Updated Odds for Phoenix Suns' Playoff Chances

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIMarch 26, 2014

DENVER, CO - February 18: Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns talks with Goran Dragic #1 during the game against the Denver Nuggets on February 18, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bart Young/Getty Images

Despite their hard work, the Phoenix Suns are currently on the outside looking in. 

Though they have exceeded all expectations for this season, a 42-29 record is still only good enough for the ninth seed in the Western Conference. They are just one-half game back of both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks

Even the Golden State Warriors, currently sixth in the conference, are only two games removed from the lottery.

And the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who are 3-7 over their last 10 matches, are three games from the ninth seed.

With 11 games left to go in the regular season, that means that reaching the sixth or even fifth seed is still a plausible goal for Phoenix.

First, however, it's important to decide whether they can attain a playoff spot at all. 

In order to assess their odds, let's look at the remaining schedules for the Suns as well as for some of their competitors. 

 

Phoenix Suns

Ever since Eric Bledsoe's return, the Suns have gone 6-2. That is an encouraging sign.

Matt Slocum

On the other hand, look at the eight opponents they've faced over that time span: Only one of their wins came against a team with a winning record—a 121-113 win over Toronto.

Truthfully, the Suns have had a very easy March schedule. But now is when the opponents will start to become much tougher. 

Here is the full Suns schedule for the rest of the season. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns handles the basketball against Jared Dudley #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers at STAPLES Center on December 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The last three games of March are relatively easy. The Washington Wizards may be a tough matchup, but they are not a contending team. And both the Knicks and Lakers have struggled all season long.

But the schedule becomes extraordinarily difficult in April, as the Suns play the first, second, third, fifth, seventh and eighth seeds in the Western conference. 

That's six teams with a superior record. And the Suns are only winning the season series against one of those teams (Portland). 

Even Sacramento, a team with a 25-45 record, has beaten Phoenix twice this season. That is no guaranteed win either. 

Also, notice that seven of the games are on the road (where the Suns are 18-16 this season). 

On the bright side, there is only one back-to-back. However, those two games will be on the road, and they will come against two fiercely competitive teams (San Antonio and Dallas). 

Pay close attention to the last three games of the season, too, as those are clearly the most important. The Suns play both the Mavericks and Grizzlies, which could significantly impact their place in the standings at the last moment.

And if the Suns beat the Mavs, they take a 2-1 series lead, meaning that they own the tiebreaker over Dallas in the event that both teams finish the season with the same record. Unfortunately, the Suns have already lost the season series to the Grizzlies. 

Given their schedule, it would be unreasonable to expect the Suns to cap off their season with an 11-game winning streak.

Nevertheless, the Suns may need to find a way to win at least six or seven of these games if they want a playoff spot. Perhaps it will take even more.

 

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks are currently the eighth seed, and so far they have shown no sign of letting up. In fact, they are 7-3 over the last 10 games. 

But, let's take a look at their remaining schedule. 

Phoenix Suns Schedule
DateOpponentOpponent RecordSeason Series (as of March 26th)
March 26th@WAS36-341-0 WAS
March 28thVS NYK29-421-0 NYK
March 30th@ LAL24-463-0 PHX
April 2ndVS LAC50-212-1 LAC
April 4th@ POR45-272-1 PHX
April 6thVS OKC52-191-1 Tied
April 9th@ NOP30-403-0 PHX
April 11th@ SAS54-162-1 SAS
April 12th@ DAL43-291-1 Tied
April 14thVS MEM42-283-0 MEM
April 16th@ SAC25-452-1 SAC
NBA.com

The Mavericks also have plenty of tough games. They play the Clippers twice and the Suns, Warriors, Grizzlies and Spurs all once.

A few key losses against Phoenix, Memphis and Golden State could really swing momentum to the other side. However, all of those four games are at home.

Dallas will have a long, four-game road trip, but the opponents they'll play—Sacramento, Utah and the Lakers—don't really pose a threat. 

Notice the Mavs' final two games. After they play Phoenix, they'll hop on a plane to Memphis and play the Grizzlies. And while Memphis and Dallas are dueling, Phoenix will be in Sacramento.

It is simply an extraordinary coincidence that the Mavs, Grizzlies and Suns will all play each other at the very end of the year. 

If there's one factor that harms Dallas more than its competitors, it is age. 

Mavericks Schedule
DateOpponentOpponent RecordSeason Series
March 27thVS LAC50-21LAC 2-0
March 29thVS SAC25-45Tied 1-1
April 1stVS GSW44-27GSW 2-1
April 3rd@ LAC50-21LAC 2-0
April 4th@ LAL24-46DAL 2-0
April 6th@ SAC25-45Tied 1-1
April 8th@ UTA23-48Dal 3-0
April 10thVS SAS54-163-0 SAS
April 12thVS PHX42-29Tied 1-1
April 16th@ MEM42-283-0 DAL
NBA.com

Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert are all key players over the age of 30. That means that at the end of a grueling season, fatigue and injuries could settle in. 

On the other hand, Dallas has plenty of playoff experience, which the Suns lack. 

Overall, while this is a tough schedule, it may not be so daunting for an experienced Dallas squad. Expect them to win at least five of these 10 games to close out the season. 

 

Memphis Grizzlies

Since the All-Star break, the Memphis Grizzlies have been on a torrid winning streak. They are 13-5 over their last 18 games.

The return of Marc Gasol has clearly sparked their recent play, and unfortunately for Dallas and Phoenix, the Grizzlies may not be slowing down soon. 

 

Could age be an issue for the Mavericks at the end of the season?
Could age be an issue for the Mavericks at the end of the season?Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Why? Well, here's their remaining schedule. 

Marc Gasol is leading the Grizzlies to a playoff spot.
Marc Gasol is leading the Grizzlies to a playoff spot.Bill Baptist/Getty Images

The first five games for the Grizzlies are road games, but it isn't a particularly difficult slate of opponents to face. Memphis holds a lead in the season series against all of those teams with exception of the Denver Nuggets

In fact, Memphis has dominated virtually every opponent on its remaining schedule throughout the season. The Grizzlies did lose to San Antonio on three separate occasions, but against Phoenix—their main competition for the eighth seed—they're a perfect 3-0. 

Overall, the Grizzlies do not have an amazingly easy schedule, but it is clearly less challenging than those of Dallas and Phoenix. Memphis has the advantage of playing some easy games against the 76ers, Lakers and Jazz

Given their recent hot streak, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Grizzlies finish strong by winning eight or nine of these last 12 games. 

 

Odds

So, do the Suns have a chance? 

Absolutely. As we can see from the article, the Mavericks have just as difficult a schedule as the Suns do for the next few weeks. And other teams not even talked about—such as Portland and Golden State—could also still slip out of playoff seeds. 

Grizzlies Schedule
DateOpponentOpponent RecordSeason Series
March 26th@ UTA23-482-0 MEM
March 28th@ GSW44-272-1 MEM
March 30th@ POR45-272-0 MEM
March 31st@ DEN32-391-1 Tied
April 2nd@ MIN34-352-1 MEM
April 4thVS DEN32-391-1 Tied
April 6th@ SAS54-163-0 SAS
April 9thVS MIA48-211-0 MIA
April 11thVS PHI15-561-0 MEM
April 13th@ LAL24-462-1 MEM
April 14th@ PHX42-293-0 MEM
April 16thVS DAL43-293-0 DAL
NBA.com

The Grizzlies, however, seem to be considerably more difficult to overtake. And that means that either the Suns will have to start beating teams that are considered better than they are, or they'll just have to hope that someone else makes a mistake.  

The game against Dallas on April 12th may end up being the most pivotal game of the season for Phoenix. Whichever team wins that game and takes the season series tiebreaker would likely be the one to make the playoffs if the race is still very close. 

Unfortunately, at this point it is simply impossible to predict what will happen. There's a large chance that the Suns will make the playoffs, and yet at the same time fans should be prepared in case they don't. 

Odds: 55 percent