The Phoenix Suns don’t have to do anything to prove they belong so far. They've taken care of business in ways that most of the league is finally starting to understand.
Some of us saw this coming back in December, as I wrote here and here.
But the job is not done and things are about to get real different.
This next week is different from all the other tests that they have passed this season and its already off to a rocky start.
Saturday, they were physically on the court but mentally checked out. The Suns played like one of your friends who showed up to dinner but stayed on their phone the whole time.
It was understandable but also a bit concerning.
The Suns can’t get confused. They are not like any other NBA contender in the league right now. They can’t rest players. They can’t take nights off. They can’t flip a switch whenever they please. They aren’t the Lakers or Bucks or Clippers or Sixers or Nets.
They are the insurgents. There is no foundation of previous success to fall back on. There is no proven superstar to rely on. There is no wiggle room if they want to finish the job and shock the NBA in the postseason. The Suns have to play at all times like they are hell bent on proving everyone wrong. That doesn’t mean they have to go undefeated, they are human after all, it just means they can’t get too comfortable at the top.
Tonight, they embark on a hugely anticipated east coast road trip. They are in a difficult position. Much of the league is waiting for them to stumble so they can point and laugh and say “I told you so!”. Others are going to ignore them no matter what happens because they simply do not fit the classic definition of NBA contender.
This will be their first real taste being on the road in a playoff-like environment. They will be hunted. The Suns are probably going to lose a few games on this trip and that’s okay. I’d expect them to go 2-3 before returning home against the Clippers and Jazz with the pressure still turned up.
So far this season, the Suns have exceeded expectations, Chris Paul has validated the cost paid to acquire him, Devin Booker has commanded the league’s attention and respect, Monty Williams has earned praise, James Jones has seen his unorthodox approach validated and the Suns have risen again.
Yet for the Suns to finish the job, they have to remember what it's like to have nothing to lose and everything to prove.
Let’s hope they're as good at doing that as they were to start this season.