Before this season started, the Phoenix Suns were one of four or five teams that looked primed to take tanking to entirely new depths.
The Philadelphia 76ers gutted their roster to the point they needed to sign people just to meet the minimum payroll requirement. The Utah Jazz let their two leading scorers from last season walk for free. The Boston Celtics traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, virtually for free.
Even the Suns got in on the act, dumping Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards in exchange for an injured Emeka Okafor, who hasn't played a single game this season.
All these teams were supposed to be fighting each other for losses and prime position in the 2014 lottery and draft.
Apparently, no one told Phoenix's coach and players that was the plan. Or maybe they did. Either way, they're proving scores of us wrong.
With two weeks left in the season, this team that was supposed to finish near the bottom of the standings is hanging on to a seed in the Western Conference.
And by hanging on, I mean hanging on...for playoff life.
Phoenix is currently seventh and just 0.5 games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, who are tied for eighth. The race is so tight between Nos. 6 and 9 that that things shift every night.
He may be onto something there, as Petersen notes:
That’s not an outlandish claim. Goran Dragic and Channing Frye played in largely reserve roles during the Suns’ trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2010. Both are now starters and form one of the most lethal pick-and-roll tandems in the league.
The rest of Phoenix's team is a bunch of unproven youngsters, who've either never been to the playoffs or did little more than sit the bench for a team that made it.
That's one of the biggest reasons Phoenix's run has surprised so many. Young teams at the start of a reboot aren't supposed to be within reach of a 50-win season.
Much of the credit goes to Jeff Hornacek.
...no team and no coach has exceeded expectations like Hornacek and the Suns, whose over-under on wins in Las Vegas before the season began was 19.5...
...The Suns have already doubled that total, with 14 games remaining...
...Whether the Suns make postseason or not, Hornacek is the leader on my ballot, and that's where he'll stay, even if the Suns fall off a cliff the last four weeks of the season.
Hornacek's impact as a motivator has his team in position to reach the playoffs. They may need to act as if they're already there if they want to make it. Petersen says, "...Hornacek is asking them to approach each of these last games as if they were, in fact, playoff games."
If they do indeed look at these next two weeks as a single-elimination playoff and play like it's the most important stretch of their careers, they could complete this surprising run with a feel-good story.
Then they'll have to face the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and they'll really know what it's like to fight for their basketball lives.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.