The end of the regular season is nearly upon us. At last! The ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, the wins and the losses; after all is said and done, it all comes down to the postseason. The Phoenix Suns are the number one seed in the Western Conference and will have home court advantage throughout the duration of their playoff run. Hell yeah.
While the team put together the best regular season in the history of the franchise, it is their march through the playoffs that will define our historical perception of this team. Fizzle out in the First Round and we’ll remember the team, but not for the reasons we should.
Other teams in the NBA have been jockeying for playoff seeding during the final month of the season while the Suns have been going through the process of trying to end the season healthy. Teams like the Spurs have fought valiantly to earn a postseason spot, whereas teams like the Lakers have faded away and have their flights booked to Cancun.
The play-in tournament will take place next, tipping off next Tuesday.
The Phoenix Suns do not yet know who their first-round opponent will be, but they will by the end of next Friday. The number eight seed will be awarded to one of four teams that advance from the play-in tournament. They will have the distinction — dare I say the honor — of facing the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
Who are these teams? How have they fared against the Suns? And who is the preferable opponent?
Record vs. Suns: 0-3
PPG: 115.9 (1st)
Opp PPG: 113.2 (24th)
OFF Rating: 114.3 (7th)
DEF Rating: 111.6 (13th)
NET Rating: +2.7 (9th)
Path to playing the Suns: Lose to the Clippers, defeat the winner of the 9/10 matchup
The Minnesota Timberwolves had a successful season. They’ve finally begun to click offensively. The offensive firepower on this team is constant, led by KAT’s 24.6 points and sophomore Anthony Edwards’ 21.5 points.
Their maturity, on the other hand, is one of their challenges. Who could forget Karl Anthony-Towns’ actions after a dunk on Jae Crowder just a few weeks ago? He applauded. He gave a snarl. He was defeated.
KAT and Crowder getting chippy after the poster pic.twitter.com/rrRpGeIx6F— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 24, 2022
If the Suns face the Timberwolves, expect plenty of three-pointers, as this team shoots more deep shots than any other in the league. They chuck up 41.4 a night, making 14.8. Nonetheless, their 35.8 percent clip ranks 12th in the Association. They also dominated the offensive glass, averaging the sixth most offensive rebounds and the fourth most second-chance points in the league.
While this team has a lot of talent and has the potential to be a playoff contender for years to come, one has to be concerned about their leadership. You can expect someone who does not follow the rules of engagement if you follow Patrick Beverley into battle. Granted, this is coming to you through the eyes of a Suns fan.
Despite being featured on the SLAM magazine cover alongside KAT and D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker informed his acquaintances that he has no friends following a dunk on D’Lo in their most recent matchup.
And with this dunk, Devin Booker becomes the 4th-youngest player ever to reach 11,000 points (after Kobe, KD, and LeBron).— Suns Are Better (@SunsAreBetter) March 24, 2022
He’s may be a superstar, but he’s still just getting started.pic.twitter.com/CDMEdUUMmL
Minnesota does not frighten me. The mental advantage Phoenix has over this team, combined with their late-game execution, would imply an easy series. Personally, this is one of my favorite matchups.
Los Angeles Clippers
Record vs. Suns: 2-2
PPG: 107.9 (23rd)
Opp PPG: 109.6 (11th)
OFF Rating: 109.6 (25th)
DEF Rating: 110.5 (8th)
NET Rating: -0.9 (21st)
Path to playing the Suns: Lose to the Timberwolves, defeat the winner of the 9/10 matchup
If the Los Angeles Clippers were to face the Phoenix Suns, it would be an intriguing matchup. When they’re healthy, they’re the epitome of positionless basketball. The additions of Norman Powell and Robert Covington, two effective three and D wings, allow the Clippers to play their preferred five-out style.
Because of their defensive versatility, they are a superior perimeter defensive team, ranking in the top ten in all perimeter-based metrics (opposing 3PM, 3PA, and 3PT% ). Their play-in game against Minnesota will be interesting to watch because Minnesota’s offensive strength is what the Clippers excel at defending.
Paul George is playing his way back into shape after missing 43 games due to an elbow injury. This is a team you want to catch sooner rather than later. As time passes, so two will be PG13’s effectiveness. Kawhi Leonard most likely would not play in the series, but if he did, it is the same mode of thinking as George. We saw it was Klay Thompson for Golden State. You can’t just come off of over a year off due to injury and instantly play at an All-NBA level.
Could we really see Kawhi Leonard back in the postseason? https://t.co/6Q0JMQuRH2— For The Win (@ForTheWin) April 7, 2022
This Clippers team is superior to the one that the Suns defeated in the Western Conference finals a year ago. At least in terms of talent. Powell and RoCo are excellent additions. Ty Lue is an experienced coach who can make in-game and series adjustments that allow him to be successful.
This is the one of the four teams they have a chance to play, and it is the one I want to see the Phoenix Suns play the least. Talent, defensive length, and coaching. These are their advantages.
Rebounding, on the other hand, is a problem for this team. They do not crash the glass well because of their wing-centric style of play. They rank 27th in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 22nd in total rebounds. As a result, second-chance points are scarce for this team, which ranks last in the league. Whatever happens in the playoffs, that is something to be aware of and a weakness to exploit for this team.
New Orleans Pelicans
Record vs. Suns: 1-3
PPG: 109.3 (21st)
Opp PPG: 109.7 (13th)
OFF Rating: 112.0 (19th)
DEF Rating: 112.4 (18th)
NET Rating: -0.4 (19th)
Path to playing the Suns: Beat the Spurs, beat the loser of the 7/8 matchup
In mid-February, the Pelicans made a trade to acquire CJ McCollum in the hopes that his offensive presence would propel them to a playoff spot. When he joined the team, they were in tenth place in the Western Conference. Since his arrival, McCollum has averaged 25.6 points per game on 50% shooting. The team has gone 13-11 since his arrival and treaded water to make it into the play-in game. That’s not setting the world on fire, but that is good enough to get them the ninth seed in the Western Conference.
Brandon Ingram is a talented offensive player who contributes 22.7 points per game despite being injured frequently this season. On the interior, Jonas Valanciunas would be difficult to handle, and this team likes to play big, with Jaxson Hayes starting some games at four.
The Pelicans are a skilled team that has been playing exciting basketball since the All-Star break. I’m not sure if you remember them waxing the Phoenix Suns back in early March, but they did.
Perhaps I keep bringing it up because it is one of the Suns’ few flaws, but rebounding and allowing second chance points is an issue for this Phoenix team. The New Orleans Pelicans rank third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and second chance points.
The Suns averaged 38.8 rebounds in their four games against New Orleans this year, while the Pelicans averaged 47.3.
Although that may give the Pelicans a chance to win one or two games in a seven-game series against Phoenix, I don’t believe it will result in a series victory. Against this team, the Suns’ depth would be on full display.
San Antonio Spurs
Record vs. Suns: 1-3
PPG: 113.3 (8th)
Opp PPG: 113.0 (23rd)
OFF Rating: 112.4 (15th)
DEF Rating: 112.1 (16th)
NET Rating: +0.3 (16th)
Path to playing the Suns: Beat the Pelicans, beat the loser of the 7/8 matchup
Ah, the Spurs. Leave it to Coach Popovich to take a team that doesn’t necessarily have a plethora of talent and turn them into a playoff team.
Of course, this team (or the Pelicans) would not be in the playoff picture three years ago. Given that they are the 10th seed and have a record of 34-46, it is difficult to accept that they will have a chance to compete for a postseason spot. But this is the NBA of the future, and even if your team plays like a dookie for the majority of the season, you can still make the playoffs. If only the Suns of 2013-14 had this luxury. If you’re under .500, you shouldn’t be able to get in. That’s just my opinion. Sorry for the rant about my thoughts on the play-in tournament.
Dejounte Murray is an exciting young player who has excelled and is similar to a modern-day Devin Booker in that he excels on a bad team. He has lifted this team with his mid-range assortment of shooting in his defense of capabilities.
The team has gone 8-3 in their last 11 games, passing the Los Angeles Lakers for tenth place. That alone is noteworthy. They did not fail. They refused to give up. They focused their attention, set a goal, and achieved it.
If the Spurs make it to the eighth seed and have to play the Phoenix Suns, it’ll be interesting to hear the narrative from the fanbase. The team would have to win two consecutive games to get there. I can see this happening, of course, and it would spark conversations on Twitter that they are too hot to handle and we better watch out.
If by chance the Suns have an opportunity to play the Spurs, we might need to call that Suns in 4 guy from Denver.
Per FiveThirtyEight, the teams that they believe will advance in the play-in tournament are the Timberwolves (90% chance of advancing to the playoffs) and the Clippers (79% chance). The Pelicans(25% chance) and the Spurs (6% chance) have an uphill battle if they want to earn the right to play the Suns.
I ask you two questions, Bright Siders:
Who would you like the Suns to play in the First Round?
This poll is closed
Who would do you NOT want the Suns to play in the First Round?
This poll is closed