Finally with the last games of the NBA season coming to a close tonight, it's time to focus on the playoffs.
Throughout the season, the Suns have been an unexpected team to move into the ranks of teams capable of a deep playoff run. Here are a couple reasons why they can—and can't—win the championship.
Why the Suns Can Win It All
The Suns have been one of the hottest teams since the All-Star break. Not surprisingly, this run has been led by their two star players. After almost being traded, Amar'e Stoudemire has been one of the scariest players in the league. He looks as healthy and motivated as ever.
Steve Nash is on his way to another assist title and will be the oldest player to achieve the feat. The Suns are scoring efficiently and have actually played some decent defense.
During the D'Antoni days, depth was a foreign idea. Today, the Suns have enough depth to not run themselves into nothing with six- or seven-man rotations.
In his second year, Goran Dragic has developed into a solid backup for Steve Nash. His contributions will be even more important in the playoffs to keep the offense going and to keep Nash rested. Leandro Barbosa is streaky and hasn't quite found his comfort zone, but can put up big numbers on any given night.
Jared Dudley has become a three-point specialist and Channing Frye stretches the defense, giving Nash and Stoudemire more room to work. Louis Amundson is your lunch pail worker, giving you all the hustle and defense he has when on the floor.
Why the Suns Won't Win It All
Limited Inside Presence
The dominant presence of a center is a problem that has plagued the Suns for a long time. The best person they have for the role is Robin Lopez and he will be out for at least the first round of the playoffs. The loss will definitely affect their defensive efficiency and possibly the offense of Stoudemire.
Stoudemire is a great power forward, but his game leans more on his athleticism and Nash with no real consistent inside move to fall back on. A second inside player like Lopez would help frontcourt defenses from collapsing on him. Will he consistently be able to bang with players like Tim Duncan or Pau Gasol? Frye can help some, but his game is away from the basket.
Nash Goes Down
There's no player more important to the success of their team than Steve Nash. His health and energy levels will be extremely important to monitor during the playoffs. Nash has had some nagging injuries with his back and rolled his ankle in last night's win against the Denver Nuggets but seems relatively healthy. If he aggravates anything that slows him down the Suns will slow down with him.
Luck of the Draw?
Winning tonight's game against the Utah Jazz is the main goal, but the remaining Western Conference games will be just as important. A win tonight gets the Suns the third seed where they will face either the Roy-less Blazer team or the Spurs, an Achilles heel team for the Phoenix. A loss means a fourth seed and they get a Denver Nuggets team they dismantled yesterday.
The Nuggets have been free-falling, but playing the Blazers in the first round seems like the best matchup.
The defense has improved, but the Suns are still pretty average. Phoenix still has the fast-paced, “score, score, score” philosophy that Mike D'Antoni brought with defense being an afterthought. This has never worked for them in the playoffs, having lost to the half-court, defensive-minded teams. Last year when they tried to change, the results were mediocre and they moved back to their exciting offensive showcase.
There will be a time when they will need defensive stops to win the game. Will they be able to do it?
The Los Angeles Lakers
Of all the teams in the West, the Lakers are the biggest threat against the Suns making the finals. The Suns were 1-3 against them this season. Phoenix has the weapons to match the Lakers scoring, but can they slow down Kobe? Can they match the size of Gasol and Andrew Bynum? Lopez's health and conditioning will play a big part of how long the Suns perform if this matchup happens.
Only one game left.