DAN BICKLEY

Suns given chance to make run they are capable of for play-in playoff spot

Jun 3, 2020, 4:32 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) celebrates a 3-pointer against the Portland Trail Blazers by Su...
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) celebrates a 3-pointer against the Portland Trail Blazers by Suns' Aron Baynes, near guard Ricky Rubio (11) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Eight games to glory. Five teams to leapfrog. The cheesiest, easiest way to end a decade of playoff futility in the Valley

How will the Suns spend their reprieve?

This rare olive branch is courtesy of the NBA, which is inviting 22 teams to finish off the 2019-20 season at Disney World. The Suns are one of the lucky six teams on the playoff periphery, afforded a puncher’s chance at playing their way into the postseason.

Let’s hope the Suns are frothing at the mouth, gearing up for their own last dance. Let’s hope they’re not rolling their eyes and cursing their dumb luck.

The Suns have reason for hope, despite their 10,000-1 odds to win a championship in Orlando. Their starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton have posted impressive numbers in their short time together.

That lineup is also arguably better than the four teams ahead of them: San Antonio, Sacramento, New Orleans and Portland, as well as current No. 8 seed Memphis.

Rubio is well-rested, a 29-year old point guard with high mileage, spared the additional grind of competing in the 2020 Olympics; Oubre should be fully recovered from knee surgery he underwent in March; and the Suns are one of three Western Conference teams with stars who can lift their team up a mountain, putting together a winning streak on demand.

New Orleans has Zion Williamson. Portland has Damian Lillard. Phoenix has Devin Booker. Who are you betting on?

Much will depend on Oubre’s mindset. He’s entering the last year on his contract. He’s coming off meniscus surgery. He was surely surprised to find himself on the trading block near the NBA’s deadline. He might be tempted to sit this one out, even with medical clearance from the Suns.

There are times when Oubre’s vanity is a liability on the court. He doesn’t pass the ball very often, and his aggressiveness occasionally careens into poor decisions. But analytics suggest a starting five with Oubre and Bridges conjures up the most explosive blend of high-volume scoring and hyperactive defense possible from this particular roster.

The Coyotes are better suited to turn their playoff reprieve into an unexpected playoff run. But the Suns have a chance. They have impressive wins on their resume. They know they can compete with the NBA’s best teams. And if they can move within four games of the No. 8 seed and finish ahead of four other teams by the end of the eight-game addendum, the Suns will be granted a play-in berth for the final playoff spot.

It won’t be easy. But the Suns already know hard, after a season in which Ayton was suspended for 25 games; Booker lost his mentor in Kobe Bryant; Oubre got hurt just as the team was gearing up for their final push; a pandemic shut down the NBA season in real time, before our very eyes; and civil unrest prompted head coach Monty Williams to write an open letter to America.

An eight-game winning streak can’t be that hard. Not by comparison. Not with the right attitude. Not with the right players.

It’s time for the Suns to show us what they really have. And how bad they really want it.

Dan Bickley

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