The Phoenix Suns are sitting at 23-17 and currently have a two and a half game lead over the 9th seeded Memphis Grizzlies and a three game lead over the 10th seeded Denver Nuggets. Percentage-wise, the Suns currently have a slight edge over the Mavericks which gives them the 7th seed in the Western Conference.
When it was announced that Bledsoe would have surgery on his knee and would be expected to miss major time, everyone counted the Suns out for a playoff spot in the West. A collapse was “imminent” for the Suns according to multiple reporters and analysts. That may not be the case and here’s why.
They aren’t as bad without Bledsoe as you think they are
Even though they have struggled without Bledsoe thus far, people are blowing their losses way out of proportion. They are 4-6 without Bledsoe (since his injury) and all six of those losses were by single digits (with four of them coming on the road). A couple two point losses on the road to the Pistons and Knicks to go along with two close losses to the Grizzlies (the team they are cursed against) and a 5 point loss to a depleted Bulls team that they took WAY too lightly. Not to mention their three point loss to the Mavericks on Friday night. In other words, all of their losses were very winnable games.
In this stretch they’ve defeated the Lakers, Nuggets, Bucks and Timberwolves. I know those four teams aren’t exactly world beaters this year, but my point is they are still competing and staying close in games on the road. Eventually they’ll start winning some of those close games.
Help is on the way
Ryan McDonough has already added Leandro Barbosa to help aid the Suns temporarily, but the good news in Phoenix is that Bledsoe is expected to return in 4-6 weeks which makes a February return very realistic for Eric. If Bledsoe returns with Phoenix still in the playoff picture then I believe that his presence in the lineup will be the boost they need to push them into the playoffs.
If McDonough is confident that Bledsoe will be back and wants to make a playoff push then he could possibly be in the market for an established forward. A guy like Thaddeus Young would make some sense for the right price.
The Suns still have plenty of winnable games remaining on their schedule. The key to them making the playoffs is simple: beat the teams you’re “supposed” to beat. Their 14-6 record at home is rock solid, so as long as they can keep winning vs. weaker teams and take care of business at home then they should be in the playoff picture once Bledsoe returns.
One of the most underrated attributes a team can have in this day and age in the NBA is good team chemistry. This group plays together and has fun while doing so. It’s amazing how close this group has gotten in such a short amount of time considering all of the changes made to this roster in the offseason.
This team will battle and claw in every game and support each other every step of the way. This is a great recipe for success and I believe it’s what will help them remain competitive not only for the remainder of this year, but for years to come. A lot of the credit is due to first year head coach Jeff Hornacek, whom I believe deserves the Coach of the Year honors.
How they could miss the playoffs
If they continue to lose close games and the wheels completely fall off before Bledsoe returns then that would be an absolute nightmare. If Bledsoe’s injury keeps him out longer than expected or if there’s any setback in his recovery then that would most likely be too much for the Suns to overcome down the stretch.
The bottom line is that the Suns will need Eric Bledsoe to return as soon as possible if they want to make the playoffs. As long as they can stay relatively healthy and continue to play as a collective unit then I think come April 19th, you’ll see Phoenix in their first playoff series since 2010.