The Phoenix Suns are considered a championship contender with Kevin Durant.
Without him, they have lost their last three games and are in danger of being knocked out of playoff contention. Durant is scheduled for late March to re-evaluate his sprained left ankle.
Fourth in the Western Conference, Phoenix (37-32) has the seventh toughest remaining schedule according to Tankathon. The Suns should have got a Thursday home win over the rebuilding Magic (28-41), but they lost in Orlando in November.
Now the Suns must make time for the postseason, but can’t continue to lose by sidelining Durant.
James Jones, team president and general manager of basketball operations, said last week that Durant would play if the playoffs were to happen now, the initial timetable the team gave was March 9, the day Durant twisted his ankle in pregame workouts. The 13-time All-Star up for reassignment on March 30.
He announced that he would be reevaluated in three weeks.
“Kevin wants to play,” Suns coach Montee Williams said before Monday’s loss to defending NBA champion Golden State. “I hate answering things like that because if I say anything, it becomes a thing, doesn’t it? I think that tells how bad he wants to play. Haven’t found that he’s making progress.”
However, Jones also gave a timetable that suggests Durant could be back as soon as possible.
“16 games in, we’re going into the playoffs regardless,” Jones said last Saturday before Phoenix lost to Sacramento. “Kevin is with us for 10 of them or six of them, Kevin knows how to play. We’re not concerned that Kevin will forget how to play basketball for the next eight games.”
Durant has Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee From the bench in street clothes. He also picked up a basketball during timeouts and dribbled the ball a bit in regular shoes.
Phoenix traded Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round picks, and a pick swap just before February 9. Traded deadline to Brooklyn for TJ Warren and Durant. The Suns are 3-0 with Durant, but have gone 1-3 since injuring his ankle.
The Suns have six games remaining after March 30, including two at home against West-leading Denver, one at the Los Angeles Lakers (34-36) and one at home versus the Los Angeles Clippers (37-33) in the regular season. To finish. The other two are at home against Oklahoma City (34-35) and San Antonio (18-51).
They have seven games between now and March 30, against four teams within four games of them in the Western Conference:
Sunday (34-35) in Oklahoma City.
March 22 L.A. Lakers (34-36).
March 27 vs. Minnesota (35-35).
March 29 at Utah (33-36).
The other three games are Thursday versus Orlando, March 24 at home against Sacramento (41-27) and March 25 at home against Philadelphia (46-22).
The Suns have 13 games left, but they are only half a game ahead of the Clippers. The Warriors (36-34) are just 1-1/2 games behind the Suns after Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.
Phoenix owns a 3-1 head-to-head tiebreaker over Golden State and 2-1 versus the Clippers with the final regular season matchup scheduled for April 9 at the Footprint Center.
The Suns are just 2-1/2 games ahead of the Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks (35-35), three ahead of the Thunder and 3-1/2 ahead of the Lakers.
The T-Wolves are in play-in space with the Thunder and Lakers Mavs, but could help Phoenix win head-to-head in that tournament.
The seventh and eighth seeds play in the play-in for the seventh seed. The loser hosts the winner of a 9–10 matchup for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Suns have never been in a play-in tournament.
Utah is on the outside in the play-ins, just four games behind Phoenix.
Now let’s go beyond the numbers to find out why Surya should be worried.
First of all, there is no play-in playoff. This is your opportunity to play your way into the playoffs. There is a lot of pressure to win just to make the post season.
No team, not even Phoenix, wants to be in that position.
Second, anyone who’s watched the Suns without Durant these past four games can see that their rotation is shaky, they’re missing 3s and they’re not the same team that won 34 games before Durant.
Neither Bridge nor Johnson.
Terrence Ross is making up for it to a degree with his offensive production, but the Suns are not the same team defensively without Bridges and Johnson.
Third, teams are just hitting Booker and beating other guys out and they’re relying on guys to provide an offensive punch who clearly shouldn’t be doing so, like Ish Wainwright.
He was the unsung hero in Dallas, but Durant and Booker were the difference.
Durant has shown he can miss nearly two months with the injury, come back and do what he does at the highest level, but there will be another adjustment period for him and the rest of the team.
Will he be on a one minute ban? Perhaps. Whether Williams implements that is another matter.
Will he still need time to ramp up with conditioning and miss a game or two after being evaluated?
Maybe, but the ramp up could be part of that three week period.
With Durant, the Suns can win it all, but without him may not get to the point where they need to come out of the play-offs to make the playoffs.
Last year, the Clippers ranked eighth in the West and lost twice to be eliminated from the playoffs.
Phoenix doesn’t want to be in that position next month, even with Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton in Durant as the ultimate closer.
What is your opinion about the current position of the Sun? Contact Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or call him at 480-787-1240. follow him on twitter @DuaneRankin,
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This article originally appeared on The Arizona Republic: Struggling Suns need to win as they face 7th toughest remaining NBA schedule