Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Out of the ashes... again

Ball so hard mof***as wanna fine me
(Matt York/AP)

At the start of every NBA season, the Phoenix Suns consistently get labelled as a team with no chance - be it age has finally caught up with the ageless; the role players can no longer fill their role or that Robert Sarver is a meanie - that the Suns have battled through since as long as I have been following the NBA.

In the 2009-10 season, the Suns unexpectedly caught fire post-All Star break and stormed to the Western Conference Finals as the #3 seed, only to be ousted in six games courtesy of an other-worldly performance from Kobe Bryant and a then-Ron Artest buzzer-beater.

The following season, Amare Stoudemire had left for New York and again, the Suns found themselves on the outside looking in. A series of front office mistakes (trading for Hedo Turkoglu to play PF, signing Josh Childress to the full MLE) led to a major mid-season trade, with the hopes of making a playoff push only to see Channing Frye go down to injury and Vince Carter disappoint with his inconsistent play. The Suns scraped together a 40-42 record, finishing six games out of the final playoff spot and 10th overall, the lone bright spots being the stellar play of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, and the emergence of Marcin Gortat as an up-and-coming big.

The beginning of the 2011-12 season saw the departures of Carter, Aaron Brooks and Mickael Pietrus. Ronnie Price, Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris and Michael Redd were the newcomers, with all except Morris (draft) coming via free agency. Critics said the Suns were replacing a team of role players with more role players. For the first half of the season, those critics looked right - the Suns floundered below the .500 mark before finally developing some chemistry and finding a rotation that worked.

The Suns started beating teams they shouldn't be beating, defeating the Lakers, Mavs, Grizzlies, pre-Rubio-injury Wolves and the Clippers (twice); and beating comfortably the teams they're supposed to. Now, at 23-23 the Suns sit 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot behind the slumping Rockets and inconsistent Jazz.

The question must be asked: can this Suns team keep up their blistering pace and offer a repeat of the 2009-10 run?

The pieces are there - above average defense, potent offense and a deep bench. Detroit proved it's possible to have playoffs success without a superstar, so it's unfair to write this team off just yet. If Phoenix maintains its current pace, it would finish around 42-24 and project to make a run at a middle playoff seed.

Of course, there's a caveat - the Suns schedule down the stretch is tough, meaning they'll probably have to lift their play even further to maintain the pace they've set.

Eternally underrated, this Phoenix team is yet again rising from the ashes to prove their doubters wrong. This team is dangerous. Watch out, West. The Suns are coming.

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