task to live up to indeed.
Although the team is playing those 6 games against Eastern Conference teams, 4 of the 6 are in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings. If the playoffs were to begin today, the 76ers, Bucks, Nets, and Celtics would be the top 4 seeds in the East, respectfully. Home cooking is a nice advantage, but the level of competition will be fierce.
The combined record of the teams the Suns face in Period 4 is 84-73; that’s a .535 winning percentage, folks.
Boston comes to town on Super Sunday and the first time this season (good, bad, or indifferent) there will be fans in the stands. The Celtics downed the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night 199-115 and find themselves with the same record as the Phoenix Suns: 12-9. This will surely be a test as the duo of Jaylen Brown (26.4ppg) and Jayson Tatum (27.3ppg) will he hard to shut down. Both are playing at an All-Star level.
The Cavaliers aren’t an easy out either. The team has surprised many with the ‘Sexland Backcourt’ (Colin Seton and Darius Garland). Their size will surely be an issue for the Suns, especially if injuries prevent Phoenix from fortifying size behind and around Deandre Ayton. Andre Drummond, JaVale McGee, and Jarret Culver are a hand full.
When the Cavs leave, the Bucks arrive. Milwaukee has lost 3 of the last 4 to Phoenix and Giannis’ 18.2 points-per-game vs. the Suns is his 3rd worst against any one team (only Detroit and Indiana have held him to less). Their addition of Jrue Holiday makes them a better team and their current 14-8 record is to be expected given the depth and talent on their roster.
Follow that up with the Philadelphia 76ers, the top seed in the East. Joel Embiid is playing at an elite level. The guy who had issues with his motor is cruising at 65 MPH all game long, averaging career highs in points (29.1), 3PT% (42.3%), and free throw attempts (11.1). His superior athleticism will force the issue and put the Suns in awkward spots.
Joel Embiid at halftime:— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 5, 2021
Embiid is surrounded by playmakers (Ben Simmons), shooters (Seth Curry and Tobias Harris), and defense (Danny Green). Shut him down and they can take his place. This will be a challenging game that will be a good litmus test for Phoenix.
The Suns get a “break” against the Orlando Magic, a team that is riddled with injuries and struggling to win. No Markelle Fultz. No Jonathan Isaac. No Aaron Gordon. No chance? The Suns have been plagued to playing to the level of their competition this season. Nothing is for sure.
Nikola Vucevic is putting together a career year for Orlando and has averaged a double-double (17.7ppg/10.4rpg) in his career against the Suns. He dropped 43 points last night against the Bulls. He is a threat on all three levels.
We’ll say, “good-bye” to Orlando and , “hello” to the Brooklyn Nets. Welcome back to Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Mike D’Antoni. The Seven Seconds or Less trio coaches a deadly trio in their own right: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving can dish it out just as good as they can take it— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) February 1, 2021
Safe to say the Nets are going to be fun to watch all year long. pic.twitter.com/1asmdE6jTg
Sprinkle in some size in the aging Deandre Jordan and know this: Brooklyn can be scary. And my favorite League Pass team this season. Of the seven games that lie ahead, this is the one I am circling on my calendar. It’ll be a TNT game, so hopefully National TV Ayton arrives.
Lastly, the Suns have a shot at winning the season series against the New Orleans Pelicans. Game 1 was a 25-point blowout in favor of the Suns. Game 2 was a 22-point loss. What will Game 3 hold? Winning the series matchups are crucial as they may determine playoff seeding further down the line.
The greatest challenge Phoenix will have during this stretch is their depth and size in their frontcourt. Drummond, Culver, Giannis, Lopez, Embiid, Vucevic, Jordan, Adams, and Zion. Names like these have the ability to impose their will, dominant the glass,
Monty appears to be committed to the big lineup he displayed on Friday night against the Pistons. Although it is weird to see Frank Kaminsky in the starting lineup, it makes sense. So many teams have sizeable frontcourts. The Suns have a roster that can be flexible.
Time to flex.
Where do you believe the Suns record will be at the completion of Period 3?
This poll is closed
19-9 (7-0 in Period 4)
18-10 (6-1 in Period 4)
17-11 (5-2 in Period 4)
16-12 (4-3 in Period 4)
15-13 (3-4 in Period 4)
14-14 (2-5 in Period 4)
13-15 (1-6 in Period 4)
12-16 (0-7 in Period 4)