Believe it or not, the 2022/2023 season is now well over halfway through. Your Phoenix Suns are in the middle of an uphill battle for the playoff position. If the Suns actually push down, and it certainly looks like they intend to, then every game will actually count exactly the same.
But we all know that some games mean more than others. That’s the way it is. And with most of the schedule behind us, here are (in chronological order) what I think are the seven “biggest” contests the Suns have left:
@ Boston Celtics3 February.
The Celtics appear to be a solid bet to repeat as Eastern Conference champions as they have several games at the top of the conference standings. You’ve got two real stars in their prime in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, surrounded by a group of brave veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart who know how to play defense and how to win. It’s prejudicing us to note that this could be an NBA Finals matchup if the Suns got that far, but it’s an important test of how the Suns are on the road against an elite team at this point line up
@ Brooklyn NetworksFebruary 7th
Pretty much the same idea as the Celtics game here. The Nets are in a strong playoff position, and if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are healthy and both firing on all guns, they’ll have as much offensive firepower as any team in the league. The exhausted Suns triumphed over the Durant-less Nets on January 19, but next month’s road game could be a real test of the Suns’ abilities, especially with both clubs getting closer to full strength.
Los Angeles ClippersFebruary 16
The Clippers have had some troubles this year after starting the season again as one of the oddsmakers favorites to win it all. But despite plenty of missed time from their two 30-plus stars, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers are in the hunt for the playoffs. With Kawhi heating up a little (27 points per game at 65% true shooting in the month of January), the Clippers could be a team the Suns will see in the postseason. The Suns will watch the clips again for the final game of the season, but this game may be less meaningful as either or both teams could be starters depending on where they stand.
@Milwaukee BucksFebruary 26th
See also here Celtics and Nets. Top East team on the way. Can the suns win? There remains the added factor of the feelings left behind by the 2021 Finals and I bet some Suns players have not forgotten them and I KNOW many Suns fans never will.
@Warriors of the Golden StateMarch 13th
Too many fans (yourself included) discounted the Warriors last season. And while I still think they’re not a top NBA team anymore, they can still be very dangerous in a postseason series because the core of the team is just a bunch of winners with a lot of playoff experience.
Philadelphia 76ers25th March
Another Top East team and potential Finals opponent for the Suns to measure themselves against. The Sixers also have the added dimension of including a slight personal rivalry between Deandre Ayton and Joel Embiid. Assuming both guys are still healthy and playing for these two teams, it’s always an interesting time to see these two tall, athletic and talented guys compete.
Denver nuggetsMarch 31
This is game #77 of 82 on the schedule, against a team currently at the top of the western rankings. It seems entirely plausible that the Suns’ path to the finals would lead them through Denver. The Nuggets are arguably in the best form this iteration of the club has achieved. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has added a nice 3&D dimension to the Nuggets, who obviously lives and dies off their all-world center Nikola Jokic, who is once again in the running for league MVP honors.
Like the Clippers, the Suns have a final clash with the Nuggets on April 6 in what is Game No. 80 for both teams. But just like the clips, it’s unclear how “all in” the nuggets could be specifically for this one. If they top the table more than two games, I would expect their top players to play sparingly, if at all, in that game.