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Remember when Suns were the team with bad vibes?

Instead, the Phoenix Suns are dominating the West standings once again

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

About a tenth of the way into the season, most of the league’s supposed contenders are in some sort of turmoil... except for a Phoenix Suns team that everyone expected to league-leader in turmoil.

The Suns are 6-1 on the season, leading the league on offensive rating, net rating and point differential, while ranking top-five on defense. They have signature wins already in their pocket over the Dallas Mavericks (4-2 in non-Suns games), LA Clippers (4-3), Golden State Warriors (3-5), New Orleans Pelicans (4-2), and Minnesota Timberwolves (4-3). Their only loss this season is in overtime to the otherwise 4-2 Portland Trailblazers, who they face twice in the next two days.

I point out these opponents’ non-Suns records to show the Suns have beaten four otherwise-winning teams on their way to a 6-1 record. Not an easy schedule, yet the Suns have basically blown the doors off their opponents since that overtime Blazers loss.

Phoenix Suns

  • Record vs. otherwise-winning teams: 4-1 (Mavericks, Clippers, Warriors, Pelicans, Wolves, Blazers... their next two games are against the Blazers as well)
  • Record vs. otherwise-losing teams: 2-0 (Rockets, Warriors)

Now let’s get a look at the other ‘contenders’:

Golden State Warriors

  • Record vs. otherwise-winning teams: 0-2 (Nuggets, Suns)
  • Record vs. otherwise-losing teams: 3-4 (Lakers, Kings, Heat 2x, Hornets, Pistons, Magic)

As you can see, the Warriors had a pretty easy opening schedule to open the season. They have only faced two teams off to good starts, compared to seven games vs. teams off to bad starts. The record (not even including the Warriors games) of their last four losses? 7-23.

I know it’s early. And these are the defending champs. But this is worse than the Suns 1-3 start a year ago, if only because its gone on nine games now.

You could wave away the losses if they’re dealing with injuries, but they’re not. Or if their starters looked tired, due to the short off-season and preseason trip to Japan. But the starters aren’t the problem. All five of the starters that won the championship are healthy, and have played the 6th-most minutes together so far this season of any five-man lineup. They’re highly effective too, posting a healthy +24.1 points per 100 possessions. But those guys can’t play every minute, and the non-starters in the Warriors rotation have been abjectly bad.

The touted youth brigade of Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga has taken center stage on the backup units and badly struggled to help the Warriors win games even against losing teams.

And I haven’t even mentioned the certain divide that must exist between the young (Poole) and old (Green) on the team. You can’t tell me Draymond’s punch and weeklong suspension from the team, while the victim Poole was awarded $35 million per year in punitive damages, hasn’t caused some kind of disruption in the Warriors’ force.

LA Clippers

  • Record vs. otherwise-winning teams: 0-2 (Pelicans, Suns)
  • Record vs. otherwise-losing teams: 4-2 (Lakers, Kings, Thunder 2x, Rockets 2x)

The Clips haven’t been nearly as bad as the Warriors on an equally easy schedule. Like the Warriors, they’ve faced only two winning teams so far and lost both. But at least when facing losing teams, the Clippers have mostly come out on top.

The biggest worry for the Clippers is health. Kawhi Leonard has played in only two games this year — one of those in a loss to the Suns — but hasn’t played since and has missed their last four games due to recurring knee pain. Yes, the same knee that’s had him out for 18 months. If Leonard isn’t healthy, they are definitely not contenders. They didn’t even make the playoffs last year.

Denver Nuggets

  • Record vs. otherwise-winning teams: 1-2 (Jazz 2x, Blazers)
  • Record vs. otherwise-losing teams: 4-1 (Warriors, Thunder 2x, Lakers 2x)

The Nuggets have been up and down to start the new season as they try to get Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back up to speed at NBA regular season pace. Their defense is awful, partly because of those guys not being fully ready to go. And partly because they’ve only had a top-10 defense once in the Jokic era.

Dallas Mavericks

  • Record vs. otherwise-winning teams: 2-2 (Pelicans, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz)
  • Record vs. otherwise-losing teams: 2-1 (Nets, Thunder, Magic)

The Mavs have been up and down too. Most of their point differential is from their 41-point win over Memphis in game 2. Otherwise, they’ve won three by a total of 12 points and lost three by a total of 10 points. Their offense is good, their defense is average, and they’re relying a whole heck of a lot on Luka Doncic, who’s tops in the league in Usage Rate (39%) by a wide margin over Giannis.

The Mavs are still trying to find the right secondary and tertiary roles for Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood. Both are playing very well, but neither has a role as big as Jalen Brunson’s in last year’s playoff run.

That’s most of the West contenders. The Suns have by far played the toughest schedule and notched the most signature wins. Their top net rating is a testament to the team’s maturity and focus to come out of the bad narratives in whole rather than in pieces.

And I didn’t even touch on the East, whose best teams are (mostly) off to bad starts too with the Heat (4-5), Sixers (4-5), Nets (2-6), and Celtics (4-3) struggling to reach or stay over .500. In that group, we’ve got a suspended coach (Udoka), a fired coach (Nash), a suspended player (Irving) and a major injury (Harden) already hurting their team’s chances to shake it off and climb back to the top.

Clearly, the best teams in the NBA early this season are the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and YOUR Phoenix Suns.

Just like we all thought it was gonna go.

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