By the time a must-win game for the Phoenix Suns rolls around, we're usually breaking out the sunscreen and decorating the Maypole. This year, desperation's come early.
In the race for the Western Conference playoffs, the Suns sit in ninth place in an eight-team sprint following their disastrous 0-4 road swing through Orlando, Miami, Houston, and San Antonio. The team in eighth, the Dallas Mavericks, leads the Suns by four games coming into the Suns-Mavericks match-up tonight at US Airways Center.
The following math is not pretty, but is provided as a public service to those still harboring hopes of a Suns playoff miracle. Planet Orange hardcores may want to avert their eyes.
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Assuming that the Suns take care of Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs on their home turf, Phoenix will trail Dallas by three with 18 games remaining for each team. Based on their play to date and a realistic reading of their upcoming schedule we see the Suns going 9-9 the rest of the way to finish 44-38. While there are some patsies ahead, the Suns still have to play Cleveland, Denver, Houston, the surging Utah Jazz twice, and Portland, Dallas, and New Orleans on the road.
If that's indeed the way it plays out for the Suns, the Mavs need only finish 7-11 to clinch the eighth spot (and a suicide mission against the near-certain No. 1 seed, the L.A. Lakers). Now, if anyone can pull a massive 11th-hour choke job, it's the Mavericks, who've coughed up some memorable fur balls during the Mark Cuban reign (most notably against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals). Also, the Mavs have a harder finish than the Suns, with tough rows ahead against Detroit, Denver, Miami, Utah, Houston, New Orleans twice, Phoenix again on April 5, and Portland, the Lakers, Atlanta, and Cleveland on the road.
Technically, because it's Cuban's Mavericks the Suns are chasing, Phoenix will still have a weak pulse if they beat Dallas tonight. But if they pull a Mavs-style implosion and end up five games down with 18 to play? Pack up the Maypole. This party's over.
Tip time's 7 p.m. TV: FSN AZ. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. Info: www.nba.com/suns.