Pivot Points: The Pacific Division Is Home To The NBA's Best?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer INovember 30, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns laughs with Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at the Staples Center on December, 10 2008 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Everyone knew that the Los Angeles Lakers were the dominant team in the Pacific Division, not to mention the Western Conference, but who ever thought that they would be looking up in their own division and still have the second best record in the league?

As the regular season nears its quarter point, the Phoenix Suns sit atop the league at 14-3, and the Lakers are a half game behind at 13-3, almost a full two games over their nearest competitors, the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers' success is no surprise considering that they are the defending champions and the consensus is that they improved in the offseason, but the Suns have to be the biggest surprise in the NBA thus far.

Few observers thought that the Suns would be terrible, but no one outside of Arizona could have foreseen their marvelous start to this season. Much of it has to do with a return to their run-and-gun roots.

Phoenix eradicated the last vestiges of the failed experiments that were Terry Porter and Shaquille O'Neal, and with the return of Amar'e Stoudemire, they resemble the team that dominated the conference in 2007.

They have resumed their run at all costs and have nothing but high scores and victories left in their wake, and the schedule hasn't been as soft as some may think.

Woven into their resume is a very impressive road victory against the Boston Celtics, in which they took the Celtics' best punch and were still able to come away unscathed.

The Suns still have problems on the defensive end, but that may not be a huge factor until it is time for the postseason, and by then maybe Phoenix will come to learn some form of defensive presence.

Naysayers will continue to point to the Suns' less than stellar schedule so far, and in fact, I am a long way from convinced myself, but the record doesn't lie, and for those that are so moved by numbers, 14-3 is pretty definitive.

It should come as no surprise that one of the Suns' losses came at the hands of the Lakers and it was a blow-out to be exact, but the Lakers are possibly the worst possible matchup for the Suns.

They have the athletes to run with Phoenix and the post players to be dominant in the paint, plus they have Kobe Bryant who is a nightmare pairing for anyone on the Suns' roster.

The Lakers more than likely will dominate the majority of their meetings with Phoenix, but the same can't be said for the rest of the Western Conference.

The two closest teams—the Mavericks and the Nuggets—prefer an uptempo game, and they to lack the interior presence that the Lakers have.

Both the Nuggets and Mavericks own victories against Los Angeles, but that was before the return of Pau Gasol, and his presence in the middle changes the whole scope of the team.

Everything that Denver gained in their blow-out win of the Lakers was lost in an inexplicable home defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and these are not the same Lakers that lost to the Mavericks in L.A.

The Lakers are beginning to find a rhythm that Phoenix has had a grasp on for the entire season, and neither team looks as if it is ready to slow down.

Steve Nash for the Suns and Bryant for the Lakers are performing at the highest levels and their teammates are reciprocating nicely, which could spell trouble for the conference and the rest of the league as a whole.

It's too early to tell if the Suns will be able to maintain this blistering pace, but likewise, it's too late to call their success an anomaly either, because they have maintained their level of play for 17 games.

The Lakers are right about where most pundits thought they would be at this point, and all signs say that they are continuously improving as their current six-game win streak will attest.

The power structure is again rooted in the mighty West, where it has seemed to be for the past few years, but whoever would have thought that it would be shared by two teams from the same division?

And that division is the Pacific, where the mighty Lakers roam, yet still have to look up to their counterparts, the surprising, up-start Phoenix Suns, who have managed to take the conference, and the league by storm.


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