Phoenix Suns: Kevin Durant, the trip and the NBA power rankings

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns certainly haven’t emerged unscathed from the five-city Eastern Conference road trip, but they showed resilience in splitting the first four games.

The schedule doesn’t ease appreciably, with the Western Conference nemesis Los Angeles Clippers arriving in Phoenix for a Wednesday showdown.

The team would do well to defend its home court, given the rising allowances for in-arena capacity as we head down the stretch.

The Phoenix Suns, still near the best among NBA power rankings, enter Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden the No. 2 seed in the West.

Given the Suns’ consistent appearance among the power rankings leaders, this Knicks game should be competitive. And it’s a bigger-than-expected challenge because of New York’s better-than-expected 2020-21 season under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.

New York, like Phoenix, is a surprise near the top of the NBA power rankings.

ESPN NBA power rankings: Phoenix Suns are No. 3

The Suns knocked off Milwaukee and Philadelphia impressively before clanking their way to a loss in Boston and watching the KD-Kyrie show in Brooklyn, but remained ESPN’s No. 3 team.

While the Nets loss was decisive, Devin Booker may have rediscovered his shooting touch.

"Sunday’s loss to the Nets marked the first time in three months that the Suns suffered back-to-back losses. In fact, the only other time they lost consecutive games this season was when they dropped three games from Jan. 22 to 27 — two of those being overtime games to Denver just a week after postponements due to COVID-19. Phoenix sits two games behind the Jazz for first place in the Western Conference but will have to hold back the Clippers, who are also two games out of first."

After New York and the Clippers, Phoenix hosts Utah and travels to Oklahoma City this week. power rankings: Phoenix Suns are No. 3

The Clippers are’s new No. 1, while the Suns stayed at No. 3 this week with Jae Crowder missing time, and Dario Saric out for the Brooklyn beating.

"As they edged the Bucks and Sixers, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jevon Carter (who hit three big 3s in the fourth quarter in Philly) combined to shoot 16-for-34 from 3-point range . And as they lost to the Celtics and Nets (with Johnson starting in place of the injured Jae Crowder), those same three guys combined to shoot 3-for-32 from beyond the arc. …It is a make-or-miss league, though the Suns’ inability to defend Brooklyn a second time lends credence to the theory (in this space two weeks ago) that their great team defense can be beat with great individual play.Phoenix has had the league’s best defense (101 points allowed per 100 possessions) against Utah, while the Clippers have had the league’s second best offense (123 per 100) against Phoenix."

The Suns defense has fallen recently, finding it’s position at 21st over the last three weeks.

Bleacher Report’s NBA power rankings: Phoenix Suns are No. 4

Even without Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets are going to be a problem in the playoffs. BR certainly thinks so, jumping Denver one notch in front of the Suns this week, as Phoenix falls from No. 3 to No. 4.

"It was a big week for the Suns, which played the first four games of their five-contest  East Coast trip. It was a run through some of the best teams in the conference. The Suns pulled out a thrilling overtime win over the Bucks and ground out a win over the depleted Sixers.The trip then began to sour with losses to Boston and Brooklyn as the Suns’ shooting went south. … A strong performance next week could have Phoenix in a prime position to take the No. 1 seed in the NBA."

A full return to health from a few key players won’t hurt.

The Athletic’s NBA power rankings: Phoenix Suns are No. 3

Phoenix has had recent troubles with injuries to Abdel Nader, Saric and Crowder, but have enjoyed the emergence of Torrey Craig as a reliable bench contributor.

Ranked No. 2 last week, the now-No. 3 Suns were jumped by the Clippers — who leaped past the Nets, too, and landed at No. 1 — and Brooklyn.

"Great start to the week for Phoenix, and then just a couple of tough losses on their East Coast road trip. Put up a stinker in Boston, then Kyrie Irving and Durant were just too much for them Sunday. But they’re still within distance for the 1-seed."

The CBS Sports’ NBA power rankings were not yet available. We’ll catch up with what they decided on Tuesday.

Next. Suns provide themselves a learning opportunity. dark