The Phoenix Suns, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) only 60-win team and prohibitive favorite to make the finals, are tied 2-2 with the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Pelicans were the nine seed and had to fight their way into the playoffs via the play-in tournament.
The fact that the absolutely stacked Suns are struggling against the Pelicans is just embarrassing and solidifies my view that the Western Conference does not have a single real contender.
The Suns have legendary point guard Chris Paul (CP3), a dominant center in Deandre Ayton, a Defensive Player of the Year level player in Mikal Bridges and solid role players in Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne. Despite this impressive lineup, the Suns are getting exposed by Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Herb Jones.
The Suns cannot hit open shots. They are ice-cold from behind the arc. According to the box scores for games 1 to 4, punk rock Celtics legend Jae Crowder is 1-17 from the three-point line and Cam Payne is 0-12. No team can win with shooting splits like that. Though CP3 bailed the Suns out in game three with 19 points in the fourth quarter, he is too old to pull off heroics like that every game, as demonstrated by his four points on 2-8 shooting in game four.
This New Orleans team is not bad. CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram are a lethal scoring duo, and Herb Jones is an elite defender, but this team was still the nine seed and had a losing record. Yes, the Suns are missing Devin Booker, but New Orleans is missing their big man Zion Williamson, so this is not a valid excuse.
The Western Conference is wide open. Phoenix was the West’s only team that could truly compete with the contenders in the East like the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. If Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones can stifle the Suns’ offense, imagine the damage that the likes of Derrick White, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, Jayson Tatum and Payton Pritchard would inflict.
On the other hand, no team in the West has a defense anywhere close to the level of Boston and Miami. I still think Phoenix will win this series and make it out of the West, simply because their shooters should progress to the mean, but their struggles against New Orleans are simultaneously embarrassing and concerning. Phoenix may be the best team in the West in my opinion, but CP3 will not get his ring this year. He will have to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo repeat as an NBA champion or Jayson Tatum lift banner 18.
Whether it's Miami, Boston or Milwaukee that Phoenix faces in the finals, any of them would sweep Phoenix. The real playoffs are in the East, and the Western playoffs are simply deciding which team gets the honor of being dismantled by Boston or Milwaukee.