Power ranks potential Phoenix Suns playoff games

Did you hear? The Phoenix Suns locked in the top seed for their 2022 playoff series on Thursday night, beating the Denver Nuggets behind 49 points from Devin Booker and with point guard Chris Paul back in the lineup.

There are a few check marks left for the 60-14 team with eight games to go this year, including resetting a single-season win total mark and bringing back some of their injured players.

But the long-term goal is to chase a title after the Suns made the NBA Finals a year ago.

Getting out of the first lap will probably not be a cakewalk. If Phoenix reaches the Western Conference Semifinals or Finals, it will be a chore to win those series as well.

That said, there are more favorable opponents and teams that the Suns would be more repelled from.

As they prepare for a playoff appearance against a hotly contested Western Conference below them in the standings, here’s one person’s power ranking on which game would be most favorable, moving up to the one which will be the most difficult.

We’re looking at the nine teams currently in the playoffs or play-ins if the season ends on Friday. And a big part of that consideration involves guessing which of their injured players might return before or during the playoffs.

1. New Orleans Pelicans

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 31-42 (10th), 28.5

It should be noted that the 29-44 San Antonio Spurs are only two games behind the Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers. I would favor the Suns if Gregg Popovich’s team closes that gap and steals a playoff spot in the play-in.

As for who’s currently in the tournament: I’d be a little scared of the Pelicans because head coach Willie Green knows the ins and outs of the Suns from his time on the Phoenix staff. New Orleans has also played relatively well against Phoenix this season, handing it a loss in three games.

New Orleans is a good match for the Suns. Herb Jones lowkey can give Devin Booker a few bad possessions per game, Jonas Valanciunas can nullify Deandre Ayton – his three-point shot continues to make him one of the most underrated centers in the game – and Green will know how to throw schematically Mikal Bridges out scorer CJ McCollum just enough.

Who could be back? Zion Williamson (foot), Brandon Ingram (hamstrings): Throwing Williamson into the fray could cause a lot of problems, but the bench and wing group just aren’t doing enough to scare the Suns off. Where it is remains to be guessed. Ingram should be back within a week.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 31-42 (10th), 28.5

The distance between the Pellies and the Lakers in terms of fear is minimal, as their identical records indicate. Los Angeles is getting a little more respect for its (potential) star power.

There was one little momentum created for Frank Vogel’s Lakers. We’re talking about leaning on younger players put aside by other teams (Hello, Wenyen Gabriel and Stanley Johnson) and getting big games recently from Malik Monk and DJ Augustin.

Russell Westbrook is on a four-game 20-point streak, all of the effective variety. It’s awesome!

As they learned last year, LeBron James, who missed his last game to rest his knees, and Anthony Davis are not really expected to come back and save the day.

Vogel is a good coach, but Alex Caruso doesn’t walk through that door. The gang being fully healthy still means Johnson and Gabriel are on the rotation.

Also, have you seen what the Suns have done to them this year? And that Davis said one thing about the Suns not winning anything if they won in the playoffs last year if was he healthy?

Who could be back? Anthony Davis (foot): The team is 27th in the defensive rating in the 15 games since the all-star break and the last five games. Davis’ return may propel them to respectable ground, but there are too many problems with this roster.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 36-38 (8th), 24.0

The Clippers have lost seven of nine. Like the Lakers, they don’t even play good defense at this rate.

The starting lineup has recently included Devin Booker, I mean Amir Coffey, if that rings a bell. Until we sniff out signs that both star wings of the Clippers are back, they don’t have much to do but depth and fire.

Who could be back? Kawhi Leonard (ACL), Paul George (shoulder): Sounds a little dangerous because Tyronn Lue is a defensive training magician and a wild Paul George and Kawhi Leonard could suddenly appear. George seems closer to a comeback than Leonard, but it’s unclear if it’s for a play-in.

4. Dallas Mavericks

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 45-28 (5th), 14.5

Very strangely, the team managed by Luka Doncic was better defensively than offensively. This appears to be a Jason Kidd thing, as is the short rotation.

Not much about this team is terrifying after Doncic. With the Suns, there are a lot of lags to consider in favor of Phoenix.

A matchup would make a great Deandre Ayton series, and while I like Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, I don’t see how the Mavs have enough as a team to both contain the Suns’ wing rotation and bother Booker, with * Stephen A. voice* ALL RESPECT DUE TO REGGIE BUL-LOCK.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 42-32 (7th), 18.0

If you live under a rock, the Timberwolves have been playing top-three basketball in the entire league since the All-Star break.

Their starting five is as good as any, with plenty of switchable size and physique. Patrick Beverley may be boring but can indeed change the tone of matches.

Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Edwards are not recognized enough for their defense on the wings. There’s even a juice-scoring perimeter burst off the bench with Jaylen Nowell and Malik Beasley.

In theory, Karl-Anthony Towns should be more of a problem for Phoenix than he was when they last met on Wednesday when he tried to goad Jae Crowder. Which was a mistake.

Still, Ayton’s big game in that one was no fluke. He’s going to have those nights against a team that deploy their center away from the hoop so often.

6. Utah Jazz

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 45-28 (4th), 14.5

The Jazz are a fine top-10 team, and Quin Snyder is rightly making the buzz about moving to a higher-profile team this offseason.

The continuity of the roster is getting closer to being obsolete, and Joe Ingles’ injury and trade earlier in the year added to the depth issue.

Utah’s past playoff experience gives them an edge, but he just doesn’t have the firepower unless Donovan Mitchell goes nuclear for an extended streak. It would apparently bite them.

The Suns would definitely have a fight on their hands, but an injury or a bad game for a Jazz player hurts them multiple times over Phoenix. Unless the Jazz release Nickeil Alexander-Walker, which they haven’t!

7. Memphis Grizzlies

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 51-23 (2nd), 9.0

Ja Morant’s knee is a concern ahead of the playoffs. While a pro-Booker MVP push likely sucks its juice for that individual award, so does the Grizzlies’ record without Morant this season.

Memphis has many elements of Phoenix: Grit, execution, star power, depth, and a two-way game. The roster is full of every type of role player you could want, and Coach Taylor Jenkins empowers them. He is expected to be second in the NBA Coach of the Year vote behind Monty Williams.

NBA fans should cheer for a postseason meeting between the Suns and Grizzlies.

Who could be back? Ja Morant (knee): Memphis said Morant will be reevaluated in two weeks from Thursday.

8. Denver Nuggets

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 43-31 (6th), 17.0

They may be sixth in the conference standings right now, but their roster should scare everyone in the top half of the West.

For the Suns’ purposes, there is cause for concern. Nikola Jokic may not draw against Phoenix like he does for other teams, but the Suns could still have problems against Will Barton, Aaron Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins. If we throw in Bones Hyland, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the potential firepower is unmatched.

Even without Murray or Porter Jr. right now, just know that Facundo Campazzo isn’t currently sniffing rotational minutes.

This isn’t the Suns-in-four series of a year ago — right now or with Denver turning over injured starters.

Who could be back? Jamal Murray (ACL), Michael Porter Jr. (back): Murray could be on hold at some point in the playoffs, and Porter Jr. could be closer to returning than he is.

9. Golden State Warriors

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Record (place), games behind the Suns: 48-25 (3rd), 11.5

Nope. You don’t want Warriors.

I mean, the Suns are going to relish the opportunity — they want to beat the best to say they’re the best.

But no, just no.

We’ve spent half of this exercise trying to judge how many of these contenders might look if we put in some of their best players who are currently injured. This is the last team you want to bet against in this regard.

Golden State has been careful to rest Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry should be back by the start of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Steve Kerr has bolstered actors like Gary Payton II and rookies Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga.

Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins might face the toughest reset once the starters return, but otherwise the team is good enough to use a round or two to find a healthy rhythm.

Who could be back? Stephen Curry (foot sprain): Curry will be reassessed when the schedule switches in April, giving him a chance to potentially return before the playoffs.

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