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.

Monday, 12 March 2012

How Orlando can win with Dwight - A four step plan

Danny Granger (left) shoots over Dwight Howard on January 26, 2011 at Conseco Fieldhouse
(Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
By now, most NBA fans are familiar with the "Dwightmare", the follow-on from LeBron, Carmelo and CP3's final season with the teams that drafted them. Most seem to think Dwight's had enough of Orlando and is sure to team up with Deron Williams on the Nets or Mavs after the season.

The Magic, unlike the Hornets and Nuggets aren't convinced their star is bolting and seem poised to take the Cleveland route, holding onto Howard through the trade deadline and letting him enter free agency to decide his own fate.

Personally, I'm a fan of this approach. Chris Webber said it best: "Championship teams are stubborn". Dallas, LA and Boston all stuck with their core when given an opportunity to blow it up and rebuild, and those teams account for the last four championships. The 2008-09 season proved to us that a team built around Dwight Howard can get to the Finals - only a series of ill-fated trades and unfortunate injuries have prevented the Magic from returning.

I honestly believe Dwight's best chances for personal and team glory come with the Magic. In this era of super teams, Dwight is good enough to be the only max contract player on a championship team. Keep reading to see how...