Both teams won their respective series in more than a convincing matter, winning all four games en route to a sweep. Among the two teams, the closest margin of victory in their eight games was a six point Game Four victory for Phoenix—though the game was not as close as the score implies.
Phoenix fed off the home-crowd's energy in the first two games, winning both by scores of 111-102 and 110-102. In Game Two, they acknowledged and honored their Hispanic fan base in light of the immigration policy implemented by the state of Arizona (they wore jerseys imprinted with "Los Suns"). Game Three was the Goran Dragic show, as the Suns backup point guard scored 26 points, lighting up the Spurs in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, they finished off the Spurs and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Orlando jumped out to a series lead with a Cavs vs. Timberwolves-esque 40 point victory over Atlanta. Dwight Howard was much more effective in their series with the Hawks as the Magic rolled to an easy sweep. The only game Atlanta had a chance in was Game Three, in which they held a late-game lead.
Though both teams will almost certainly be underdogs (assuming Cleveland wins their series), it is fathomable and palpable that upsets can be pulled off. Here are three reasons for each team as to why we will have a Magic-Suns NBA Finals.
He's like the instigator in a fifth-grade classroom: he creates problems. The difference, however, is that the normally mellow Frye won't be causing fights, but mixing up opposing defenses and creating match up problems with his range and height.
During the regular season, the 6-11 forward/center out of Arizona shot an incredible 43.9 percent from three-point-land. All season long, he was able to step out and drain triples in the high-octane Suns offense.
No center has proved to be able to contain Frye's three-point prowess. The Lakers' Andrew Bynum is definitely not a perimeter defender, and if coach Phil Jackson decides to stick Pau Gasol on Frye, then this takes a very good rebounder away from the basket.
Channing Frye's ability to hit jumpers and keep the Los Angeles defense off-balance will play an important role in a Phoenix series victory.
Run, run, run
There is no denying that the Phoenix Suns are a running basketball team, relying on transition basketball for a majority of their points.
Led by point guard Steve Nash, they are considered one of, if not the , best fast-break teams in the NBA. Nash's uncanny ability to see players and make highlight-reel passes sharpens the sword that is the Suns transition game.
In the first round against Oklahoma City, the Lakers were eaten up by the Thunder's quick-paced game. Possession after possession resulted in fast-break opportunities and run-outs for the Thunder.
This appears to be one of the reigning champion's weaknesses as they seek to repeat; though they did a much better job of containing the Jazz in the conference semifinals.
Phoenix can turn a steal, miss, blocked shot, or even a score into transition points. A quick outlet pass to Nash or Dragic starts the break for the Suns. All-Star Amar'e Stoudamire often emphatically finishes these break-outs with flushes, much to the pleasure of his hometown fans.
Fast break points could push the Suns over the top in their quest to upset the top-seeded Lakers.
Steppin' It Up
For a run in the NBA Playoffs, a team needs its role players to step it up. They need the ones who simply went out and did their jobs in the regular season to step up and shine in the spotlight. Apparently Phoenix got that memo and that is a major reason why they will beat Los Angeles.
Guard Jason Richardson leads the team in scoring with 21.9 ppg in the playoffs. Yes, you read that correctly. He is out scoring Stoudamire (20.5) and Nash (17.8) and hitting 51.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
37 year-old forward Grant Hill has a pep in his step again. He looks quicker and more agile on the floor. So far in the Playoffs, he averages 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game to go along with a +14.4 efficiency rate.
Dragic's Game Three outburst is no fluke. Throughout the postseason the Suns have not lost any offense in Dragic while Nash is given a breather. In some instances, they have produced more offense when he is in. He averages 7.7 ppg during this postseason in only 14 minutes a game. It seems like the more he plays, the more he impresses his team and his crowd.
The Suns have had other role players such as Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley make solid contributions during the Playoffs. These players have outplayed Lakers' role players such as Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Shannon Brown.
White (and blue) Hot
A saying goes that anything you put your mind to, you can do. Well, for the Orlando Magic, they are 8-0 and plan on riding this hot streak all the way to the NBA Finals.
Orlando is the only remaining unbeaten team in the Playoffs. Coach Stan van Gundy and his players plan on going 16-0 en route to a championship. While this may be a bit far-fetched, they believe they can tear through any team the way they did Atlanta and Charlotte.
Orlando will ride this hot streak all the way to a championship. They accomplished a coach's dream: getting hot at the right time.
Everything is functioning for the Magic. Three pointers are falling, Dwight Howard is dominating in the post, the defense is great, and Jameer Nelson is scoring and dropping dimes to his teammates. What more could a coach ask for?
Orlando's Big Four will out-play anyone else's top four players. No questions asked. Composed of Nelson, Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter, this group averages a total of over 69 points per game through Orlando's first two series. The scoring is spread out, unlike other teams.
Howard played like Superman against Atlanta after a dismal series against Charlotte in which he was constantly in foul trouble. He is playing better than his playoff stats suggest—already averaging a double-double with 15.4 ppg and 11.3 rpg. Expect his stats to climb even higher as the postseason progresses and he heats up.
Nelson, Lewis, and Carter can all get white hot from three-point range and carry a team from the perimeter. Sixth man Mickael Pietrus provides solid defense day-in and day-out and can pick up production from one of the Big Four if someone has an off-night.
Been There, Done That
Once again, here I go on the old sayings.
"Been there, done that" would apply to Orlando. This is a team that was meshed together for the 2008-09 season and made its way to the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland. They overcame the Cavs and LeBron James and advanced to the NBA Finals.
Making their second consecutive Conference Finals appearance, this is nothing new for the Magic.They are relatively the same bunch from 2009, only with Carter added to the mix. They have the talent to advance and the national stage will not intimidate them.
Experience at this stage of the Playoffs is important, and the Magic are not lacking in that, nor in much else.
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