Ten games in, they were an aberration.
Twenty games in, they were the surprise story of the Western Conference.
Thirty games in, they were the darlings of the entire NBA, yet ones most figured wouldn’t be able to stay afloat following the devastating injury to their budding point guard.
Forty-six games in, a perfect four-game road trip and a sweep of the league’s best team later, the Phoenix Suns are no longer cute.
No, they are the real deal.
With a 102-94 win over the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, the Suns moved to 28-18 on the season — good for the franchise’s best start since 2007-08.
“We are going to fight until the end,” said Suns guard Goran Dragic, who scored a game-high 28 points in the eight-point victory. “We’re going to be a damn good, dangerous team in the playoffs.”
A word that once would have seemed laughable if used in the same sentence as the Suns, is nothing short of a realistic possibility at this point in the campaign.
For a squad that began the year struggling to find ways to beat good teams, Phoenix has come a long, long way — with Thursday serving as just the latest example.
Of its 28 wins, 10 have come against teams currently holding a playoff spot, including the Clippers, Pacers, Rockets and Warriors.
But with those statement wins comes a change in outside perception. For their remaining 36 games, the Suns will be viewed by teams not as an automatic W in the standings, but as a playoff-caliber opponent.
Still, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek believes his team is capable of holding on to its No. 6 spot in the conference, but only if it continues playing the right way.
“They can compete with anybody,” Hornacek said. “If they play hard, they pass the ball and make right decisions, if we can get them to do that for all 48 minutes, we can have a good end of the season.”