Suns not NBA champion material


That’s the logical analysis a lab rat will use to deduce that stepping on a lever, which shocks the living hell out of you, is bad.

Rats aren’t very smart, and we are, so we should be able to understand this. See that? A>B, B>C, therefore A>C. It’s easy enough, right?

So why doesn’t anybody seem to be applying this logic to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns?

Since New York and Chicago stole basketball from Los Angeles and Boston, nobody has come close to winning a championship with a “run and gun” offense.

Every year pundits expound the merits of an offensive superpower that is making easy work of the NBA field in the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong. The Mavericks and Kings are two of basketball’s three most prolific regular-season teams over the last four years (San Antonio has the top record), employing high-octane offensive threats, who gladly sacrifice on the defensive end.

These teams always do best in the regular season, for several reasons.

First, NBA players don’t actually start really hustling until at least March.

If I shoot almost 100 percent unguarded and you want to sit at one end of the court all night, leaving each of us open for easy shots, Peja, that’s fine by me. Hell, I’m just here for the $100,000 or so I get for my one-fifth contribution to 1/82nd of my team’s regular season success, which is not even important once April rolls around.

If you think NBA players care about games in November, you are probably an NBA player’s mom.

In addition to slacking off on the court, a team does not thoroughly gameplan for their opposition in the regular season, and familiarity waivers as teams can wait months before facing each other.

In the playoffs, teams are always well prepared. They focus on weaknesses with the intensity on which a fierce lion can increase the grip on its prey, thus finding its mark.

A good way of gauging a team’s playoff chances in today’s NBA is to examine how they played against the Spurs, who play in this carnivorous manner all the time.

Incidentally, they are the only team the Suns haven’t beaten this season.

Well, at least until last night: I’m writing this before the Suns-Spurs game, which I absolutely believe the Suns could win at America West Arena. This is especially if Duncan gets called with ticky-tack fouls and misses 15 free throws because of the raucous crowd (which he will continue to do, it seems, until the day he hangs em’ up and misses the hook).

Nevertheless, the best player in the NBA doesn’t have any other weaknesses, and those that I’ve mentioned pale in comparison to those of the Suns.

In the two Spurs/Suns contests this season, Phoenix looked thoroughly overmatched.

The Spurs destroyed them in San Antonio, 115-94, and pulled out a 128-123 overtime victory in Phoenix.

The former exemplified why the Suns can’t hang with the best, particularly on the road.

The Spurs consistently hustled back on team defense, forcing the Suns to run the same high pick-and-roll all night against the Spurs’ 1-3-Tony Parker, Manu Ginobilli, and Bruce Bowen-the best group of perimeter defenders in the NBA.

Steve Nash penetrated several times, but he quickly abandoned his slashing strategy as Duncan amassed five blocks underneath.

Amare Stoudamire-who has clearly emerged as one of the NBA’s most explosive scorers-scored 37, but his efforts alone weren’t nearly enough to overcome the balanced attack of San Antonio.

Regardless of this absurd “Nash for MVP” campaign, Stoudamire stands as the ONLY reliable one-on-one scoring threat the Suns have in crunch time, when defenses don’t allow wide-open looks.

“The Matrix” does his best work in the cyber world, compiling incredible fantasy numbers, but never really showing when the pressure’s on.

Nash is an excellent shooter, but only when he shoots with the element of surprise. When there isn’t any momentum flowing, as is often the case in snail-paced playoff contests, he tends to freeze up.

The Suns overcompensated defensively in both games against the Spurs, who looked like a group of owners feigning throws in a game of fetch with their inevitably gullible dogs.

The Spurs rotated the ball and the Suns pursued too heavily, passing on open looks for easy shots. Phoenix was eventually forced to abandon the zone defense, allowing Tim Duncan free reign underneath.

In the overtime win at Phoenix, the Suns’ starting five accounted for 120 points on 54 percent shooting from the field-and they still lost because they didn’t have a single defender versatile enough to stop Ginobili, who scored 48 on only 22 shots.

The simple truth is that the Suns are suited to what they do best, and what they do best does not happen in the playoffs.

They don’t have any defensive stoppers besides Marion, and small forward isn’t exactly basketball’s most devastating position at the moment.

Quentin Richardson doesn’t play defense, having limited himself in a position on the break to hoist open threes-at a rate of over seven per game.

Nash often tries to play defense, but he lacks the “You’re not going to score on me, no WAY” persona needed to keep up with the likes of Tony Parker.

Also, Derek Fisher SUCKED, but that single motivation made him the ideal championship piece for the Lakers against Bibby, Nash and Parker.

It’s not hard to see-the Suns lack any legitimate championship indicators, unless you count the regular season. And I’m not one who does.

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