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Suns first NBA team in half a century to post 10+ game improvement three straight years

They had a long hill to climb, and made it to the top of the regular season totem pole

Orlando Magic v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The headline is quite a mouthful, so just take away the bottom line. GM James Jones and head coach Monty Williams have led the Phoenix Suns out of the depths of hell to the pinnacle of Olympia in three years.

Last year, the Suns became only the third team in history to climb from bottom-two (19 wins in 2019) to top-two (51 wins in 2021) in two years or fewer. The other two teams were iterations of the Boston Celtics.

*courtesy Phoenix Suns media relations

This year, the Suns have become only the second team in league history, and first since 1973, to finish with 10+ more wins than the previous year for three consecutive years.

  • 2018-19 — 19 wins, second worst in league
  • 2019-20 — 34 wins, 17th-best in league (in 72 games)
  • 2020-21 — 51 wins, 2nd best in league (in 72 games)
  • 2021-22 — 61+ wins, best in league

No other team has made such steady progress since the 1970-73 Boston Celtics, who went from 34 to 44 to 56 to 68 wins, all 82-game seasons. Those teams were the baloney inside the green Championship sandwich, winning it all in 1969 in Bill Russell’s final season and then winning it all again in 1974 and 1976 after the down period while they added Dave Cowens and JoJo White to team with John Havlicek.

Now the Suns have made the 10+ win leap for three straight years, though they likely would have won 56-58 games in last year in an 82-game schedule to put this kind of progression out of reach too quickly. If you’re a purist, you’ll hope this year’s finishes with a 66+ win season to keep the likelihood of that milestone alive regardless of pandemic-related schedule issues.

The Suns have 61 wins today, with 7 more games to go. They don’t seem interested in stopping their win streak any time soon, and as Chris Paul puts it with a chuckle: “I’m not on no minutes restriction, I don’t know what Monty’s talking about.”

Let’s look at the Suns remaining schedule:

  • Wednesday, at Memphis Grizzlies: no Ja, but the Grizz are 17-2 without Ja this year
  • Friday, at Golden State: no Steph, and they look awful without Steph. Just awful.
  • Sunday, at Oklahoma City: likely a ‘rest’ game, on the road, but the Thunder are just playing out the string now and are sitting their own guys too
  • Tuesday, April 5, hosting LA Lakers: LOL. Lakers might not even make the play-in and LeBron’s got a tweaked ankle
  • Wednesday, April 6, at LA Clippers: I’d guess only half the team travels for this back-to-back, so it could be a loss
  • Friday, April 8 at Utah: Suns will want this game badly, but the Jazz REALLY will need the win for playoff seeding
  • Sunday, April 10 hosting Kings: season finale, likely the whole starting unit rests, but Sac out of playoffs too and we saw the Suns sweep a pair in San Antonio last season-finale anyway (remember Stix and E’Twaun Moore going off?)

The rest of the season is totally unpredictable because after Friday’s game in Cali we don’t know who Monty will play and who he won’t. But don’t be surprised if the Suns machine just rolls right on through a win streak to close out the season, no matter who plays.

Did you notice a lot of Celtics linkage in this post?

They’re the only other franchise to go from worst to first so quickly, in 2008 when they added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce, and previously in 1980 when they added Larry Bird.

They’re the only other franchise to get 10+ more wins in three straight seasons, from 1970-73 when they reloaded around John Havlicek.

They also factor into another rare feat the Suns have accomplished this season.

The Suns now have four winning streaks of at least eight games this season. It marks the eighth time in NBA history a team has notched at least four 8+ game winning streaks in the same season, and is the first time a team has done so since the 2007-08 Celtics.

The current Celtics have now taken over the top seed in the East after the Suns knocked off the Sixers on Sunday, and they themselves have an eight-game win streak going. They’ve won 22 of their last 26 games by a net margin of 15.8 points per game, and just might be the class of the East.

It just might be a Suns-Celtics Finals.

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