The last time we saw the Suns play a postseason game, LeBron James had yet to leave Cleveland for Miami, and players like Paul George, John Wall, Gordon Hayward, and DeMarcus Cousins were still weeks away from being drafted.
Phoenix is set to snap its streak of 10 straight lottery seasons next month, however. The team currently holds an impressive 42-16 record, good for second-best in the entire NBA, just a game-and-a-half behind the top-seeded Jazz.
Still, that long playoff drought is one reason why fans and experts alike have been slow to come around on the idea of the Suns as a legit title contender. It’s rare for an NBA team to go from the lottery one year to the Finals the next.
The Suns also won’t have an easy path once the postseason begins. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks could await them in the first round, with teams like the Jazz, Clippers, and the defending-champion Lakers looming as potential second- or third-round opponents. As such, most observers aren’t expecting a Finals run from Phoenix, as A. Sherrod Blakely writes for Bleacher Report.
“They’re a good story. The league needs a few good stories, you know? But I just don’t see them coming out of the West,” one Western Conference executive told Blakely. “They’ll be a tough out for whoever they face; no doubt. But I just don’t see them getting past either one of the L.A. teams. You can’t come out of the West and not see one of them along the way.”
All-Star point guard Chris Paul and forward Jae Crowder have added some veteran know-how to a core led by rising star Devin Booker, but some people around the league are still concerned about the relative youth of the team, which features second-year wing Cameron Johnson and third-year players Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges in key roles. Even Booker has yet to appear in a single postseason contest.
“There’s growing pains that most teams go through before they break through unless you got LeBron James playing for you,” an Eastern Conference scout told Bleacher Report. “It feels like they’re a step or two away from being ready to really, really compete for it all.”
While it’s possible the Suns’ lack of playoff experience could doom them at some point this spring, this isn’t a typical NBA season, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on the usual schedule and teams’ normal rotations. A year ago, the Heat made an unlikely run to the NBA Finals amidst unusual circumstances. With the Lakers and Clippers dealing with some injury issues and the Jazz not exactly a championship-tested foe either, there’s a path for the Suns to turn some heads in the playoffs.
“I hear the ‘they’re too young’ argument all the time,” a scout said to Blakely. “But you look at their roster, they have everything right now you want to win a championship. They have leadership. They have good scorers. They have stretch-big versatility in the frontcourt. They have quality depth, good coaching. And they got a real legit chip on their shoulder because everybody has been saying they would fall all season. … Sleep on them if you want to.”
What do you think? Do you expect the Suns to be knocked out of this year’s postseason in the first or second round, or is this a team you can envision in the Western Conference Finals? Or even in the NBA Finals?
Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts on Phoenix’s playoff outlook!