Rejoice Phoenix basketball fans. The Suns have made it to the playoffs. While making it to postseason play is an accomplishment for any team that missed the playoffs the prior season, an early exit still equates to kissing your cousin. No matter how attractive the individual is, the act ultimately ends in shame and disgust.
This is especially true for Phoenix.
Last year’s regular season shortcomings came largely due to the logjam of quality teams in the West, Amar’e Stoudemire’s eye injury and the team having difficulty adjusting the restricted offense of then Head Coach Terry Porter.
The Suns were not a lottery team talent-wise last year, and this season’s success is a testament. That being said, the real question still remains; is Phoenix a quality playoff team this year?
The Suns have revolved around Steve Nash and Stoudemire (when he’s healthy) for the previous five years. They’re a fearsome opponent for anyone in the NBA when these two are playing to their capabilities, but history has shown it takes a team effort to win a championship.
If the playoffs started on March 31, the Suns would be facing the Denver Nuggets in the first round.
The Nuggets have been struggling the last two weeks, but are not likely to fall behind the sixth seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
A matchup against the Nuggets, who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in last year’s conference finals, is not Phoenix’s ideal first round opponent. Denver has struggled lately, but they still have an experienced point guard and a dynamic scorer to anchor their offense during the playoffs.
The Suns have a chance to jump ahead of the Utah Jazz, who have played almost as well as anyone during the month of March, for the third seed.
The possibility to move up the rankings and play the Thunder or the Portland Trailblazers, will be plenty of motivation for the Suns to finish out the season strong.
The Thunder’s roster is shaky after Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. The raw talent of Durant and Westbrook is enough for the team to have a successful season. However, there is not enough experience to defeat an older team with the same talent.
The Suns have gone 2-2 against the Blazers this year. Brandon Roy has the moxie of a NBA champion, but the Blazer’s front court is either injured, elderly or both.
That leaves Stoudemire with the chance to show why he’s worth a max contract, and I have full faith he’d take advantage of that.
The surrounding cast will have to step up if the Suns want to make it deep into the playoffs. Preaching “defense first” is a common sentiment in the basketball world, but it’s unrealistic to expect the Suns, who allow the third most points per game, to become an elite defensive team at the beginning of the playoffs.
The Suns will have to focus on execution, shooting percentage and fourth quarter defense.
Nash averaged nearly 3.5 turnovers per game in the playoffs during his tenure with the Suns. For them to execute efficiently, Nash has to stay at close to that average and no one else should match or exceed it.
Shooting a good percentage involves the Suns taking advantage of open looks, which will present themselves with Stoudemire and Nash on the floor and playing within the offense.
Finally, to win hard-fought games, the Suns must defensively stop teams within the last three minutes of the game.
If they rely only on scoring, then Nash and the others will be watching the rest of the playoffs from their living room couch.