The Clippers, Mavericks or Warriors would have to suddenly become really great to overtake the Phoenix Suns for 4th seed
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This week, we asked you to predict where the Suns will finish in the Western Conference by the end of the regular season. They currently have the 4th seed, which would give them home court advantage in the first round against whoever finishes 5th.
Almost half of you (49%) predicted the Suns would fall to fifth or sixth, though, with another 16% of you (not pictured in the graphic) predicting an even steeper fall into the 7th+ seed play-in range.
That’s almost two-thirds of you predicting a fall from their current 4th seed and out of any home court advantage come playoff time.
First of all, you’re right that the Suns are no longer likely to finish higher than 4th. In the past week, the second and third seeds have created some separation as the Suns have lost three of their last four games, including a head-to-head against the Sacramento Kings. The Suns are now 5 losses behind the Kings and Memphis Grizzlies with only 12 games to go in the season. So, nogonnahappen.
The Suns still have a lead over the LA Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks for the 4th seed, and they have the tiebreaking advantage over all of them at this point, if there are any ties for 4th-5th seed. That’s important, considering a tiebreaker would decide home court for the first two playoff games.
The Suns have the toughest remaining schedule of the 4 teams, however. According to tankathon.com, the Suns schedule is 6th toughest in the league based on opponents’ winning percentage (52.6%). They have home games upcoming against the West-leading Denver Nuggets (2) and the East’s 3rd seed 76ers (1), plus a roadie against the West’s 2nd-seed Kings. The 76ers and Kings games are prior to the Kevin Durant ‘re-evaluation’ date for his sprained ankle, while the two Nuggets games are on or after. The Suns also finish the season with a home game against the Clippers, which very well could decide home court advantage in round one.
Meanwhile, tankathon.com says the Warriors remaining schedule is exactly mid-pack as the 15th most difficult, Clippers’ remaining schedule is 11th easiest, the Mavericks remaining schedule is 5th easiest.
Back to the Suns. Here’s the upcoming schedule and my prediction on each game:
I think they’re going to lose the pair of OKC Thunder games if SGA plays. The Thunder are just a better version of the Magic that almost beat the Suns at home on Thursday night. I think the Suns split the Nuggets pair of games, at worst, and that they close out the season with three wins in four games with Durant back in the lineup if it matters for playoff seeding.
So, at worst a 7-5 finish, which gives them 45 wins on the season (45-37 final record).
Now let’s look at tiebreakers.
Dallas: season series tied at 2-2, but Dallas leads in conference record by 3 games (27 wins vs. 24 wins). Let’s assume Dallas keeps that lead and has tiebreak advantage. To catch a Suns team finishing 7-5 for a 45-37 final record, the Mavericks would have to go 9-4.
Clippers: Suns lead season series 2-1 with one game to play (at home, on final day of season). Even if the Suns lose that game, they have a huge lead in division record which is the next tiebreaker for teams in the same division. Assuming the Suns keep that lead, the Clippers would have to finish with a better overall record to overtake the Suns, requiring them to close out the season 9-3 to get to 46 wins.
Warriors: Suns won the season series 3-1, so the Warriors have to finish with more wins than the Suns to take 4th place. With them at only 36 wins so far against 35 losses, they’d have to finish 10-1 to get to 46 wins.
Bottom line is that the Suns can just take care of their own business by having a good finish to the season.
Basketball-reference.com gives the Suns a 66% chance to finish with no worse than the 4th seed, but I think the Suns odds are even better than that. Even if the Suns split their final 12 games, you can see how hard it would be for any team behind them to take that 4th seed away.
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