The Phoenix Suns gutted out a one-point win over the Blazers on Thursday night to stay alive in the hunt for the 1-seed in the West, a game behind Utah, and move two clear of the Clippers with two to play for the 2-seed. It was an important game for Portland as well, who could’ve locked in a playoff spot with a win but instead now run the risk of falling behind the Lakers for the 7-spot and into the play-in depending on how the last weekend of the season goes.
With so much in flux and the Lakers and Warriors currently in the play-in spots, plenty has been made of how there may not be an advantage to being one of the West’s top two seeds this season with LeBron James and Stephen Curry possibly being in the 7 and 8 seeds after the play-in. There have even been some who suggested Phoenix try to play their way down to the 3-seed to avoid the Lakers in the first round, as that is currently the most likely matchup, but that insinuation quickly got shut down on Thursday by Chris Paul.
Charles Barkley started to ask about the possible matchup with the Lakers or Warriors and whether that’s a disadvantage this year before Paul cut him off and delivered quite the statement on the Western Conference.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 14, 2021
“Man, Chuck, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve been in the west my whole career,” Paul said. “West ain’t never been easy. I don’t care who you’re playing, what game it is, what series it is. I played in New Orleans, when I was in that division with Memphis, Houston with Yao and T-Mac, and Dallas when they was nice with Dirk and Stackhouse and all them. The West always been a beast, so if you try to matchup with someone else you can still get it handed to you. You just know that. You can’t duck nobody if you wanna win it all. You gotta go through it.”
It’s the right mindset to have if you’re the Suns, as there’s a danger in seeking out certain matchups. As the Suns got to see firsthand on Thursday, the Blazers are playing tremendous basketball right now and would be far from a lock to beat in a series. For Phoenix, it’s about staying healthy but carrying some confidence and quality play into the postseason, as they look to make a deep run in their first postseason appearance in a decade. Chris Paul has run into juggernauts in the West in the past and knows that there isn’t any hiding from the best teams, as you’ll eventually run into them. You could even make the argument, if you want to be optimistic, that if you have to face the Lakers maybe the first round as they’re still finding their footing is better than in a later round.
Whatever the case, Paul and the Suns don’t want to hear about chasing matchups and are taking the mindset that they’re a championship team and no one wins a title without taking down the best teams.