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Previewing Suns second half: hot takes on the schedule, predicting playoff seeding

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Your Phoenix Suns are a contender again!

At the halfway point of the season, the Phoenix Suns have the league’s second-best record (24-11). Since working out the kinks of integrating a pair of All-Star ball handling guards, the Suns have won 16 of their last 19 games. They have a great defense, a pair of clutch closers and play the style of basketball that just wins games.

Now the second half starts, and these (mostly) young Suns will get their first exposure the pressure of playoff positioning.

“Games get a lot more intense when guys start jockeying for playoff position,” Chris Paul said of the upcoming schedule. “So we’re just going to stay the course, keep our head down and keep doing the work.”

It’s a good thing the Suns have Paul, who’s been in 10 straight playoffs, and Jae Crowder, who’s been in 8 straight, to help guide them through that pressure.

Analysts say the Phoenix Suns second half schedule is not easy.

One analysis has them with the 11th most difficult schedule remaining, and 4th toughest among West contenders (behind the Clippers, Warriors and Lakers).

A second has them with the 11th most difficult, but 2nd toughest among West contenders (behind only the Lakers).

On the other hand, yet a third predictive model gives the Suns a mid-to-easy second half schedule and predicts they will finish 2nd in the West. Ball-ref predicts the Suns will go 24-13 in the second half, gives them a 100% chance to make the playoffs and the 3rd best odds in the whole league to win the Finals (wut!).

Also interesting: www.BetOnline.ag gives the Suns the 7th best odds to win the championship, and another online sports betting site won’t even lay odds anymore on the Suns making the playoffs (along with only the Clippers, Lakers and Jazz in the West playoff picture).

But that’s all just nerds nerding out right now. Doesn’t matter how many simulations you run, you’re not ever considering all the human and environmental factors at play every single second of every day.

Nevertheless, it sure is fun having the Suns be contenders again.

The Schedule

Let’s dive further into the Suns most important second-half schedule in a decade. Graphics courtesy of the awesome John Voita, podcaster, artist and writer extraordinaire for Bright Side!

For those who don’t process graphics, here’s the schedule in list form:

Trivia...

  • Only 4 nationally televised games at this time for the league’s 2nd best team
  • 9 back-to-backs — NINE! — meaning half of the schedule (18 of 37 games) is part of a back-to-back
  • After three good home stands in the next month, the Suns are home for only 4 of their last 16 games
  • In those last 16 games, the first 7 and last 6 are against likely playoff teams jockeying for seeding (the top 10 in each conference make at least the play-in tourney)
  • 6 of the 37 games (compared to 3 of the first 35) are against the other top West seeds: Jazz, Lakers and Clippers

Phew!

The good news is that the whole league is facing the same challenges in terms of back-to-backs and weird home stands and road trips.

“That’s a really hard schedule,” says Suns guard Langston Galloway in his multi-media series on suns.com. “We looked at the second half of the season, and there’s no two days where you have a full day off where I can relax a little bit and then another day to practice. It’s literally just playing, playing, playing. You’ve really got to, as a team, come together and find ways to get better and find ways to just continue to gel.”

Kickin it with LG


Let’s survey the Bright Side staff for our takes on this schedule

  1. What’s the _____________ stretch of games coming up, and why? (fill in the blank)

Dave King: Toughest. The toughest stretch of games to me is that late-April road trip against the top of the East right when the teams really really start ramping up their efforts in playoff seed positioning. The top of the East will be a dog fight, and they will all be focused when the Suns come to town.

John Voita: Most ironic. The final two games against the Spurs. I mean, why wouldn’t we have to end our first march the playoffs in a decade with a two game set versus San Antonio to finish the season? Seeding, although perhaps not as important as years prior, will still be vital to the postseason run for the Suns. If those two games against the Spurs are important to where Phoenix lands as it pertains to playoff positioning (or if the Spurs need them for their own seeding purposes), you expect San Antonio to give us their best shot. It will be like slaying a dragon that has haunted you for the past 20 years.

Keith M. Scheessele: Most appetizing. It’s the first stretch post All-Star break. At Portland, then five straight at home against Indiana, Memphis, and a pair with Minnesota before Suns/Lakers Part II. Five wins in the first seven games of the second half is not out of the question and creating distance between the Lakers and Clippers in the Pacific sounds delicious.

2. What else about the schedule is interesting to you?

DK: Those nine back-to-backs might end up hitting the Suns hard simply because of a guy named Chris Paul. I’m confident that Cameron Payne is playable as a short-term, one-game-at-a-time starter to give Chris Paul rest as long as Booker is right there alongside him. The Suns have depth for a game at a time. But overall, jamming nine B2Bs into a 37-game dogfight is gonna be tough for players of any age.

JV: The Suns have had the fortune of playing plenty at home and they’ll have to pay the piper for that food fortune in their last 16 games. 12 of those games will be on the road. If this team wants to maintain their place in the Western Conference, they will need to become road warriors to end the season. A stretch like that could make or break this team relative to a top 4 seed in the west. If they survive with 10+ wins, watch out. We could be making a title run.

KMS: It’s gotta be that final pair against San Antonio. I sports-hate the Spurs, and if you’re on this site, you probably should as well. But this has more to do with the likelihood that these two butt heads early in the postseason. Your Suns will be near the top. I suspect the Spurs will be near the bottom. In addition to the implication that the final two games may have on seeding, and possibly a Pacific Division title, we may very well be looking at a playoff preview on May 15th and 16th.

3. What seed will the Suns have at the end of the season?

DK: I really want to say #2 in the West, as basketball-reference.com predicts and Suns Nation begs for. Or even #1. But I worry that the Suns will wilt a bit under pressure and/or they will be dealing with key guys being out at the wrong time, and drop back down to 4th or so. Ahhh screw it, I’ll call #2!

JV: I believe the Suns will finish with the #4 seed in the west. The second half is much harder than the first, and Phoenix played numerous teams who weren’t at full strength due to injuries and COVID. As the season progresses and we see less COVID related missed games, coupled with the target on the Suns’ back, I expect a few more L’s. But hey, we’re playoff bound baby!

KMS: Conservatively, I’ll say #2. You have to go looking for reasons the Suns will play worse than they did in the first half, and you’ll be looking for awhile. They are now the hunted though, there’s no mistaking that. Of the teams situated behind Phoenix, the team to watch out for is Denver. You know what the Lakers and Clippers are going to do. For the rest of the month the Nuggets have two games against teams with winning records. Things are going to get tight at the top. Still, Suns at #2.


Poll

What Western Conference seed will the Suns have as they enter the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Top seed baby!
    (65 votes)
  • 78%
    Home court advantage (2nd - 4th seed)
    (436 votes)
  • 9%
    Just above the play-in line (5th or 6th seed)
    (54 votes)
  • 0%
    Play-in, here we come! (7th - 10th seed)
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Who’s in the 2021 Draft again?
    (1 vote)
558 votes total Vote Now