Friday , Oct , 20 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Phoenix Suns 2006-07 Season Preview

(Sports Network) – The free-wheeling Phoenix Suns will once again bring their
exciting, fast-paced style of play to the court in the 2006-07 campaign. They
won their second straight Pacific Division title crown in 2005-06 and advanced
to the Western Conference finals for the second straight year.

Phoenix failed to get to the NBA Finals, as it fell in six games to the Dallas
Mavericks. In the 2005 conference finals, the San Antonio Spurs dismissed the
Suns in five contests.

The Suns finished 54-28 during the 2005-06 campaign with superstar forward
Amare Stoudemire only playing three games. Stoudemire, who averaged 8.7
points and 5.3 rebounds, was not able to recover fully from a left knee
injury. Phoenix hopes the 24-year-old Stoudemire can get healthy and return to
his old form in the new campaign.

Guard Steve Nash won his second straight MVP. The Santa Clara product averaged
18.8 points and a league-best 10.5 assists, while All-Star forward Shawn
Marion led the Suns in scoring (21.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.8 rpg). Nash and
the 6-7 Marion led Phoenix to an excellent season and make the Suns one of the
elite teams in the NBA.

Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw had breakout seasons and made the Suns even
more deadly, while guard Raja Bell played tough, hard-nosed defense on the
perimeter. Barbosa, Bell and Diaw combine with Marion, Nash and Stoudemire to
make the Suns one of the toughest teams to play against in the NBA.

The 6-8 Diaw, who can play all five positions, averaged 13.3 points, 6.9
rebounds and 6.2 assists in 81 contests last season, while the lightning-
quick Barbosa netted 13.1 and dished out 2.8 assists in 57 games.

In the offseason, the Suns lost guard Eddie House and forward Tim Thomas, who
stepped up big time in the playoffs for Phoenix, to free agency. House inked a
deal with New Jersey, while Thomas signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, who
were knocked out by Suns in seven games during the conference semifinals.

The Suns did sign guard Marcus Banks and forwards Jumaine Jones and Eric
Piatkowski. The 6-2 Banks will backup Nash and play alongside him, while Jones
adds another athletic forward and Piatkowski is a decent shooter from long
distance and should add another spark off the bench.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni, who is the 12th head coach Phoenix’ history, will
be calling the shots from the bench. The 55-year-old D’Antoni is the perfect
general for this squad. He is a player’s coach and allows his team to what
it does best, and that is score.

BACKCOURT

Banks, Barbosa, Bell and Nash makeup a very deep backcourt. Not to mention
that the 6-8 Diaw can also play guard if they need him to. The 32-year-old
Nash is the catalyst and D’Antoni’s rotation revolves around his performance
and his health.

Bell has become one of the tougher defenders in the league, as he displayed
while guarding Kobe Bryant during the Suns’ first-round series win over the
Lakers in the 2006 playoffs. The 6-5 Bell averaged 14.7 points and 3.2 boards
in his first season with Phoenix. His game fits in perfectly with the way the
Suns play.

The 6-3 Barbosa and Banks will spell Nash and also play next to him. Both
players will push the ball up the court and keep the Suns’ offense moving at a
fast tempo.

As long as Nash continues his unbelievable play, the Suns’ backcourt will be
in fantastic shape. Anyone who plays with him automatically becomes a better
and more productive player.

FRONTCOURT

If Stoudemire is healthy, he is one of the most dominant players down low. He
is a monster on defense and is intimidating every time he touches the ball on
offense. In 2004-05, Stoudemire averaged 26.0 points and 8.9 rebounds. A
return to his old form makes the Suns one of the favorites to win it all.

A three-time All-Star, Marion stepped up big time last season with Stoudemire
on the sidelines. The 28-year-old Marion shot an impressive 52.5 percent from
the field last season, including 33.1 percent from beyond the arc. His
athleticism and all-around solid game make him and Stoudemire one of the most
feared frontcourt duos in the league.

Diaw can play anywhere on the court and gives D’Antoni plenty of lineups to
choose from, while Thomas will backup Stoudemire at center and will get plenty
of time at power forward. James Jones, who averaged 9.3 points in 75 games in
his first season with the, Jumaine Jones and Piatkowski, who can also play
shooting guard, give the Suns a lot of depth in the frontcourt.

One thing is for sure, a healthy Stoudemire makes Phoenix’ frontcourt one of
the best in the NBA.

OUTLOOK

The third time may be the charm for the Suns. They have been ousted two
straight years in the conference finals. If all the weapons are ready to go
when the playoffs roll around, this squad will find itself in the NBA Finals
for the first time since Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle led
Phoenix to the championship round in the 1992-93 campaign.

PHO