Analysts: Phoenix Suns don’t have it easy in Orlando
Odds aren’t with the Phoenix Suns when they tip an eight-game resumption of the regular season with 6.0 games and four other teams separating themselves and the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies.
Even to make the No. 9 seed and earn a play-in opportunity would be considered a miracle.
The schedule laid out by the NBA and released Friday isn’t doing Phoenix any favors, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. He put together a five-tier ranking of the 22 teams heading to play in the Orlando Disney World bubble and then used that to assign strength of schedule points to every squad.
By his count, the Suns are tied for the fifth-toughest schedule among the 13 Western Conference squads.
Making matters worse, only one team with a more difficult schedule (Portland) is among the five chasing Memphis for the final playoff spot.
The rival West hopefuls (Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio) aren’t catching the Grizzlies, not with four games to make up in an eight-game season. And especially not with Memphis’s most difficult opponents on paper, Milwaukee, likely resting players in its final game before the playoffs.
As a result, the lone reasonable pathway to a play-in for these four teams is by finishing ahead of New Orleans, which presents two big problems. First, the Pelicans – they’re good as long as Zion Williamson stays ambulatory.
By far, the Pelicans have the easiest schedule among Western Conference teams. The Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs, other squads sandwiched between the No. 8 seed and the Suns, also have bottom-five schedules in terms of difficulty.
None of that helps Phoenix’s chances.
The Suns’ schedule consists of of six games out of eight against what Hollinger deems tier-two competition.
The “Elite Eight” set includes the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. Phoenix plays the Mavs twice, plus the Pacers, Heat, Thunder and 76ers.
And even though the Suns play just one elite team in Hollinger’s “Fab Five” grouping (Clippers), the heavy schedule against second-tier squads makes them “DOA,” or dead on arrival, according to Hollinger.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ran the numbers for the Suns based on predictive real plus-minus (RPM), and they support Hollinger’s expectation.
Phoenix, according to the numbers, has 0.4% odds of just making the No. 9 seed to earn a play-in spot and a 0% chance of winning the eighth seed by using an eight-game seeding resumption to surpass five teams, including the Grizzlies.
Each team’s eight opponents were chosen by continuing that squad’s planned regular season after the March 11 suspension due to the coronavirus — including only those teams among the 22 restarting the 2019-20 season — and then shuffling the order.