A lot is being made about the Phoenix Suns these days. If it's not Steve Nash's one-eyed performance against the San Antonio Spurs propelling him to an even higher level, it's his remarks geared towards Phil Jackson that are tearing him down.
But praise and criticism is just talk until the game takes stage.
Sure, the Lakers are the top seed out West, and they're "supposed" to win it all. But this writer has five reasons why Kobe Bryant and his Lakers won't be gracing the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season:
Note: List is in no particular order.
1. The Lakers Are Hurting
If it's not Kobe Bryant struggling to get consistent lift off of his jumpers or finish around the rim, it's a different nagging injury, or a different LeBron-esque excuse.
Naturally, Bryant is a fiery competitor, and he won't be the one to say his nagging injuries could get in the way of a second consecutive title. However, they very well could.
Add on Andrew Bynum's fire in his legs, and the Lakers are a beaten team entering what should be a much more difficult battle than anyone is suggesting.
While the Lakers continue to deal with Bryant's numerous nagging injuries, and Bynum's recurring injuries, the Suns are actually entering this series with what looks to be a completely healthy roster.
2. Steve Nash Won't Be Denied
Phil Jackson, take your 10 rings and your white smoke and sit back down. For every champion, there is a time to lose, to decline, and to be put in their place.
Yes, Jackson and the Lakers are a scary opponent, but not to Nash and his band of three-dropping thugs.
Nash just defeated two demons in his last series. He finally got past those pesky, savvy, veteran San Antonio Spurs, and did it by proving he is pound-for-pound, one of the toughest NBA players to hit the court.
He hit multiple shots and made crisp, accurate passes with one eye in a series-clinching victory over the Spurs, folks. What is there to suggest he can't do the same against the Lakers when he has two working eyes?
Nash is playing the best basketball of his career, and whether or not it all ends with his first NBA title, it surely helps promote the idea of Nash and co. finally getting to the NBA Finals.
3. Jason Richardson Is One Heck of an X-Factor
And boy, does he know it. The Suns are an astonishing 31-4 when J-Rich goes off for 20+ points, and he and the entire team is well aware.
In other words, if Nash can roam free, allow Amare Stoudemire to do his thing, and the role players can continue to, well, play their role, there is no reason to think Richardson can't show up and do his own thing every game in this series.
But even more than that, whether he does or not may not matter. The Suns depth and team unity, both on offense and defense (gasp ) will at least threaten the Lakers for seven games, and could very well eliminate them from the playoffs.
If Ron Artest, supposedly an elite defender, has his hands tied-up with defending Richardson, the team's third-best scorer, then what kind of an answer will the Lakers have for the other explosive offensive weapons?
4. Derek Fisher and Co. Can't Handle Nash
I know I already mentioned Nash, but the one-eyed hero deserves another nod. But this isn't just about his ability to penetrate defensive walls at will, his knack for finding the open man (even when he's kind of not open), or knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot.
No, this is actually more about Derek Fisher's lack of a defensive prowess, than anything else. The same goes for Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. These guys, though athletic enough, simply don't have the endurance, tools, or meddle to hang with Nash.
Nash can't defend them, either, but that won't matter. Nash will run them dog-tired into frustration and enough mistakes to make them look hapless on both ends of the floor.
And when Nash does get tired (for those five seconds of each game), Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa will put the finishing touches on exposing the Triangle offense, along with the disgustingly mediocre point guard play that the Lakers have so far survived.
5. Pau Gasol Can't Match Amare Stoudemire
Stoudemire doesn't have to be on top of his game for the Suns to compete in this series, but if he is, Gasol and co. can say goodnight.
Throw in Channing Frye's ability to stretch the defense, and Robin Lopez's potential impact on defense, and Gasol will be worn down from defending Stoudemire one-on-one.
Stoudemire has also made an impressive impact on defense, dropping in 15 blocks in four games against the Spurs, and playing better overall defense than we've seen out of him in the past.
The Suns as a whole are playing great, both in transition and in half-court sets, anchored by a nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll system, orchestrated by Stoudemire and Nash.
It quite clearly starts with "the big two", but it truly is only the beginning.
The only true hurdles the Suns will have to overcome in this series are countering the home-court advantage the Lakers possess, as well as superior coaching.
But if the Suns can run their offense like they know they can, expose the Lakers defense for what it actually arguably is, and exploit mis-matches that are so obviously there, they should run the Lakers out of their own stadium.
In fact, they will.
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