The Phoenix Suns are about to embark on a three-game road trip against Western Conference opposition - and while it may not be a make-or-break portion of their season just yet - it is hugely important they come back from the trip in a good place.
At 19-17 and the ninth spot in the Western Conference, the need to get wins on the board becomes greater with each passing week. Dropping a game to the Memphis Grizzlies to close out the longest remaining homestand the franchise has for the rest of the season was not ideal, especially with Kevin Durant returning from a small hamstring issue that caused him to miss a few games.
Which is why their goals for the games against the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers will bring with it increased expectations.
The Suns now have all of their "Big 3" healthy and back on the court, although Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have only played five games total together so far this season. As a result of injury - mostly to Beal in the early goings of the season - we have yet to see an extended period of time where their stars have carried the team.
We've certainly seen Durant and Booker take turns carrying the load and making fringe MVP cases already this season, with the fact Booker didn't appear on the first fan ballots for the All-Star game ridiculous. He is putting up 26.4 points per game, while becoming the Suns' point guard full-time as well. Here are the goals the franchise has to aim for then, to make this a fruitful trip away.
3. Win all three games
This sounds obvious, but it is not going to be easy. Outside of a seven-game win streak, and more recently a four-game win streak across the New Year, the Suns incredibly have failed to win three games consecutively all season. In fact, you have to go back to early November to find the last time - outside of those aforementioned win streaks - that the team even won twice in a row.
So winning all three here is going to be a tall order, but that has to be the main goal as this team heads back out on the road. Before this season even started, the talk was about the Suns having one of the highest seeds in the Western Conference, with the word "play-in tournament" not mentioned by anybody.
Yet the sixth placed Dallas Mavericks - the closest spot the Suns can get to that doesn't require going through the play-in - are currently sitting at 22-15. They've won three in a row themselves, and behind Luka Doncic are a far more settled group. Not as talented when the Suns are fully healthy, but the Mavericks have shown up at times this season when the Suns have not.
We are about to cross the halfway point in the season - and before we know it - the Suns are going to start running out of games to make up the difference. This is only to get the sixth seed, which wouldn't even give the organization home court advantage at any point in the postseason. Come back with a losing record, and the Suns are going to find themselves even further adrift.