The Phoenix Suns still have a path to the playoffs

Although it doesn't seem like it right now, the Phoenix Suns still have a very clear and achievable path to the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns v San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns v San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

The Phoenix Suns’ hopes of avoiding the play-in tournament took a devastating blow after an inexplicable loss to the Victor Wembanyama-less San Antonio Spurs on Monday. That loss, coupled with wins from the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, pushed the Suns down to the eighth seed where they are now staring the play-in in the face.

Every teams wants to avoid the tournament, but it seems more imperative than ever this year as there are some heavy hitters like the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers lurking in those spots.

There’s too many variables that can swing those single games, and the Suns, who are prone to experiencing lulls game to game, must avoid it at all costs.

To climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll have to navigate the toughest remaining schedule in the league. Much has been made of the difficulty of the Suns' second half schedule this season, and it will reach a stunning crescendo in these last ten games.

Gone are the breathers against bottom feeding teams. The collective win percentage of the Suns remaining opponents is 64 percent. Every single one of them is at least a seventh seed. Five of those remaining games will come against current top three seeds.

It’s an intimidating stretch that will make or break the season.

Despite everything working against the Suns to anchor them in the play-in, there’s still a wide range of possible landing spots for them. Only 2.5 games separate the eighth-seeded Suns from the 4-seed L.A. Clippers.

Playing a brutal schedule can actually help the Suns in their playoff aspirations since they play several of the teams seeded above them. They’ll only have to pass up two of those teams to secure a coveted postseason spot. 

Of the four teams in front of them, the one the Suns are least likely to catch are the Mavericks, barring a collapse on Dallas' part. The Suns are currently one game back of them and don’t have any remaining head-to-head matchups, already having lost the season series.

With effectively a two game lead because of the tie-breaker and one of the easiest remains schedules, its tough to see the Suns supplanting the Mavs.

The team the Suns should have the easiest time of catching is the Kings, who currently share the same record as the Suns. The Kings have the third-toughest remaining schedule, which includes a pivotal matchup with the Suns in Sacramento. That game will decide the season series and tiebreaker between the two teams, making it an absolute must win.

That leaves two final catchable teams for the Suns: the Clippers and the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit 2.5 and 2 games up on the Suns, respectively. 

The Pelicans have the seventh toughest remaining schedule and will be without Brandon Ingram for the next few weeks, are extremely vulnerable to a slide in the standings. The Suns will play them twice in the next 11 days, likely sans Ingram in at least one of the games.

The Suns won their first meeting of the season with New Orleans meaning another win gives them the tiebreaker, but winning both games will give the Suns the best chance at catching them.

Passing the Clippers is a tougher proposition since the Suns lost their first two meetings, making winning the tiebreaker an impossibility. Still, the Clippers have been in an utter free fall for the last month, so winning those two games and bringing them within range would put some serious pressure on a team that is struggling.

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With that layout in mind, the most probable path to the playoffs would be to beat the Kings and then sweep the Pelicans. Those are all extremely winnable games, and chalking up 3 wins in that scenario would make the other 7 games much less daunting.

Going just 3-4 in the remaining 7, for a total record of 6-4 in the gauntlet, would give the Suns a high chance of avoiding the play-in because of the tiebreakers they would have accumulated.

It’s been a disappointing up and down season for Phoenix, but if they can weather this final storm, they’ll find themselves on the other side and in the playoffs.