Now that the UA's basketball season has come to an end in typically heartbreaking fashion—not winning the title qualifies as a painful end around these parts, right?—it means there are slim pickings when it comes to getting that hoops fix and avoiding round-ball withdrawal.
Sure, the Final Four will be on this weekend, and the matchups are pretty damn good. But that's like standing against the wall in the high school cafetorium and watching some other guy cop a feel on the girl who shot you down.
So that leaves us with ... gulp, the Suns? (Shiver.)
But wait, have we looked at the NBA standings lately? Probably not, because the NBA is tough to watch during the regular season. And it becomes an absolute root canal when the playoffs come around thanks to the sudden attempts at playing defense, turning 107-102 games into 81-76 rock fights.
I did look at the standings, though. And what I saw nearly made me Google eye doctors in my neighborhood.
The Phoenix Suns have a winning record. Like, a really good winning record. And they will probably make the postseason for the first time since 2010.
At 44-30 entering Wednesday's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers (who are also good, which just shows that we're all living in a fever dream of a world when it comes to pro basketball), the Suns find themselves in a battle with three other teams for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference. The regular season ends in two weeks, after which the seemingly six-year-long NBA playoffs get underway.
I had absolutely no faith in the Suns being anywhere close to this successful this year, and I doubt very many other people did. The only person I knew who felt otherwise was a co-worker from one of my many side gigs, one of those delusionally optimistic Suns fans who believed wholeheartedly that Phoenix was poised for a 50- or 60-win season this year.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and wagered a healthy sum that they wouldn't top 40 victories. Thankfully, he's such a superfan that he's willing to take second-rate gear and trinkets purchased with Fry's Suns points as payment.
While you can (and should) praise me for that bit of maneuvering at the end, it's hard to criticize my decision to take such a bet. I'm guessing most of the people who work in the Suns' front office would have taken that deal, too, since all signs in the offseason pointed to Phoenix attempting to tank the 2013-14 season in hopes of getting a very high draft spot.
The upcoming NBA draft is supposed to be one of the deepest in years if all the expected freshmen leave early (It was fun while it lasted, Aaron Gordon), and no less than eight teams have treated this year as nothing more than one in which looking as bad as possible is the only necessary goal.
Apparently, many NBA general managers and owners are fond of the underlying plot of Major League. The Suns were in this group when the season began: There's no other explanation for some of their offseason moves, which basically resembled trading players for a rack of basketballs and some towels.
But, just like those ragtag, upstart Indians led by Willie Mays Hayes, Ricky Vaughn and Pedro Serrano, the Suns players and coaches either didn't get the lose-at-all-costs strategy or consulted Jobu and decided that it wasn't going to fly.
Nope, they decided they're just going to win the whole damn thing.
That's not going to happen, but it was a nice gesture, especially for the few devoted fans who still go to games at United Airways Center. The Suns are ranked 24th out of 30 NBA teams in attendance, drawing just over 15,700 per game. (For the record, that's 400 fewer per night than the 21-win Orlando Magic average, while the 23-win Utah Jazz get more than 18,000 per game to brave the mean streets of Salt Lake City for a night of pathetic professional basketball).
The Suns are probably going to make the playoffs, but all that's going to mean is getting a seed somewhere between sixth and eighth, which will pit them against one of the Western Conference's big boys. The kind of teams that the Suns might have been able to beat in the regular season but will have no chance against in the playoffs, when actual attempts at defense completely change the way the game is played ... and, to my distaste, the way it looks.
Phoenix is averaging 105 points per game ... but allowing 102. That makes for some fun times now, but it's not how a team wins in the NBA long term. Just ask the Lakers, who are getting run into the ground (tank, anyone?) by likely-to-be-fired coach Mike D'Antoni and his defense-optional approach.
Maybe the Suns will get lucky and win a playoff series, maybe even two. But odds are they'll be a first-round loser, and instead of getting a chance to screw up another high draft pick— how's that rookie year going, Alex Len?—they'll have to settle for taking whoever is left over after the league's super-schlub teams have taken the Jabari Parkers and Andrew Wigginses.
One thing's for certain, though: There are not likely to be any Suns-related riots happening this spring, which pretty much eliminates them from being popular with a certain younger demographic in this part of the state. Well, unless local TV crews and newspaper photographers show up at a Suns watch party (do those things exist?) and then stick cameras and floodlights in the faces of fans in hopes there'll be something great to live tweet about.