When the Phoenix Suns went 8-0 in the bubble last season and still missed the play-in tournament, you couldn’t help but feel for them.
There was definitely still doubt about the Suns, though, as detractors had a case for saying it was a fluke.
Then the Suns picked up point god Chris Paul via trade, but there were still doubts as to how he would perform even after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a surprise playoff berth.
Well, the Suns have kept on rolling. They started the season off strong at 5-1, then had a few struggles which saw them hit an 8-8 record toward the end of January.
Since coming off three losses in a row for that 8-8 record, the Suns have not dropped more than two games in a row – something that only happened once against the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.
In that span, the Suns have had seven win-streaks of at least three games. That includes separate four-game, five-game, six-game, and seven-game winning streaks.
Their latest loss, a 135-103 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, puts their record at 47-19, good for second in the West.
Their other surprising rivals, the Utah Jazz, are currently holding the top spot in the conference at 48-18 thanks to a 126-94 dismantling of the San Antonio Spurs.
The Jazz have been equally surprising this season, considering that they only finished sixth in the West last year and were the first victims of the Denver Nuggets’ back-to-back comeback series wins.
They seemed to take heart from that heartbreaking defeat. They didn’t start the early part of the season that strong, unlike the Suns, and began the season at 4-4.
Then, they lost their minds, winning 11 in a row and then going on a nine-win streak. That’s right, they won 20 out of 21 games, which put them at 24-5. They “struggled” for their standards for a bit after that, seeing their record get to 29-11, before going on another nine-game winning streak.
Both the Jazz and the Suns are winning while playing a team-oriented style of basketball that is pleasing to the eye.
The Suns are among the league leaders in assists per game, led by Pauls 8.8 assists per game. The dynamic guard duo in Phoenix are also backed up by DeAndre Ayton, the first player drafted in 2018. While his performances haven’t gotten as much shine as Paul and Booker, the big man’s 14.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG and 1.2 BPG are important contributions.
The Jazz, on the other hand, have six players averaging double figures in points: Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles.
They don’t get as many assists as the Suns, but they spread out the scoring and trust each other to carry the load when necessary. Their second-leading scorer is Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson, who is averaging 17.5 PPG.
Health is going to be important leading into the playoffs, as the Jazz are still waiting for Mitchell to recover from his ankle sprain. Jae Crowder is also out for the Suns, and they’ll need his versatility come playoff time.
It’s just good to watch the less-heralded teams give the league’s elite a run for their money. As we all know, the regular season is one thing. Winning in the playoffs is a different world.
I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the Suns and Jazz in the conference finals, though. Phoenix did win the regular series 3-0, but I don’t think it would be that lopsided in the playoffs. Both teams have a long way to go, seeing as they’ll still have to knock out some mix of the defending champs, a resurgent Clippers team, and the ever-consistent Nuggets, the Mavericks and whoever comes out of the play-in tournament to make the conference finals.