All records and statistics through games completed on 2/12.
Based on the results thus far, Suns fans, the playoffs look like they may be a pipe dream. And the loss to Sacramento on Sunday night may have burst those pipes.
It’s not just that the Suns are currently in 10th place in the west, looking up at Denver, Utah, Portland, and Memphis. While we’re famously reminded by football coaches that “you are what your record says you are,” expected wins and losses projects a team’s record based on their total scoring margin on the season.*
*We’ll be using Basketball-Reference’s expected W-L formula: Team Points^14/(Team Points^14 + Opponent Points^14).
By this measure, the Suns are slightly worse than a .500 team, at the bottom of the pack with a .490 winning percentage. If we take a look at each team’s expected winning percentage on the year and project the rest of the season, we’re left with a logjam at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Both Memphis and Denver’s current records reflect their expectations, within a game, but Utah and Portland are playing 4 and 2 games, respectively, better than their current records. It’s reasonable to expect the Jazz and Blazers to regress a bit, but even if they do, they’d find themselves in a three-way tie with Memphis for the last two spots in the west, and the Suns would be left out in the cold. A comparison of each team’s remaining strength of schedule and home/road splits offers little solace to the Suns.
Portland and Memphis both face more difficult competition than they have so far on the year (opponents in games already played by both teams have posted a 50% winning percentage), but they also have more home games than road left. The Suns have several extended road trips remaining, including five of their last seven games.*
*Their opponents? The Spurs, Bulls, Hornets, Mavericks, and Spurs again, with the Wolves twice in there. Ouch.
The Suns are slightly better off than these numbers suggest – they have some hope. Since the team made the trade with Orlando to bring Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, and a zombie Vince Carter to the desert, the Suns’ expected win percentage has jumped to 53.8%. Before the loss to the Kings, this would have put the Suns on pace for 43 wins – still not quite enough to make the playoffs. However, these results incorporate all games played by the Suns since the trade and doesn’t account for their marked improvement in defense over the last 10 or so games.
Tonight’s game against the Jazz may go a long way toward determining whether the Suns will be able to keep pace in the Western playoff race. Tomorrow, we’ll take a renewed look at the standings and breakdown what it would take for the Suns to overtake their opponents in the west. For now, our magic number is 19 wins. That only leaves room for 11 more losses – and the Suns can’t afford to take one of those defeats tonight.