Ranking the Suns' playoff competition

If the season ended today, the Suns' first-round opponent in the playoffs would be the Utah Jazz. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

If the season ended today, the Phoenix Suns' first-round opponent in the playoffs would be the Utah Jazz. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

Only in the Western Conference would the playoff seeding be completely up in the air, aside from the No. 1 spot, with just about 10 games remaining for each team. The Phoenix Suns currently sit in fifth place, but they are within arm’s reach of the No. 2 seed (two games back) and are only three games up on the No. 8-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.

With that said, it’s obviously difficult to pinpoint one or two potential first-round playoff opponents, so why not discuss all seven? Here is a list of the seven other Western Conference playoff hopefuls, ranked from 1-7, with No. 1 being the Suns’ most-favorable first-round opponent, and No. 7 being their least-favorable first-round foe:

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Season series: OKC defeated the Suns 117-113 in Phoenix on Dec. 23; Phoenix defeated the Thunder 104-102 on Feb. 23 in OKC; they meet again on April 9 in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have had an outstanding regular season thus far, especially considering their expectations, and have played the Suns about as tough as any team in the league. They are one of the most talented young teams in the NBA that will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs for years to come — but not this year.

The big three of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook is a scary matchup for any team, but the Thunder don’t have much depth beyond that trio. The team also has an average age of 25, and the only experienced veterans besides Nick Collison are guys like Etan Thomas and Kevin Ollie that don’t even crack the rotation.

It is always tough to say that you want to face off against the NBA’s leading scorer, Durant (29.7 points per game), but the Thunder are simply too young and inexperienced to make a major splash in the battle-tested Western Conference.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

Season series: Portland defeated the Suns 105-102 in Portland on Dec. 17; Portland defeated the Suns 108-101 in Phoenix on Feb. 10; Phoenix defeated Portland 93-87 in Phoenix on March 21.

Although the Suns dropped two of three games against the Trail Blazers this season, Portland simply doesn’t have the fire power to keep up with the Suns in a seven-game series. The biggest worry is that Portland will slow down the game to a grind-it-out defensive battle, but the Suns proved last Sunday that they can come out victorious in that type of game.

Brandon Roy is always a tough matchup for the Suns, and LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby make up a top-notch frontline, but Portland just doesn’t have enough weapons on offense to compete for a full seven games. The Trail Blazers would certainly give the Suns a run for their money, but every team in the West will be competitive, Portland just happens to be one of the worst of the best.

3. Denver Nuggets

Season series: Denver defeated the Suns 105-99 in Denver on Dec. 12; Phoenix defeated the Nuggets 109-97 in Denver on Feb. 3; Phoenix defeated the Nuggets 101-85 in Phoenix on March 1; they meet again on April 13 in Phoenix.

Phoenix matches up extremely well with Denver. Both teams feature high-octane offenses, but the Suns have proven they can get stops when it matters and win the all-important battle of the boards. The Suns showed that they can bother Carmelo Anthony, who was 7-of-21 in their last meeting, and the Denver offense as a whole, as they held them to an average of 91.0 points in their last two matchups.

The Suns will have their hands full if they have to face Denver without homecourt advantage, as the Nuggets are 30-6 at home, but they’ve already won in Mile High this season, and I like their chances against Carmelo and company.

4. Utah Jazz

Season series: Utah defeated the Suns 124-115 in Utah on Jan. 25; Utah defeated the Suns 116-108 in Phoenix on March 4; Phoenix defeated the Jazz 110-100 on March 19 in Phoenix; they will meet again on April 14 in Utah.

If the season ended today, the Suns and Jazz would be squaring off in the first round. Luckily for the Suns, they still have a chance to get out of that five spot and avoid Utah. The Jazz have given the Suns trouble all season long, and if I’m the Suns, playing in front of the hostile crowd in EnergySolutions Arena is the last thing I want.

Although Phoenix defeated them fairly convincingly last Friday, the Jazz are a tough matchup for the Suns. They are a very mentally tough team that is usually relentless down the stretch, which was evident when they stole the first two games from the Suns in the fourth quarter.

Deron Williams is a very tough cover for Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer has also been successful against Phoenix, averaging 19.7 points and 17.0 rebounds this season. Phoenix obviously has the talent to take care of Utah, but the Jazz are about as tough of a matchup as any in the West, and if the Suns can’t capture homecourt advantage, the last place I want to be playing at the end of April is in Utah.

5. Dallas Mavericks

Season series: Dallas defeated the Suns 102-101 in Dallas on Dec. 8; Phoenix defeated the Mavericks 112-106 in Phoenix on Feb. 28; Dallas defeated the Suns 107-97 in Dallas on Feb. 17.

The Mavs have struggled a bit since rattling off 13 straight wins at the end of February and into March, but if I’m the Suns, I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t have to deal with Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has torched the Suns in the playoffs for years, and the Suns simply have no answer for him, as he’s averaged 26.7 points per game against them this season.

The additions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood have been huge for the Mavs. Dallas is a very beatable team, and Jason Richardson averages 20.3 points per game against them this season (we all know how well that bodes for the Suns), but Dirk almost always has his way with Phoenix, and this season should be no different.

6. San Antonio Spurs

Season series: Phoenix defeated the Spurs 116-104 in Phoenix on Dec. 15; San Antonio defeated the Suns 113-110 in San Antonio on Feb. 28; they meet again in Phoenix on April 7.

This one is a no-brainer. Every person that’s watched the NBA for the last decade knows exactly why the Suns want to avoid the San Antonio Spurs at all costs. Sure, the Spurs haven’t exactly been playing stellar basketball this season, but you know they will turn it on when it counts.

Tony Parker will be back come playoff time, and the Spurs will do what they do. No, this team doesn’t have Robert Horry to hit big threes and hip check Steve Nash into the scorer’s table or Bruce Bowen to knee him where no man wants to be kneed, but Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker is all they need to give the Suns trouble. If these teams did square off there is no doubting it would be entertaining to watch, but given the history, if I’m the Suns, I want no part of San Antonio.

7. Los Angeles Lakers

Season series: The Lakers defeated the Suns 121-102 in Los Angeles on Nov. 12; the Lakers defeated the Suns 108-88 in Los Angeles on Dec. 6; Phoenix defeated the Lakers 118-103 in Phoenix on Dec. 28; the Lakers defeated the Suns 102-96 in Phoenix on March 12.

This one also goes without saying. The Suns obviously want to avoid playing Kobe Bryant and the reigning champs in the first round, which they will unless they drop to the eighth spot.

But the West goes through the Lakers, and if the Suns want to make a championship run, these two teams are going to have to square off at some point. Luckily for the Suns, it most likely won’t be in the first round.

  • Gui

    I agree with the analysis… We would have trouble facing Dallas, Spurs and the Lakers…

  • martinez

    well personally i could give a rats ass who the suns play and they should think the same i would be wonderful to get home court advantage but if you look all season the only teams that the suns had problems with are cleveland and the lakers so i fill pretty good about any opponet and by the way nobody gave PHX A CHANCE THIS YEAR AT EVEN MAKING THE PLAYOFFS remember the experts said we would be lucky with the 8th spot in the west so i say keep your heads lowered like bulls and keep chargin

    GO SUNS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jon

    I think Utah should be an easy 1st round team. With double digit leads going into the 4th in every single game we’ve played this season, it’s hard to think Utah has the ability to keep up. That and they literally have no one to guard amare.

  • Hersey

    Let's see where they end up. Denver's slide is interesting and you have no idea what to expect as teams finish out the string.

  • Phil

    I'm with Brent – if they weren't called the Spurs they would be 3rd on this list. Suns are better, time to exercise the demons

  • Mike Meez

    I didn’t agree at the top but as I read along I realized the teams really did get tougher and tougher; the West is just too good. On an unrelated note, I think the league should at least consider not letting in sub-.500 teams. In that situation if there are teams in one conference that have a winning record they could be substituted for the subpar teams in the other conference. Right now, surprisingly, that would not affect the east as number 8 Toronto is at exactly .500 but things could change. I’m all for geographic parity but not at the cost of watching crap teams play nominal first round series.

    Anyway, I think the list is pretty accurate. Like someone already wrote though, the Suns just need to buckle down and get these wins to put themselves in the best position for the playoffs. Homecourt advantage will be huge in a series against any one of these teams.

  • Brent

    I want the SPURS! Time to exercise the demons!

    Plus, say we beat the Spurs 4-1 or 4-2 – think of the confidence boost going into the second round!

  • King Fahd

    For the easiest way (nothing will be easy) to go to the 2nd round, I would want to be the 3rd seed and play (hopefully) OKC as the 6th seed. Honestly, I think the Suns are a much different team with this conventional line-up they have begun doing recently (with Fro'pez). As long as J-Rich and the bench can play at a high level (because Nash and Amar'e will be there), then we can compete with any of them. Also, we will see the Suns in a 6 game stretch against easy team, and another 6 game stretch against potential 1st round match-ups. It will be interesting to see how it squares out.

  • John

    I think you're vastly underestimating the Thunder.. I'd much rather play either the Nuggets or the Spurs.

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  • Roadster sl

    I think it doesn’t really matter that much as long as the Suns secure homecourt advantage which is looking more likely each day. If they can keep Utah at bay I count on them securing 3th spot against likely ???? it all remains to be seen, Dallas and Denver keep dropping games, Utah keeps winning and PHX has to concentrate on winning the NEXT ONE GAME, a game at the time….don’t worry about the standings.

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