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Should bettors be concerned about Suns’ preseason loss to Adelaide 36ers?

Phoenix’s exhibition loss on Sunday is not only a historic low, but it’s also a warning sign for bettors in the NBA futures market.

ACTION NETWORK USE ONLY - Craig Randall II #12 of the Adelaide 36ers talks to Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Footprint Center on October 02, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The 36ers beat the Suns 134-124. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
ACTION NETWORK USE ONLY - Craig Randall II #12 of the Adelaide 36ers talks to Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Footprint Center on October 02, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The 36ers beat the Suns 134-124. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)Read moreChris Coduto / Getty Images

When the Phoenix Suns opened their preseason schedule with an international exhibition against the Adelaide 36ers, it was supposed to be a tune-up for a team that posted the NBA’s best record a season ago.

Instead, it resulted in a loss of epic proportion.

That may seem like a harsh characterization of a “meaningless” preseason game, but it’s hard not to prescribe extra meaning to the Suns’ 134-124 loss to the 36ers, who entered the game as 28-point underdogs after finishing last season in seventh place (10-18) in the 10-team NBL. It marked the first time an NBA team had lost an international exhibition since 2016 and the first time it’s happened on U.S. soil since 2015.

Naturally, the loss sparked a firestorm of criticism and online memes at the Suns’ expense, especially with Sunday’s loss serving as Phoenix’s first game action since its 33-point loss to the Mavericks in last year’s conference semifinals. And while the Suns’ starters played just 22 minutes each, it still raised the question: can one preseason loss portend an entire season’s worth of failure?

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Why Suns’ preseason loss is bad news for bettors

While Sunday’s loss was certainly shocking, it isn’t entirely unprecedented. Since 2005, 14 teams have lost a preseason game to a non-NBA opponent, most recently the Thunder in 2016. That Oklahoma City squad lost at Real Madrid in overtime – with a 17-year-old Luka Doncic logging 18 minutes for the victorious hosts – and nearly lost another exhibition to FC Barcelona Lassa two days later.

The Thunder ended up winning 47 games that season, which is clearly good news for this year’s Suns. The bad news? The previous dozen teams in this spot weren’t so fortunate. Take a look at all 14 teams who have lost to a non-NBA club and how they fared that season:

Team
Phoenix Suns (2022)
Record
???
Win total
53.5
O/U
???
Team
Oklahoma City Thunder (2016)
Record
47-35
Win total
45
O/U
Over
Team
Brooklyn Nets (2015)
Record
21-61
Win total
27.5
O/U
Under
Team
San Antonio Spurs (2014)
Record
55-27
Win total
57
O/U
Under
Team
Minnesota Timberwolves (2013)
Record
40-42
Win total
40.5
O/U
Under
Team
Dallas Mavericks (2012)
Record
41-41
Win total
44.5
O/U
Under
Team
Boston Celtics (2012)
Record
41-40
Win total
51.5
O/U
Under
Team
Cleveland Cavaliers (2010)
Record
19-63
Win total
30.5
O/U
Under
Team
Los Angeles Lakers (2010)
Record
57-25
Win total
56.5
O/U
Over
Team
Toronto Raptors (2007)
Record
41-41
Win total
41.5
O/U
Under
Team
Memphis Grizzlies (2007)
Record
22-60
Win total
32.5
O/U
Under
Team
Los Angeles Clippers (2006)
Record
40-42
Win total
47
O/U
Under
Team
Philadelphia 76ers (2006)
Record
35-47
Win total
35.5
O/U
Under
Team
Toronto Raptors (2005)
Record
27-55
Win total
28.5
O/U
Under

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than those preseason results is the regular-season fallout. Eleven of the previous 13 teams this century to lose an international exhibition went under their preseason total – three teams fell below that mark by a whopping 10 or more games. Only five of those 13 teams made the playoffs, and four of those five teams lost in the first round.

The lone outlier is the 2010 Lakers, who join the 2016 Thunder as the only two teams to exceed their preseason win total after such an embarrassing preseason loss. Even that story has a bitter end: Los Angeles entered the year as the +250 title favorite after winning back-to-back titles but was ultimately swept in the second round.

Can Phoenix live up to preseason expectations?

Given the results over the last two decades, it’s hard to shake the idea that a loss like this could linger for the Suns, especially after the way their season ended in 2021-22. The Mavericks rained down 19 threes in their Game 7 win at Footprint Center in May; five months later, the 36ers splashed 24 triples on that very same court to continue Phoenix’s misery.

Even if you don’t subscribe to the theory that Sunday’s loss is anything more than a meaningless affair, we’ve historically seen teams with such high expectations fall short when the season starts. Over the last five seasons, teams with a win total of 52.5 have gone under that mark 18 of 21 times, including each of the last 10 instances dating back to 2019.

The Suns enter this year’s preseason with a win total of 53.5 at BetMGM – two wins higher than their mark a year ago – and 10/1 odds to win it all. This is functionally the same group that made the Finals in 2020-21, but Sunday’s loss isn’t an ideal way to start what was supposed to be a redemptive campaign for the West’s reigning No. 1 seed. And if history is any indication, it could be a sign of further disappointment to come.

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