You didn’t need dice or a spinner to figure out where the Suns were headed this year in the regular season.
Much like last season, they have been virtually locked into the No. 2 playoff seed in the Western Conference since the All-Star break.
But while the Suns appear set, making the remainder of their season a Trivial Pursuit, they haven’t a Clue who their playoff opponents will be.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, L.A. Clippers and, to a lesser extent, the Golden State Warriors, all have a shot at the No. 7 seed opposite the Suns.
It’s still a game of chance.
What would be the most favorable playoff path for the Suns?
What would be the series of teams most likely to thwart their title hopes?
THE EASY ROAD
Round 1: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are among the growing number of NBA teams who try to play like the Suns.
They’ve also borrowed from the Doug Moe’s 1980s Nuggets. But the bottom line is they’re not as good at racehorse basketball as are the Suns.
They’ll have to get the Carmelo Anthony-Allen Iverson combo to click — it’s only shown signs of this lately — and they’ll have to count on their mile-high homecourt advantage and try to steal a game in Arizona.
Round 2: Utah Jazz
There are no easy options for the Suns in Round 2.
The most likely foe is San Antonio. But if the Utah Jazz — now four games back of the Spurs — can sizzle at the end of the season just the way they did at the start, they have a shot at pulling out the No. 3 seed and moving into the Suns’ bracket.
Of course, playing a hot Jazz team would hardly make them a desirable opponent. The Jazz own a 3-0 record vs. the Suns this season, though there have been mitigating factors; a missed layup here, an injury there, etc.
In the end, they’ve come up short, a good word when describing the Suns scrapping for rebounds against the big front line of Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko.
Then there’s point Deron Williams, a sort of poor man’s Jason Kidd, who is on the verge of becoming a perennial All-Star.
The Jazz lack a shooting guard; more than likely they’ll have Derek Fisher (who’s more of a point guard) in this spot.
A postseason loss to the Jazz in Round 2 would call into question on the whole Suns’ approach — not so much the speed at which they play but the size at which they play.
Over a seven-game series, the Suns should have too much firepower for the Jazz.
Round 3: Houston Rockets
The trick here is for the Rockets to win their first-round series, then somehow upset the Mavericks in Round 2.
It’s easy to see the Rockets giving the Mavs problems, much tougher to see them winning the series.
But if they do, the Rockets are in a box vs. the Suns.
They can slow it down and try to keep the score low to give themselves a better chance. If they do, the Suns can break the game open with a single burst, and the Rockets will have a tough time overcoming a double-digit lead in a low-scoring game.
If they try to run with the Suns, they don’t have the horses to keep up.
Yao Ming will bother the Suns down low, but he won’t be able to play both ends of the floor at the Suns’ preferred pace.
All of this is why the Suns have beaten the Rockets six straight.
The Finals: Miami Heat
If there’s one team the Suns seem to be able to beat in their sleep, it’s the Heat. The Suns are 27-9 all time against them and 5-1 since Shaquille O’Neal joined them. Often, the Suns just blow them out.
The Heat are in much the same position as the Rockets. Shaq is just too slow to keep up.
He can concentrate on offense or defense. If he tries to do both, he’ll be huffing and puffing up and down the floor with minimal impact.
The Heat would need major contributions from Jason Williams and Jason Kapono, who would have to play at career-best levels.
Dwyane Wade is establishing himself as the game’s best player. But he doesn’t have enough help when playing the Suns.
The Suns have to be rooting for Wade to come back from his shoulder injury, so he can get the Heat to the Finals.
THE HARD ROAD
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers gave the Suns a playoff scare for a reason last year: They’ve got the sort of size that will fetch them plenty of rebounds and, thus, second chances for points.
If they nail down the No. 7 playoff spot — from a talent standpoint, there’s no reason they shouldn’t — they can give the Suns problems again.
Last year, forward Elton Brand was playing at a near MVP level. And center Chris Kaman was one of the league’s most improving big men.
Since then, they’ve been searching for a return to last season’s level and only recently have shown signs.
It would be just the Suns’ luck if they found last year’s level in the postseason vs. the Suns.
The Clippers also would have to get a big series from Sam Cassell, who — at 37 — is finally on the downside and unable to play regularly.
Round 2: San Antonio Spurs
At the All-Star break, the Spurs looked too long in the tooth to win any more titles.
In particular, their key complementary players — Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Michael Finley and Robert Horry — appeared to be in their career twilights.
This still will be a concern as the Spurs advance in the postseason and near the 100-game mark of the season.
But the Spurs have gotten their stifling defense together at the right time.
And coach Gregg Popovich has gone light on minutes for his Big 3 of Tim Duncan (34 per game), Tony Parker (33) and Suns-killer Manu Ginobili (28) in the regular season.
For example, none of them played as much as 29 minutes in their 33-point rout Monday night over the Warriors.
Rest, good health and the know-how of winning championships mean the Spurs appear to have one more title run left.
Round 3: Dallas Mavericks
Sharp observers will point out that if Round 2 is so tough that the Suns can’t escape, there will be no Round 3.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume they advance.
The Suns and Mavericks have split playoff series the past two years. The Suns were fully healthy in neither of them.
This alone will give the Suns a psychological advantage ... if they’re not beat up and worn out by the time they meet.
The Mavericks have the confidence that comes with the status of the NBA’s No. 1 team. At the same time, their record was built in part with the sort of limitless depth — made possible by a limitless budget — that is more important in the regular season.
Yet the Mavericks have advantages both practical and intangible.
The practical: They have a 7-footer who is one of the world’s best outside shooters. If there’s a Dirk-buster in the NBA, he has yet to appear.
The intangible: The Mavs are driven by their colossal flop in last year’s Finals.
The Finals: Detroit Pistons
No team in the East should be able to beat the Suns in a seven-game series.
That said, the Pistons have the savvy and the personnel to have a decent shot.
For starters, they have a 4-2 record vs. the Suns in the Steve Nash era.
They’ve got skill, length and athleticism in the backcourt in Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton.
Then there’s small forward Tayshaun Prince, a superior defender who is the team’s glue. How is it possible the Suns bypassed him in the 2002 draft for Casey Jacobsen?
The key is Rasheed Wallace. Because of age and injuries, is his career sliding inevitably downhill? Or can he gather himself in the playoffs, where teams can rest between games?
And, of course, can he keep his head in the game?