The final countdown

Amare Stoudemire and the Suns need a big finish to drive to a top-three seed in the West. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

Amare Stoudemire and the Suns need a big finish to drive to a top-three seed in the West. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

Before the season I figured the Western Conference playoff picture would feature a bunched-up group of quality teams.

But never did I expect the Phoenix Suns to be tied with three other teams for the No. 2 seed in the West as we enter the final turn of the 2009-10 schedule.

The long and short of these next five games encompasses what Alvin Gentry has been saying for months now: win and everything else will take care of itself.

That’s exactly what the Suns have done in taking 10 consecutive games before Saturday’s Milwaukee loss, and it’s what they will need to keep on doing if they want to finish with the No. 2 or 3 seed (which they really do, as vulnerable as the Lakers have looked lately).

The Suns host the Spurs on Wednesday on ESPN, visit Oklahoma City on Friday, host Houston on Sunday on NBA TV, host Denver next Tuesday on TNT and finish in Utah next Wednesday on ESPN. Yes, the patsy portion of their schedule is behind them and the networks have taken notice (although the 18 consecutive wins against non-playoff teams to close out the season is mighty impressive).

Phoenix will be hurt by the tiebreaker rule that says a team that wins its own division automatically wins a tiebreaker against a team that doesn’t regardless of how they did head to head against each other. The first two-team tiebreaker for non-division winners in different divisions is head-to-head record and then it’s winning percentage against your conference.

In a three-team tiebreaker, after the division winner tiebreaker it is best winning percentage among all teams tied in head-to-head games between the tied teams. It’s also important to note that the top four seeds are the three division winners plus the best non-division winner, but that likely won’t matter much since two of the three teams Phoenix is competing with will win their divisions.

All that means is that the Suns would have to finish with a better record than Dallas (Southwest) and the Northwest team (Utah or Denver) that takes the division crown to be the No. 2 seed. In other words, the Suns will likely need a perfect finish to earn the second seed, unless the other three teams all go 3-2 or worse (doubtful that they all would).

The Suns do hold an edge in the conference record tiebreaker against every team but Denver, whom they are tied with thanks to identical 31-16 conference marks. The Suns would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Nuggets with a win next Tuesday, which also would be the case with a win over the Spurs on Wednesday and the Thunder on Friday. (Did I say this was a big week?) The Suns lost the head-to-head with Dallas and Portland and could tie Utah with a win in the season finale, in which case they would hold the conference record tiebreaker unless Utah is a division champ. Confusing, I know.

Based on that, I bet the Suns will likely have to go 4-1 just to secure the No. 3 seed, and a 3-2 or worse mark would put them in the 4-5 game (or worse).

Oklahoma City is only 1 1/2 games back of Phoenix (and one out in the loss column), and the Thunder would own the head-to-head tiebreaker if they win their April 9 matchup. So based on that No. 6 seems more likely than No. 2, and really No. 7 is a possibility if the Suns don’t beat the Spurs on Wednesday night.

Yes, it will be a very, very interesting week. If you were to ask me today, I would say I predict the Suns to finish in the 4-5 game, but I am ready for anything.

Remaining schedules

You know who the Suns are playing. Here is who everybody else that matters for seeding positioning is playing the rest of the week.

Dallas — vs. Memphis, @Portland (NBA TV), @Sacramento, @Clippers (NBA TV), vs. San Antonio

Denver – @Oklahoma City, vs. Lakers (TNT), vs. San Antonio (NBA TV), vs. Memphis, @Phoenix (TNT)

Utah – vs. Oklahoma City, @Houston (ESPN), @New Orleans, @Golden State, vs. Phoenix (ESPN)

Oklahoma City – @Utah, vs. Denver, vs. Phoenix, @Golden State, @Portland, vs. Memphis

San Antonio — @Sacramento, @Phoenix (ESPN), vs. Memphis, @Denver (NBA TV), vs. Minnesota, @Dallas

Portland — @Clippers, vs. Dallas (NBA TV), @Lakers (ABC), vs. Oklahoma City, vs. Golden State

The Suns certainly aren’t alone in having a difficult closing schedule, as every team has at least a few tough games. I would rate Denver’s remaining schedule as the toughest, though.

A rhythm team

After the Suns grinded out a win over Portland and ran to a victory against Golden State on consecutive nights a few weeks back, this Phoenix ball club proved capable of winning two completely different styles of games.

I recently asked head coach Alvin Gentry about what those wins say about the kind of team the Suns are these days.

“I think we’re a rhythm team, I don’t think we’re a running team anymore,” he said. “I don’t think we play at the breakneck pace that we played at in previous years, but we play with a pretty good rhythm, and when we’re in a pretty good rhythm we score, we do a good job.

“I think we’re a versatile team. We can play both. I think it just means we have a pretty versatile bunch of guys.”

April Fools!

Just in case you need your forgot to click on the link at the bottom of the post, yes, the April 1 story on Annexus sponsoring Suns game jerseys was an April Fools joke. I hope you enjoyed it and didn’t take it too seriously!

I also pray there isn’t a day when this actually happens and I link back to the April Fools 2010 post to remember a time when such an occurrence could only be a joke. Could you envision a day where an NBA team sells ad space on the front of a jersey? I don’t think even Robert Sarver would do that, but then again I never thought we’d see the LifeLock Mercury either.

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