Phoenix Suns creating some separation from play-in tournament, face West leader Denver Friday
Phoenix Suns starting forward Josh Okogie experienced the play-in tournament last season while with Minnesota.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be in the play-in,” Okogie said. “That kind of atmosphere was gruesome. It felt like the TBT.”
The Basketball Tournament has 64 teams with a $1 million winner-take-all prize.
“We won and were able to secure the seventh spot last year, but if you’re like a seventh seed or eighth seed and typically, you’d be a playoff team and then you can fall out like the Clippers did last year,” Okogie continued.
Topping the Timberwolves in Kevin Durant’s home debut Wednesday not only gave Phoenix (41-35) the head-to-head tiebreaker, 2-1, over them, but with six games remaining, the Suns are 2-½ games ahead the seventh seed and eighth seed held by New Orleans (39-38) and Minnesota (39-38), respectively.
“Good win for us,” said Durant as the Suns are 4-0 with him in the lineup. “We needed this one.”
Winners of their last three games, the Suns face West leader Denver (51-25) Friday in what will be the second of a back-to-back for the Nuggets, who lost Thursday to New Orleans at home.
The Nuggets may be without reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who sat Thursday with right calf tightness.
The Suns only have a half game lead over the Clippers (41-36) and are just up 1-½ games over defending NBA champion Golden State (40-37).
They own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors, 3-1, and are 2-1 versus the Clippers. The Clippers and Suns meet one more time in the regular season on April 9 at Footprint Center.
Phoenix has the third-toughest remaining schedule of the 4-8 teams in the West, according to tankathon.com.
- Pelicans (3rd toughest overall schedule).
- Clippers (9th toughest overall).
- Suns (10th toughest overall).
- Warriors (17th toughest overall).
- T-Wolves (26th toughest overall).
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In the play-in, the seventh seed hosts the eighth seed for the seventh seed in each conference. The 7-8 loser then plays the 9-10 winner at home for the eighth and final seed.
The T-Wolves were the seventh seed last year and beat the Clippers to earn the seventh seed in the West. Then New Orleans, a ninth seed, stunned the Clippers in Los Angeles for the eighth seed.
“I don’t think if you’re a seventh or eighth seed, you want to be in that position,” Okogie said. “I think it makes it more fun, though. Not necessarily for the seventh or eighth seed, but fun in general.”
The Pelicans topped the 10th-seeded Spurs to get that opportunity to play for the final playoff spot. The only team in the playoffs with a losing record in the regular season, New Orleans pushed Phoenix to six games in the first round before losing to the top overall seed.
In the first year of the play-in tournament in 2021, after the NBA introduced the concept of it in the 2020 Orlando bubble, Golden State lost to the Lakers and Grizzlies as an eighth seed to miss the playoffs.
The Suns were in contention for that play-in game in 2020 after going an unprecedented 8-0 in the bubble “seeding games,” but Memphis and Portland won their final games to axe that opportunity for them.
“If we could’ve had something like (the play-in tournament), maybe we could’ve continued to play,” Suns coach Monty Williams said before losing on March 19 at Oklahoma City.
Portland defeated Memphis to earn the eighth seed in the West in 2020. The Grizzlies, a ninth seed, needed to top the Blazers twice for the eighth seed and lost the first game to Portland.
The Blazers fell to the eventual NBA champion Lakers in the first round.
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Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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