I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight unless I work this out in my head and get it written down here. I hope this helps you too.
What really are the Phoenix Suns chances of holding onto the 4th seed in the West come playoff time?
Or are the scuffling Suns are on their way to missing the playoffs altogether?
Forgive us if we are handling this playoff chase with the emotional intelligence of a puppy getting crate-trained for the first time. When does this madness end??!!?! Will I even survive??
It’s been 12 years since we had any kind of late-season drama for positioning. Last year, the Suns had a 7+ game lead on the whole the league for the last three months leading up to the playoffs. Borrrinnnng. The year before that, the only late-season question was whether the Suns could sneak up from 2nd to 1st. The year was all sunshine and roses — kind of like the Kings this year. We were happy just having one of the league’s best records. No one in Phoenix sweated the final seeding. The 10 years before that the Suns missed the playoffs entirely.
So we go back to 2010. You all remember the Suns getting the third seed that year, but did you remember that they were in 5th just five days before and 4th just three days before the season ended? They won their final three games and climbed two seeds doing it.
Forgive us if we forgot how to handle this stress.
This year, we have a historically bad/average Western Conference. The Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings have comfortable leads for the top three seeds, in that order, yet there’s a chance none of them survive the first round.
The real meat — and cheese — in the West comes with the 4th to 12th seeds, who are all somehow within THREE losses of each other with less than 10 games to go.
The best way to look at the current standings is by looking at each team’s losses, because they will all end up with the same 82 games played but haven’t necessarily played the same number of games yet.
By the losses, the 4th-12th seeds in the West stack up like this:
- Suns and Clippers with 35 losses
- Warriors with 36 losses
- Wolves, Lakers and Pelicans with 37 losses
- Thunder, Mavericks and Jazz with 38 losses
When all 82 games have been played, the...
- 4th and 5th seeds will play in the first round, with 4th seed getting home court advantage
- 6th seed will play the Kings
- 7th and 8th seeds will have to win one of two play-in games to make the playoffs; 7th seed will face the Grizzlies; 8th seed faces the Nuggets in round one (Clippers were 7th, lost both play-ins last year
- 9th and 10th seeds will have to win two play-in games to make the playoffs as the 8th seed (Pelicans accomplished this last year, then lost to Suns in round one)
The best option here, obviously, is winning the 4th seed and having home court advantage in round one. I still think that’s likely to happen, even if they are 38-36 after tomorrow’s game against East power Philly.
The worst option is finishing 11th or 12th, which obviously could happen if the Suns don’t start winning games again. The Suns have 9 games left. The other eight teams have either 7, 8 or 9 games left. Yes, Chicken Little. If the Suns lose out, they could miss the playoffs entirely.
But let’s REALLY look at this. The record of all 9 teams added together is 333-331. They are, in total, a +2 on the season after 664 games played. NO ONE is gonna suddenly win 9 straight or lose 9 straight. Almost certainly, two teams will finish kinda hot, two teams will finish kinda cold, and five teams will finish as close to 50/50 in their final games as possible.
The Suns are the only team in that group adding Kevin Durant in the next few days.
So while three games is close, it’s only kinda close. Like losing to the dealer in blackjack. Sure, you might take a few hands, got hot for a while, but eventually all your chips are gone.
The Suns have 9 games left, and 7 of those will likely have Kevin Durant back in the lineup. Probably 7-8 with Ayton back too. Remember they looked pretty darn good with Durant and Ayton out there along with Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Three other teams would have to get hot to knock the Suns all the way down to 7th or lower. Could it happen? Sure. Will it? Almost certainly not. Remember, these 9 teams are collectively only 2 games over .500 for the season in a 660+ game sample size.
Buckle up, Suns fans. It’s going to be a stressful finish, but your Suns will be just fine as long as they are healthy come playoff time.
Did I mention yet that Monday’s game is against tanking Utah, after that the Suns get Kevin Durant back, have 5 home games among their last 7, already own the tiebreaker against the Warriors, and very likely will own the tiebreaker over the Clippers who are their biggest competition for the 4th seed?