Here we go. The Phoenix Suns acquired Kevin Durant on February 9 with a 30-26 record and 26 games left in the regular season. Plenty of time to fully integrate hime into what might be the most talented team in Suns history before an all-in playoff push.
Except he didn’t play the first six of those games while recovering from an MCL sprain in the knee, and he will miss at least 10 of the last 16 regular season games if not all of them while recovering from a freak ankle injury.
That ray of hope we can squeeze for the next few weeks is a mere three-game stint where KD and Book set an NBA record for any duo’s scoring in their first three games together (188) and the offense looked unstoppable.
While we wait for Durant to grace us with his presence, the Phoenix Suns must find a way to finish the season strong anyway. Because we know Durant is easy to integrate, but he can’t be walking into a trainwreck.
Here’s the good news.
The Suns have won 16 of their last 21 games — including 7 of 10 since the trade — despite all the players in and out of the lineup. Of those 21 games, Booker only played in 10, Bridges 11, CamJ 9, Cam Payne 6 and KD 3.
The guys who have been healthy and in the lineup for 17+ of the 21:
- Deandre Ayton (20 points, 11 rebounds)
- Chris Paul (14.1 points, 9.8 assists)
- Josh Okogie (11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds)
- Damion Lee
- Torrey Craig
- Ish Wainright
- Jock Landale
DA and CP3 have been playing great. The latter five are that ‘woe is’ me set of benchies who know how to play winning basketball in Monty Williams’ system.
For the stretch run, you can add in Devin Booker who’s on a rampage after missing the All-Star Game, Cam Payne trying to find his rhythm (they really need him!) and plenty of minutes for newcomers Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren to get familiar with the Suns schemes before the playoffs.
Again, the Suns are 7-3 since the trade deadline, and are now the 4th seed in the West with 16 games to go.
If they remain in the 4th seed, they start the playoffs with home court advantage in round one against whoever ends up in the 5th seed. After that, home court advantage is gone. The Suns haven’t started a playoff series on the road since the 2010 Western Conference Finals.
Could the Suns fall?
At the very least, the Suns have to maintain that 4th seed.
Fortunately, a 3-game cushion makes that very doable. Since the 5th and 6th seeds can’t seem to get out of their own way this year, all the Suns need to do is split the final 16 to keep that 4th seed. And I’m sure they’ll do better than that.
If the Suns finish 8-8 in the final 16 games, the Clippers would have to go 11-3 to pass* the Suns in the standings. They haven’t gone on stretch like that all season. Worried about the Warriors? They’d have to 12-3 to pass* the Suns. Nogonnahappen.
*Suns have already won the season series (3-0 with one to play) over the Warriors, so the Warriors would have to finish with a better record than the Suns to get the higher seed. Suns also have a 2-1 season series lead over the Clippers with one to play. One more win over the Clippers and the Suns get the tie breaker there too.
Could the Suns rise?
How about climbing into 3rd or even 2nd place? Now that’s juicy to think about.
The Suns are 2 games back of the Kings with a 2-0 season series lead and 2 matchups to go, including this Saturday at Footprint Center.
If the Suns can win both remaining matchups, that’s the 2-win separation right there and they’d only have to match the Kings wins in the other 14/15 games the rest of the way.
If the Suns can win one of the remaining two matchups, they’d have to win one more than the Kings in the other matchups the rest of the way.
If the Suns lose both remaining matchups, its a 2-2 tie and the Suns are likely to win the next tiebreaker (division record: Suns are 9-1 so far, to the Kings 7-6), so again the Suns likely only have to finish tied to take the higher seed.
For reference, over the last 21 games the Suns are three games better than the Kings at 16-5 while the Kings are 13-8. Keep up that pace and the Suns could have the 3rd seed.
How about the 2nd seed, overtaking the Grizzlies? That might be a little tougher, but it’s the best possible outcome. The team with the 2-seed gets home court in round two for sure.
Suns-Grizzlies have already tied their season series 2-2, so if they finish with the same record after 82 games the Suns would need to win the division-record tiebreaker next (9-1 for Suns, 7-2 for Grizzlies so far) to get the higher seed.
The Grizz are scuffling. They have recently lost two big men indefinitely in Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, not to mention the indefinite (but definitely finite) leave of absence by Ja Morant. They might have a tough time holding onto that top-3 seed in the West.
The bottom line is that, as long as the Suns simply split their last 16 games they will almost certainly hold onto the 4th seed and have home court advantage in round one.
But if they can win one more matchup against the Kings (of 2 remaining) and finish strong, something like 12-4 or even 11-5 in their final 16, they can probably climb into the 3rd or even the 2nd seed come playoff time.
The higher the seed, the better chance for more home playoff games.