Every season is a road trip. In the offseason you are setting the expectations of your travels, focusing on the destination, and preparing for the follies that you most certainly will face. You pack your bags, throw them in the car, pull out the map (or plug in your coordinates into your GPS) and turn your key in the ignition. The engine turns over and the regular season begins.
Like Clark W. Griswold, you are optimistically fantasizing about the best vacation ever and excited about the adventure that lies before you. Could this annual trip include highlights such as an All Star? Maybe two? What moments will we remember for years? Who will we be when—
Shut up back there! Keep your hands to yourself and be nice to your Aunt Edna!
I’m sorry, where was I?
Oh yes...the moments. There are stops along the way, whether it be cousin Eddie’s farm or the Grand Canyon, Booker buzzer-beaters or Dario Saric and-one’s, and it is important to appreciate to beauty of each mile marker. It’s not always about the destination. It’s about the journey.
We’ve pulled the old family truck-ster over to the side of the road numerous times thus far on this season-long road trip, admiring the view of how the Phoenix Suns have performed in 7-game segments. It is time once again to take a break from the mesmerizing highway lines and look at how the trek has been:
Not too bad, Clark.
The Suns are 48.6% of the way through their season and have a 24-11 record. They enter the break with their best winning percentage since the 2006-07 season.
Like Christie Brinkley in a red Corvette, we’re getting noticed. Kevin O’Connor had an excellent piece about the team on The Ringer. Paul Pierce said on The Jump to, “watch out for the Phoenix Suns”. Stephen A. Smith believes that the “Phoenix Suns are coming”.
The hype is well warranted and, honestly, nice to hear. It has been years since I stayed up late struggling through a personality-rather-than-highlight driven show like SportsCenter to watch the Suns’ recaps. I do now. Seeing the Suns logo next to a topic of positive conversation is something I do not take for granted. I smile, I sip an Old Fashioned, and I enjoy.
As we pull off the pavement to look for lodging, we no longer are being herded towards the Enjoy Your Mid-Season Break Motel like years past (2 stars on TripAdvisor; poor Wi-fi service and an empty pool). We’re parking our car with valet and staying at the luxurious NBA All Star Break Resort & Spa!
The Last Seven
Period 5 featured winnable games against pesky competition. No win comes easy in the NBA and when you’re receiving national attention, the target gets bigger.
The Suns have been lucky, make no mistake about that. We are playing teams that are not a full strength. Conversely, we are. You have to win those games. And they have.
The results of the last seven with pre-game odds (via FiveThirtyEight.com):
- @ Memphis Grizzlies (W, 128-97) — Suns 56%, Grizzlies 44%. Suns -1.5 favorites
- Portland Trail Blazers (W, 132-100) — Blazers 27%, Suns 73%. Suns -6.0 favorites
- Charlotte Hornets (L, 124-121) — Hornets 20%, Suns 80%. Suns -8.5 favorites
- @ Chicago Bulls (W, 106-97) — Suns 65%, Bulls 35%. Suns -4.0 favorites
- @ Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 118-99) — Suns 68%, Wolves 32%. Suns -5.0 favorites
- @ Los Angeles Lakers (W, 114-104) — Suns 38%, Lakers 62%. Lakers -3.0 favorites
- Golden State Warriors (W, 120, 98)— Warriors 21%, Suns 79%. Suns -8.5 favorites
The Suns have the best offensive rating (120.4) and the best defensive rating (103.5) over the last 7 games. Their net rating of 16.9 (read that number again) is 6.5 points better than the next team (Denver Nuggets) in the same time frame. Their assist/turnover ratio (2.48) is best in the league while their three-point percentage (42.2%), free throw percentage (84.4%), and true shooting percentage (61.6%) are all second.
Their current record puts them on a 49-win pace this season. That would be 56 wins in a normal 82-game season. The last time the Suns had 56+ wins? The 2006-07 season (61).
We have just witnessed an unbelievably dominant period of Suns basketball. If not for a missed foul call at the end of the Charlotte Hornets game, this stretch of basketball would be practically perfect. The team is 16-3 in their last 19 games and you could argue that they should have won two of those contests (Brooklyn, Charlotte). Since the Orland Bubble the Suns are a league best 32-11.
Feel free to pick your jaw up off of the floor.
How did the Bright Siders fare in predicting Period 5?
20% of you looked at the stretch and felt that the Suns could pull off a 6-1 run. And 20% of you were correct. The fact that 99% believed that the team win have a winning record during this period is a testament to how we are feeling about our squad at this moment. Our expectation is to win. And like room service, they’re delivering.
We now have a break as the Suns do not play until next Thursday. Feel good about your team, enjoy the spotlight, and while you’re at it, tell your friends to subscribe to the Suns JAM Session Podcast...we’ll be hosting a watch party for the dunk contest/2nd half of the All Star Game.
This is the best the Phoenix Suns have been in a long time.
.@Suns record @ the break over the last decade:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) March 5, 2021
10-11: 27-27 (.500)
11-12: 14-20 (.412)
12-13: 17-36 (.321)
13-14: 30-21 (.588)
14-15: 29-25 (.537)
15-16: 14-40 (.259)
16-17: 18-39 (.316)
17-18: 18-41 (.305)
18-19: 11-48 (.186)
19-20: 22-33 (.490)
20-21: 24-11 (.686)
The Next Seven
It’s going to be a fun break for the Phoenix Suns and fans of the organization. The team has two All Stars in Atlanta over the weekend, and both Devin Booker (Three-Point Contest) and Chris Paul (Skills Challenge) will participate in extra-curricular activities before the game. (Doh! Booker is out!) There will plenty of positive comments relative to their performances thus far this season and how the Suns are headed in the right direction. Enjoy it. We as fans have waited too long for moments like these.
Once the festivities are are over and the lights dim, it is time to refocus and resume. Put gas in the tank, check the air on the tires, and on to Period 6 of the season.
What does the schedule look like coming out of the break?
It’s a stretch of games that begins and ends on the road, with a nice ‘lil 5-game homestand sandwiched in between. The total win/loss record of the opposition is 102-109 (.483).
How does FiveThirtyEight see the next seven playing out?
@ Portland Trail Blazers — Suns 61%, Blazers 39%. Suns -3.0 favorites
Indiana Pacers — Pacers 17%, Suns 83%. Suns -9.5 favorites
Memphis Grizzlies — Grizzlies 21%, Suns 82%. Suns -9.5 favorites
Minnesota Timberwolves — Wolves 13%, Suns 87%. Suns -12.0 favorites
Minnesota Timberwolves — Wolves 13%, Suns 87%. Suns -11.5 favorites
Los Angeles Lakers — Lakers 30%, Suns 70%. Suns -5.5 favorites
@ Miami Heat — Suns 50%, Heat 50%. Pick ‘Em
The sports blogging website has the Suns favored in all but one game, and that one game is a toss up per their analytics.
The period begins in Portland against a Blazers team the Suns easily dispatched in Period 5 by 32 points. Don’t think that it will be a cake walk when the team travels to the City of Roses, however. Currently the team sits nestled in at the #5 seed in the Western Conference with a 21-14 record. That is despite their big three of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic playing just 243 of a possible 1,685 minutes (14.4%) together. Compare that to 631 minutes out a possible 1,700 (37.1%) for Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton.
Here’s the play CJ McCollum had his foot stepped on by Clint Capela...— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) January 17, 2021
The Blazer have officially announced he has a left foot sprain and will not return. pic.twitter.com/Aoflx48YcY
The Blazers have won three straight entering the break and hope to get McCollum back for the start of the second half of the season. He recently told NBA.com that, “I’m at a place where I’ll be ready when I’m ready. The team understands that, they’re encouraging me to take my time. We want to make sure we get this right, we don’t want short term greed to affect the long term.” Make sure you’re good and ready, Christian James. I wouldn’t be upset if you sat this one out.
After the quick one-game roadie, it’s five at home for the Suns. Is it just me, or have the Suns been fortunate to have some healthy home stands thus far this year? They will pay for that in the second half, but until then, enjoy the home cooking!
The 16-19 Pacers are first up. It seems like a long time ago when the 6-3 Suns matched up with the 6-2 Pacers. Phoenix won 125-117 behind 34 points from Mikal Bridges.
Indiana was 8-5 when they participated in the blockbuster Harden-to-Brooklyn trade, netting Caris LeVert in the deal while sending two-time All Star Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets. Unfortunately for Indy (but fortunate for Caris) a mass was discovered on LeVert’s left kidney during the post-trade physical. He will make a full recovery for the renal cell carcinoma of his left kidney.
The team has struggled since the trade, posting an 8-14 record since.
The Suns will play the Memphis Grizzlies for the third and final time on March 15, with this being the first time they have faced them at home. The teams have split the season series 1-1; Memphis won on MLK Day by 4, the Suns won by 31 points versus a depleted Grizzlies lineup on February 20.
Memphis is a team in the middle. Their 16-16 record fortifies that statement. Injuries and COVID have derailed their season to this point. Only Tyus Jones has played in all 32 games for the team. As the Griz get healthy and finds consistency, they will be a hard out. Dillon Brooks is a pest who takes Booker out of his offensive rhythm.
Just as long as we avoid any flops from the Whiplash Kid, we’ll be okay.
Then it is two against the Timberwolves. I don’t know if there is any better type of back-to-back in the NBA. Papa Ricky makes his return to Phoenix and, deep down in your soul, you wish that Minnesota would buy him out so he could come back. But you know what they say, “Hope in one hand, crap in the other. See which one fills up faster”.
Phoenix dismantled the 7-29 Timberwolves behind a 43-point Booker performance just last week. It was that game that solidified Book’s Western Conference Player of the Month award for the month of February. Ayton played physical against Karl Anthony-Towns and, despite only shooting 25.9% from deep, the Suns won by 19.
The last game of the home stand is a rematch against the Los Angeles Lakers. It is the only semi-nationally televised game on the slate as it will be broadcast on NBATV. Hopefully Booker will be permitted to play the entire game.
Devin Booker ejected after bouncing ball to ref, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/m8FoBU8Mnc— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) March 4, 2021
The time table for the return of Anthony Davis is roughly March 19 per CBSSports, so we could see LA at near full-strength. Good. I want a matchup against the champs at their potential for two reasons: I want to truly know what we have hear in Phoenix and I don’t want to hear any excuses from my Laker friends.
Since Davis sustained a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis on February 18, the Lakers have gone 2-5. The team has fallen from the #2 seed to #4 during the 7-game span. Phoenix has taken advantage of this slump and essentially switched spots in the standings. This is clearly the golden game of the period that we all will be anxiously waiting to watch.
From the winner of the 2020 NBA Finals to the team the faced, Phoenix flies to Miami to end the Period 6 stint. Miami is one of two teams (San Antonio Spurs) that the Suns did not face in the first half of the season.
It was a rough start of the season for the reigning Eastern Conference champions as it has been a tale of two seasons. Their 6-12 start had them in 12th place in the East. Of those 18 games, Jimmy Butler played in a total of 6. COVID-19 sidelined him and numerous teammates. The virus played a part in the inconsistent lineups the Heat have rostered. It is Florida after all.
Since stability has returned the team is 12-6 in their last 18. If you can do math, you’ve added up win and loss totals and know that they currently are 18-18. That is good for 6th in the Eastern Conference standings. Bam Adebayo continues to grow and dominate. Butler is rounding in to form. By March 23 they should be a tough out.
Jimmy Butler in 15 games since returning from COVID-19:— Getting Buckets Podcast (@getbucketpod) March 2, 2021
The heart & soul of this Miami Heat team pic.twitter.com/dIff7CZogW
The game against the Heat begins the second east coast swing for the Suns this season. At the break Phoenix is 15-7 vs. Western Conference teams and 9-4 against Eastern Conference competition.
Where do you believe the Suns record will be at the completion of Period 6?
This poll is closed
31-11 (7-0 in Period 6)
30-12 (6-1 in Period 6)
29-13 (5-2 in Period 6)
28-14 (4-3 in Period 6)
27-15 (3-4 in Period 6)
26-16 (2-5 in Period 6)
25-17 (1-6 in Period 6)
24-18 (0-7 in Period 6)
Have the Suns accomplished anything yet? No. But they are driving down the road towards the other side of hard with an opportunity to arrive at the playoffs.
When the team gets there, it will be like arriving at Wally World. We’ll hop out of the car and begin running towards the front gate, in slow motion, to Chariots of Fire.
To win a championship would like having the entire theme park to ourselves.
Although the thought of riding the Whipper Snapper with all of my fellow Suns fans is enticing, we still have a long way to go before we can entertain such thoughts. For now we have to focus on the road and avoid any speed bumps. If we do that, we’ll end up—
Oh. Em. Gee. What in the name of Jalen Smith’s goggles is that smell coming from the back?!
—where was I? Go Suns.