Suns vs. Spurs. It had to happen like this. It had to happen in Round One. Every year, a year less. It makes me sad and I hate to break it to you fans of the Phoenix Suns, but this doesn't look like our year. It looks like every other year since our chances rose with the ascendance of Amare Astoundingmire and that point guard from Canada via South Africa who wears anti-war t-shirts and recycled shoes. It’s a grand battle between these franchises. There is blood and there are balls. There are hip-checks and ejections. There are tendons named after the only thing that could stop a Greek hero. Oh, the tragedy! There are fakes and flops and they hate us as much as we hate them. It will be remembered as a classic sports rivalry. It’s as thrilling as the Celtics and 76ers of the 80’s and it’s happening right now. As it is for the Suns yearly, for a game or a series of games, they are forced to play without a key member of their team: In 2005 it was Joe Johnson when he fractured his orbital bone in the Dallas semifinal series. The Suns beat Dallas, but without Joe to start the Conference Finals, they lost to the Spurs. In 2006, they played the entire season without Amare Stoudemire. That year, they lost Raja Bell to a torn calf injury in the Western Conference Finals against Dallas, losing again. In 2007, the Suns played the first series with every player until the semis, when Boris Diaw and Amare were prohibited from playing for leaving the bench during what the League termed was an "altercation" in the previous game. The Suns lost the series in six to the Spurs, and did not advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in three years. It’s the luck of the Suns. More on luck later. Now in 2008 I offer two reasons why the Suns will have trouble advancing past the first round in the 2008 NBA Playoffs. 1) Grant Hill is injured and seriously hobbled by an aggravated groin. He would probably be sitting out games in the regular season and should probably sit these out as well, for what he was able to accomplish on Saturday. He is our JJ, our Raja, our Amare and Boris. Thanks for trying Grant, but your blessings don’t seem to be big enough as some jerk like Robert Horry. 2) The Suns are built to beat the Spurs. This is the best they can do for years to come. They are a team comprised of champions in Shaquille O’Neil, Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr. They have players and personnel who’ve been to the Finals in the US and Europe and won them. In Raja Bell, the Suns have another player who's been to the Finals, though he lost to Shaq’s Lakers. Now they’re teammates and by all accounts friendly. The Suns have chemistry. They have the players, even without Grant. They have a championship roster but they choked in Game 1. They coughed up a hairball big enough to make the crazy cat lady gag. The Suns are built to beat the Spurs but they didn’t do it. They had the Spurs by the Rocky Mountain oysters just about to boil when they started making mistakes. Grant Hill needed to be out there on the floor, not Leandro Barbosa. But Grant is down, and there isn’t much else to do but put in The Blur. O' Fate! How thy sting blisters the toes of my basketball team! Maybe you still believe in the Suns. You say they could have won if they’d have fouled inside the three-point line early in possessions. Interesting thought, but Amare should have switched and been all up in the face of Finley. Stupid mistake. A reason that cost us the game. Swish-a-three. “But Tim Duncan at the three, are you flapjack mocking me,” you reply, still believing, still being the truest Suns fan, “there’s no way in all of eternity that scene will ever play out like that again. The Spurs just got lucky.” Ahh, luck. That’s for horseshoes and clovers, not the ever-rebirthing Phoenix. If you are a Suns fan, the question becomes, will this bird, before she is destroyed by flame to be reborn again fresh-car-scent new, what will this bird with Steve and Shaq and Amare and Raja and Leandro and Boris do? Brian Skinner will have to do better than he did Saturday night. Linton Johnson might play four minutes one game without Grant. Without luck, Suns fans will discover if the experience and tenacity of Grant Hill’s loss derails the route to the Championship or will the Suns play a perfect game? No careless turnovers or fouls in the end. Great defense. Clutch shots. Championship basketball. I know it’s the first round, but that’s the only way you’re going to make it, Phoenix. you’re going to have to play championship-caliber basketball two weeks before you’d like to. It’s the only way. And you have to do it without Grant Hill. It is not impossible. The only reason the Suns can beat San Antonio is if they play like they have never played before, as a team that shares and communicates and excels individually. Raja and Leandro and Skinner need to be scoring and rebounding and defending admirably and sometimes spectacularly. Amare and Shaq can’t both be in foul trouble in the first half. Steve has to control his turnovers late in games and Boris needs to stay aggressive and make his free throws. Looks simple, right? That's all they have to do to beat the Spurs. And Amare needs to play 36 minutes or more, but we can't get into that because if he could do that every game, the Suns would beat the Spurs. Now in 2008 I offer one reason why the Suns could advance past the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs. 1) It's time for Amare to grow up and be the champion he says he has always wanted to be. If he does this now, it is really that simple. Suns win. He stops missing defensive assignments. He stops getting stupid fouls. He rebounds 12 times a game and continues his clip of 80% or better from the free-throw line. Come on, Amare. You've got Shaq right there rooting for you. You could have had 40 points and 15 rebounds on Saturday if you could have stopped for a jumper. And 6 turnovers and 7 rebounds is pitiful. What difference could have two rebounds made? In a two-point game, quite a lot. The Suns probably need to win Tuesday night to get out of the first round to advance in the playoffs.