The Phoenix Suns have cruised this season. The team has more depth than any team in the league and are among the top teams in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
With a 48-10 record at the All-Star Break, the Suns have the best record in the NBA by 6.5 games over their nearest competitor. That depth is going to be put to the test now, though, as the player who orchestrates their offense and defense could be out until the playoffs.
Chris Paul injured his thumb in Phoenix’s last game before the All-Star Break, and tests on it before the All-Star Game revealed he’d need surgery and will likely be out 6-8 weeks recovering from the injury.
Paul has made the All-Star team twice in two seasons with the Suns. Last season, he led Phoenix to the NBA Finals and a 2-0 lead in that series before Milwaukee rallied to win the championship.
Paul is averaging 15 points, 11 assists, and 2 steals per game. He leads the NBA in assists, shoots nearly 50 percent from the field, and he’s one of the best guards defensively in the league. His production is significant, but his absence as the team’s leader could have an even bigger impact.
The team is hoping that Paul, who is known for his training regimen, will be able to return sometime shortly before the playoffs start.
“We all know Chris pushes the limits,” Suns general manager James Jones told 98.7 FM in Arizona. “If he were to come back earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised. But we expect to have him down the stretch.”
The Suns also have one of the best backups in the league in Cameron Payne. Payne himself has been dealing with an injury, but he’s expected back after the All-Star Break. Payne has been in a shooting slump this season, but last season he averaged 11 points per game and shot 48 percent. If he can find his shooting touch in an extended role, the Suns should be able to hold on to their spot atop the West standings.
Part of the reason the Paul injury may not be catastrophic is that Golden State, one of the team’s chasing them in the standings, is also dealing with a major injury to an All-Star. Draymond Green, who, similarly to Paul, anchors the team’s offense with his passing and the defense with his ability to guard multiple positions, has been out since January with an injury.
The Warriors were once neck-and-neck with Phoenix in the standings, but they’ve fallen off that pace since Green’s injury. The team is 14-11 without him in the lineup and they trail the Suns by 6.5 games for first in the West. They’re also trying to hold off Memphis, who is just 1.5 games behind the Warriors.
Green worked on commentary for TNT during the All-Star Game and said that he hopes to be able to return to the lineup in 3-4 weeks, which should give him plenty of time to get back in game shape prior to the playoffs.
Another team that entered the season hoping to contend for a title in the West has had those hopes dashed. The Los Angeles Lakers helped adding former MVP Russell Westbrook to the roster would give the team a dynamic trio and a third scorer to take pressure off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Westbrook has been a poor fit with the team, though, and the Lakers have struggled offensively and defensively. They’re currently in ninth in the West, four games under .500, and trying to hold off Portland, who is 2.5 games behind them in the standings.
The Lakers don’t look like a title threat, but seemed like a lock to at least make the West’s play-in tournament.
Now, though, that could even be in doubt. Davis could be out up to four weeks after injuring his foot prior to the All-Star Break.
Davis has been the team’s only consistent defensive presence all season, and his absence could be devastating as the Lakers try to put together a strong second half to make a playoff run.