Phoenix Suns: No Chip for You
Those of you who browsed this site around the time of last year’s playoffs probably remember my fearless prediction. I stepped out on a limb and said that the Phoenix Suns, while in the middle of their Conference Final with the Dallas Mavericks, would go on to win the NBA Finals, despite the odds against them. People lit up the comments section on that one, saying things ranging from "I agree! Go Suns!" to things I don’t feel comfortable repeating with the possibility that kids might be reading this. Much to my chagrin, the Mavs sent the Suns and their All Offense, All the Time style of play packing and I was left to dine on crow for the entire summer. Ah, the memories. It is now a new season and the Suns are off to a 36-9 start, including separate winning streaks of 15 and 17, and their bandwagon is fuller than it has ever been. Could it be that my prediction was merely a year early or has everyone just become hypnotized by the team’s up-and-down tempo and Steve Nash’s stellar performance thus far?
This will probably surprise you, but I think it’s the latter. This will contradict what you’ve been hearing and reading from the national media, who have jumped all over the Suns as the best team since the Lakers’ first championship team of this century. While I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Phoenix navigated through the Western Conference playoff bracket, I just don’t think it’s that likely. Below I’ve detailed my reasons why I think the Suns will already be vacationing come June.
1. The Phoenix Suns rely on a seven- or eight-man rotation.
This is nothing unusual for a team in the midst of a playoff run, but for a run-and-gun team halfway through the regular season? Probably not a good idea. Legs get tired. Players get injured. Other teams know exactly what you’re going to throw at them because you’ve been doing it for an entire season without any sort of variation, and they will find a way to exploit it.
2. The Western Conference this year is, for lack of a better term, bananas.
The West, from top to bottom, has been the stronger conference for years now. This is a point against which no sane argument can be made. It’s pretty much a fact. But this year is a different animal. As of 1/29/07, the top team in the East would be the Western Conference’s seventh seed. Yes, you read that right. Washington’s record does not match up with that of any of the Texas teams, Phoenix, Utah or the Lakers. This could mean that the East just sucks really bad. And it does. But it also indicates the kind of ball that’s being played on the left side of the map. The team that comes out of there will need both skill and luck. And defense. Which brings me to…
3. The Phoenix Suns still don’t play championship-level defense.
I know this horse has been beaten to death (a poor choice of words, considering the fate of Barbaro, but it gets my point across) but you have to be able to get stops down the stretch to win playoff games. This team has yet to prove that they can do so. Their 17-game streak came to an end at the hands of Kevin Garnett and his 44-point effort. Garnett, while a fine player, is not going to put up points like Dirk Nowitzki, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant, providing he hasn’t decided before the game to only shoot four times in the first half. And all of those players spend most of their time on the perimeter, where you’re not allowed to breathe on a guy without a foul being called. That doesn’t even address any of the players who might go for 40 on any given night out East.
4. The Phoenix Suns will go only as far as Steve Nash will take them.
Everyone has their opinion on whether Nash benefits the system more or whether the system benefits Nash more. No matter where you stand on this issue, I think it would be wise to admit that neither would work without the other, at least not on this team. Nash has only twice played all 82 games in a season. He’s already missed two this year, and anyone who isn’t concerned about him missing more with all the minutes he’s logging is fooling himself (or herself, for the sake of gender equity). Someone may want to consider throwing some of those minutes to Marcus Banks and Leandro Barbosa.
5. Despite their torrid first half, the Suns are only tied for first place.
The team they’re tied with for first, the Mavericks, has beaten them both times they’ve played so far this season. It’s fun to talk about how good Phoenix is, but when there’s a team that’s just as good, probably better, that they have yet to beat that plays defense, it might be a good idea to quieten down the Sun championship talk. And that the Mavericks, as was mentioned above, eliminated Phoenix last year. And Nowitzki had over 150 points against them in said series, partially because former Sun Tim Thomas pissed him off. Just a suggestion.
So there it is. Phoenix is one of those teams that everyone has an opinion on, so I fully expect that someone thinks I’m exactly right and a bunch of other people think I’m wrong. Which is fine; that’s what sports are all about. Of course, now that I’ve said they’ll lose, Phoenix will probably run away with the whole thing.
Where’s Tim Thomas when you need him?