The Suns whacked the Wizards, 106-98, last night in Phoenix. The game was never as competitive as the final score makes it look: The Wizards were playing their fourth game in four cities in five nights, and looked like it; the Suns hadn't played since Sunday, and looked like it. The Suns are 27-20 now, nestled into the West's eighth seed with a 2.5-game lead on the next team.
This makes them antagonists, of sorts, in the unfolding story of this year's weird Western Conference, in which there's a real and increasingly plausible-seeming possibility that the playoffs will include neither the Oklahoma City Thunder—the team whose ascendance to dynastic greatness we've all been awaiting for years—nor Anthony Davis, the NBA's brightest rising star. We've all gotten used to the West not having enough room in its bracket for all its good teams; last year, it was the Suns themselves who missed out at the last minute, after a regular season of fun, exciting, winning basketball in what we'd all assumed was a rebuilding year. That they might return from the grave to avenge themselves by knocking off not one but two of the West's golden children is spitefully delicious.
There might not be 10 non-Arizonans on earth who want to see the Suns hold onto that spot, rather than ceding it to the more star-studded Thunder or Davis's Pelicans. It's not the Suns' fault—like last year, they're playing fast, smart, entertaining basketball, with a goofball roster chock full of shoot-first point guards and oddly-sized combo forwards in which Gerald Green of all people somehow qualifies as the dependable veteran presence. It's just ... who the hell are these guys? And, more to the point, just who in the damn hell do they think they are?
You can detect the growing anxiety in the basketblogging community, in handwringing posts about the Thunder's straits, sometimes citing dire-looking statistical odds against the Thunder snatching that eighth spot. The unwritten premise of this worrying is that the Thunder belong in the playoffs, and, by implication, the Suns do not. And: There might be something to that! The Suns are a weird-ass team, oddly assembled and decentralized, lacking both a single transcendent talent and a single transcendent personality. Goran Dragic is the closest thing they've got to the former, but in a conference choked with outstanding point guards he's never really rolled up anybody's socks; Green is the closest they've got to the latter, but that might just be because he's got nine fingers and a congenital immunity to gravity.
This just adds to their doomed charm, though: Barring a Finals run that's absolutely beyond their capacity, they're consigned to the role of Good Team That Makes Casual Fans Go, "Oh, Right, The Suns ... Who's On That Team?" even as they're out here snatching chains off their more dazzling fellow contestants. If the playoffs started today, they'd be in ... and going to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors, the closest thing to a unicorn the NBA has had in years. Who on earth would be rooting for them then?
They would. That's enough. The Suns are the wrench.
Photo via Getty; video via YouTube