On a day-to-day basis the Western Conference playoff race is changing, teams from the 4th spot all the way down to the 12th seed are bunched together by a few games with under 8 games left in the regular season.
The fan base of these teams is also on an up-and-down roller coaster, one day they are riding high for their team and the next they are in complete panic mode.
The Phoenix Suns are caught dead in the middle of the Western Conference standings (39-35), with 7 to 8 games to go they have managed without their star prize player (Kevin Durant) to stay in that seeding with several teams breathing down their neck.
Getting Durant back this week is probably at the right time as the team’s bench players are starting to create an effective unit that can both score the ball and defend in big moments of the game.
Head Coach Monty Williams and his staff have been in a tough spot since the trade acquisition of Kevin Durant, losing their defensive identity in the process by moving Mikal and Cam Johnson on to Brooklyn and have dropped significantly from a top defending team to mediocre.
Starter Josh Okogie has taken over the defensive assignments on the opponent’s best player much like Bridges did, but Okogie has done it in his own pest-like manner and has caused issues for the opposing team.
Torrey Craig has not shot the ball well but is still a solid defender, when the suns were going small against the 76ers, Craig found himself guarding Joel Embiid a few times and it helped turn the tide in that game without big man DeAndre Ayton.
Bismarck Biombo and Jock Landale have played very inspiring ball in the absence of Ayton, as they maximized their fouls in this game after having games where they fouled way too much.
So, the Suns defense is starting to come together, then you add a seven-foot athletic and long Forward (Durant) to that mix and the defense will be ready for the playoffs.
It looks like Durant’s injury may have been more of a benefit to the team than a hinder, although, they lost some games, they have not lost their seeding giving them the home court in the first round of the Playoffs.
In the process, they also got the opportunity to test many lineups and get confidence in guys like T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross to score the ball in the flow of the offense.
It looks like it’s all coming together, Durant and Ayton returning will make the Suns a dangerous team to deal with as they have two of the most clutch players in the game today to finish games.
The Bench unit of the Suns outscored the 76ers 53-17 and had 3 players off the bench in double figures, this is the recipe for playoff victories going forward when the team is at full strength.
The bench will be the key in the playoffs for sure, and two former high-volume scorers in Ross and Warren on their former prospective teams will be able to keep up the scoring while a starter gets rest along with having one of Durant or Booker on the court at all times will be very difficult to defend.
The Suns 125-105 win against the 76ers was a big win coming off a back-to-back and teams on their heels trying to get the up-for-grabs last available home-court seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns getting to full strength with seven games remaining may be the perfect time frame to get prepared for a Title run, as many teams coasted through a long regular season with load management and injuries, now all the stars will come out to fine-tune their craft because the real season is closely upon us.