By: Field Level Media
Phoenix Suns NBA Bubble Restart Preview
PHOENIX SUNS (26-39), 13th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The Suns are healthier than they’ve been all season and get a matchup with the weakest team in the NBA bubble – the Wizards – right off the bat. Yes, things surprisingly are looking up for the team farthest out of playoff position (the Suns are six games back of Memphis) with just eight games to play.
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The problem is: The Suns get no head-to-heads with the five teams immediately ahead of them in the West, which is especially painful in that they need to make up at least two games on Memphis in order to get a crack at the play-in tournament.
They do open with that gimme against Washington and overall have an easier collection of foes (.589 cumulative record) than the Grizzlies (.597). But likely they won’t be favored to win any of their final seven games against the Mavericks (twice), Clippers, Pacers, Heat, Thunder and 76ers.
Phoenix Suns First Half Highlights
Devin Booker continued at an historic pace for a 23-year-old, Deandre Ayton was brilliant at age 21 and Ricky Rubio, at 29, turned back the clock. Youngsters Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson began to live up to their college clippings, Kelly Oubre Jr. put himself on the wish list of NBA clubs this off-season, and even Aron Baynes was playing at a career-best level when play was stopped in March.
So why the 26-39 record?
Clearly, this was not a team whose result was a sum of its parts. Injuries, suspensions and youth played equal roles in the shortcoming, especially the 25-game Ayton ban forced upon Ayton after he failed a drug test one game into the season. The Suns were in the midst of a season-dooming, eight-game losing streak when Ayton returned, before losing Oubre for the season (including the upcoming games) during arguably their high point of the year — a 20-point win at Utah on Feb. 24.
Phoenis Suns NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
Whether they win another game or not, the Suns can be comforted in the knowledge that they made it this far despite beginning the season with the youngest Opening Night roster in the league.
Among the encouraging individual highlights in the first 65 games:
Booker (26.1 PPG, 6.6 assists) appeared headed toward a second straight 26/6 season, which if completed would allow him to join Oscar Robertson and LeBron James as the only in NBA history to complete the double twice before the age of 24.
Ayton (19.0 PPG, 12.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) put himself in position to become just the second 21-year-old in history to complete a 19/12/1.5 season, joining Shaquille O’Neal in that distinction.
And Rubio, desperate for a break after a long summer that included winning MVP honors at the FIBA World Cup, was last seen on March 8 stuffing 25 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists into his boxscore line … against the Bucks, no less.
Surely, each would be happy to rest upon those laurels. But Coach Monty Williams, for one, was happy his club made the cut and will get eight more chances to pad stats inside the NBA bubble.
“We have the most to gain from this outside the teams that are right there playing for a championship,” Williams gushed to reporters before the flight to Florida, “just because we get a chance to be together and talk.”
Phoenix Suns NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
The Suns likely need at least six wins to get into the Western play-in tournament. Being that they never won more than five of eight before the break, it’s not surprising that the oddsmakers at SugarHouse have made them a 2-for-1 underdog to even reach three wins in the bubble.
So it’s all about the experience, noted Booker, who hopes he and Ayton can blossom into the type of Kobe Bryant/Shaq combination of big and small that the NBA currently lacks.
“It’s a growing relationship that we’re still working on,” he told reporters in Florida. “Obviously, we’re still both pretty young in this league. We’re both trying to solidify ourselves and we know that comes with the success of the team.”
Phoenix Suns Best Bet: Suns (minus-305 on SugarHouse) to beat Wizards on July 31. The fact that the Suns are a 7½-point favorite in this game tells you all you need to know about the current state of the wounded Wizards. All Phoenix has to do is win this game to get the money, and the oddsmakers are basically telling you that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Easily.