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Surprises & Disappointments of the NBA Playoffs

April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Geoff Nelowet:

SURPRISES:

The Memphis Grizzlies:

Memphis currently holds a 2-1 lead over the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs. What’s shocking is that they’re doing this without Rudy Gay, their second leading scorer. Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol have been absolutely dominant, shooting a combined 19-25 for 49 points and 23 rebounds just in game 1. If they want to pull the upset, they’ll need Mike Conley, OJ Mayo and Shane Battier to continue their consistent play.

Chris Paul:

Some might not see Chris Paul’s dominant play against the LA Lakers as a huge surprise, but after coming off of major surgery and looking like, well, a post-major injury player for most of the year, his aggressive, physical and dynamic play has turned the New Orleans Hornets from an afterthought into ostensibly a title contender. Not to discredit his teammates, but this is looking like a one-man show, and it’s hard to see the Hornets having anything close to a chance against the LA Lakers without him (not that they’d be in the playoffs without him, anyway). At this point, it’s safe to say that Paul was the most overlooked MVP candidate this season.

The Atlanta Hawks:

This is quite a surprise. The Hawks are up 3-1 on the Orlando Magic, a team that swept them a season ago in what was the most uneven playoff series in NBA history. Well, times have changed, and the Hawks look like a fine-tuned machine, while the Magic look like a team with a bunch of moving parts. Atlanta looks like a deep with solid balance and depth with six guys that will almost always be in double figures. Orlando, on the other hand, relies on Dwight Howard alone to carry their team. Still, Atlanta has little chance of knocking off Chicago in the conference semifinals.

DISAPPOINTMENTS:

The New York Knicks:

Even with the injuries, this is hugely disappointing. Boston was playing without a starting center, and the Knicks still couldn’t manage to win a game in the series. Sure, Chauncey Billups was hurt, and Amare Stoudemire was limping in the last two games, but this Boston team isn’t in great health either. I think this series also brings into question how credible the “big three” approach really is. People point to Boston and claim that they are the original “big three” but in reality, no, they’re not. Between Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, the Boston Celtics have had much more than three superstar players – they’ve had very good, if not the best, role players. When I look at a team like the Knicks (and Miami, obviously), I see a team that can’t handle an injury to one of their core players and a team that simply doesn’t have that many options outside of Carmelo and Amare. This team will get better, for sure, but how good will they be? Unless they land Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, this team likely won’t be doing anything memorable.

The Dallas Mavericks:

The Mavs jumped out to a 24-5 start this season and looked like a serious title contender. Today, they’re locked at 2-2 against the Portland Trailblazers, a solid team in fairness. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they can’t stay healthy. They lost Caron Butler, their second option behind Dirk, earlier this year, and likely won’t see him until next season (although he says otherwise), which is, well, disappointing. This team had a legitimate shot at going deep in the playoffs this year and if they could have somehow made it out of the West, they may have even been favored to win the title. Now, they might not make it out of the first round.

The LA Lakers:

The Lakers have underperformed for the vast majority of the season. They made a good run after the All-Star break, but for the most part, they’ve underperformed, and I don’t see how there is an excuse for that. Is it a lack of motivation? They’ve been fairly healthy all season, it’s not injuries. It seems like the Lakers have been given a pass all season because they’ll invariably bring their best effort in the playoffs, but here they are locked up at two games a piece against a team that looked dead in the water in the New Orleans Hornets. Maybe the Lakers will hit their stride and play decisively in the next round(s) (assuming they beat New Orleans), but what is saying that they will? All we’ve seen this season is a team that looks old and unmotivated.

 

NBA Playoff Lessons

April 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Tyler Daly:

With the NBA playoffs now in full swing, fans and players alike are beginning to discover whom the contenders and pretenders really are.  As more games are played, we learn more and more about who has a shot.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far this April:

THE BOSTON CELTICS FOOLED US ALL AGAIN:

Much like last year, Boston more or less stumbled into the playoffs, finishing with weak performances and opening them up to questions about whether or not age would affect their playoff performance.  The C’s have quickly silenced their doubters by jumping out to a 3-0 series lead against a tough New York Knicks squad.  If Rajon Rondo can continue to distribute the ball to Boston’s shooters as well as he has, then we may have not seen the last championship won by this group.

THE ATLANTA HAWKS ARE FOR REAL:

This incredibly athletic lineup has come to play in their series against Orlando, looking to avenge last year’s embarrassing lopsided defeat.  Jamal Crawford has been playing out of his mind, and Joe Johnson has been everything Atlanta needs and more.  Atlanta has seemed to realize that there may be no stopping Dwight Howard, but instead have focused on closing out on Orlando’s shooters and making it hard to get the ball into Howard.  After taking a 2-1 series lead, the Hawks are flying high and their confidence just might carry them to a first round upset.

OKLAHOMA CITY IS ON ITS WAY:

What do I mean by this?  I’m talking on the way to a championship folks.  Not necessarily this year, but the Thunder are headed in the right direction.  Not only does this team look poised to blow the Nuggets out of this series, they’re playing as good as anyone in the playoffs right now.  OKC has electric scorers in Westbrook and Durant, and with the addition of Kendrick Perkins they finally have an inside presence to bang with the big boys.  Serge Ibaka is an absolute monster shot-blocker, and Thabo Sefolosha plays hard defense every possession.  This team has all the pieces to be great and they are looking ready to take that greatness to new personal heights.

 

 

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

April 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Tyler Daly:

#1- San Antonio Spurs vs. #8- Memphis Grizzlies:

Season Series:  Tied 2-2

The San Antonio Spurs immediately eliminated any doubts of how their aging roster would perform this season, exploding out of the gates and staying strong en route to the league’s best record.  Recent injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli have some concerned the miles on this team might be catching up to them, but experience has proven valuable in recent postseasons.  The Grizzlies surprised many in the second half of the season, winning tough games against the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks.  But the loss of Rudy Gay will be too much for this young team to overcome in the long run, as they now lack a necessary go-to scorer.  Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will have a tough time guarding Duncan, and the Spurs will coast.

Series: Spurs in 5

#2- Los Angeles Lakers vs. #7- New Orleans Hornets:

Season Series: LA leads 4-0

The Lakers secured the two spot with a tough overtime road win, which proved to be an important victory.  Rather than playing the energetic Trail Blazers, the Lakers now face a team who was not only unable to beat them once in the regular season, but just recently lost its leading scorer for the season.  Without David West, the Hornets now lack depth inside as well.  This does not bode well matching up with LA, who basically starts two centers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (once he returns from injury).  Chris Paul will be able to do some major damage against the weaker LA point guards, but the Lakers overall depth and ability to score from anywhere on the court will prove too much for the Hornets to handle.

Series: Lakers in 4

#3- Dallas Mavericks vs. #6- Portland Trail Blazers:

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Unable to secure the second seed, the Mavericks now face a grizzly challenge in the first round.  Along with the pressure of losing in the first round each of the last two seasons, Dallas now must beat an energetic and youthful squad that emulates the situation they found themselves in against the Golden State Warriors a few seasons ago.  Dallas has great size on the inside with Chandler and Nowitzki, who will both have to come up huge on the defensive end in containing Lamarcus Aldridge.  The key in this matchup will be the play of the guards for Dallas.  If Jason Kidd can distribute the ball well to the Mavericks’ perimeter shooters, combined with a great defensive effort on Brandon Roy, Dallas can find success.  I think the frustration that has built up in Dallas will push Nowitzki to carry this team into the second round, but it won’t be easy.

Series: Dallas in 7

#4- Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5- Denver Nuggets:

Season series: OKC leads 3-1

This matchup should be exciting from start to finish.  Both of these teams play a high-tempo level of basketball, have great home court advantages, and have great coaching.  Denver shares the ball extremely well and takes advantage of its great shooters from all over the floor.  They also have great depth at the guard position, which will prove valuable in keeping fresh legs in to guard Russell Westbrook.  The Nuggets will have to attempt to clamp down on Kevin Durant, but the NBA’s leading scorer usually finds a way to get it done.  The X factor will be if Denver can contain Westbrook.  I think Kendrick Perkins and Nene will both get theirs, so the key is shutting down Russell.  If he is allowed to put up big numbers, then the Nuggets won’t be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

Series: OKC in 7

 

 


 

NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

April 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Tyler Daly:

#1- Chicago Bulls vs. #8- Indiana Pacers:

Season Series: Chicago leads 3-1

How many people had this Chicago Bulls team winning the East at the beginning of the year?  Not I.  However, an MVP-caliber season from Derrick Rose catapulted this team to the best record in the league and has local fans in a title-hungry frenzy.  This first round matchup should present little or no trouble for Chicago.  Rose may be able to beat this team single handedly, not to mention the inside scoring ability of Carlos Boozer.  Joakim Noah will certainly have his hands full with Roy Hibbert (7’2”) and Luol Deng will have to play great defense on Granger, but in the end Chicago has too much firepower for the Pacers to handle

Series: Chicago in 5

#2- Miami Heat vs. #7- Philadelphia 76ers:

Season Series: Miami leads 3-0

Most people at this point in the year feel like they’ve already heard enough about the Miami Heat.  From the drama of Lebron bumping coach Erik Spoelstra, to “cry-gate,” to the team’s inability to beat top teams…we’ve heard it all.  But, if there was one time to pay attention to the star studded South Beach roster, it’s now.  Miami dominates any team on paper, and the 76ers are no exception.  Philly has great parody in their scoring, but with Andre Iguodala recovering from a knee injury entering the playoffs, the Heat will be way too much for them to handle.  Look for the 76ers to steal one or two games from a Miami team that may already be looking towards the second round.  In the end, Miami’s ability to get out in transition and put pressure on opposing defenders will lead them to victory.

Series: Miami in 6

#3- Orlando Magic vs. #6- Atlanta Hawks:

Season Series: Atlanta leads 3-1

This is a matchup plenty of people will select the Orlando Magic to win easily, strictly because of the kind of season Dwight Howard is having.  The Magic certainly posses many of the necessary pieces to win a championship; good perimeter shooting, great inside presence, and a solid bench.  But is this team different from the other Orlando rosters that couldn’t get it done?  The answer is no.  Atlanta has a great center in Al Horford to at least attempt to slow Howard down, and shooters like Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich to match up with Orlando’s snipers.  The X factor in this series will be the performance of Josh Smith, who has typically become absent in previous playoff series for Atlanta.  If the Hawks can get good play out of Smith, expect them to give Orlando all they can handle in the first round.

Series: Atlanta in 7

#4- Boston Celtics vs. #5- New York Knicks:

Season Series: Boston leads 4-0

Well here you have it folks, the Boston/New York rivalry is back in full swing in this year’s playoffs… or is it?  Many are very excited about this matchup possibly rekindling the rivalry in this year’s playoffs, but let’s hold our horses for a second.  Although the Knicks have two All-Stars in Anthony and Stoudemire, they traded away many of the pieces that would have helped them against the Celtics.  Chauncey Billups gives the Knicks great offense, but will more than likely get burned on the other end by Rondo.  Neither Landry Fields or Roger Mason will be able to guard Ray Allen and outside of ‘Melo there is no one left to guard Paul Pierce.  Overall, I think the C’s have too much depth for the Knicks to compete with and that will prove to be the difference.

Series: Boston in 6

 

 

Magic Don't Give Up, Pull Within One Game In the Series

May 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Magic have looked like a different team with their backs against the wall these past two games. They came out playing on all cylinders last night and are now just one game away from tying this series. Boston on the other hand is reeling after winning the first 3 games of the series with relative ease. Not only did the Celtics lose the game last night and potentially the momentum, but their front court is potentially in shambles.

The Magic took an early lead in the game and never looked back. Orlando held an 8 point lead at halftime, and ended up winning the game by 21 points. The Magic didn't do anything too creative, getting a combined 45 points from stars Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Orlando also got a strong performance from their bench to lead the charge over the Celtics stars. Howard also did what he does best and dominated the paint the entire game. He blocked one more shot (5) than the entire Celtics team. He also lead both teams in rebounds (10) helping the Magic out rebound Boston 43-26.

Howard had an advantage in the game and it will likely be one that could haunt Boston this entire series. The Celtics suffered some major losses to their front court, as three of their big men went down with injury/were ejected. Rasheed Wallace, who led the Celtics in points, left the game early do to back spasms. While he should return for Game 6, he might not be 100%. Without Wallace, the Celtics lose one of their best offensive big men, and one of their better 3-point shooters. Glen Davis suffered a minor concussion from an inadvertent elbow, and had to leave the game early. While it is listed as a minor concussion, there is really no such thing when it comes to a head injury like that. While Davis could be back for Game 6 there are no guarantees, and I'd be really concerned with Davis playing physical and getting hit in the head again. While I think there is little chance of Wallace or Davis being 100% for Game 6, they will at least have a chance to be in the game unlike center Kendrick Perkins.

Perkins, who had done a decent job of holding Howard in check this series, and was a vital (though unheralded) part of Boston's success, was ejected in the 2nd quarter after receiving his 2nd technical foul of the game. That 2nd foul meant an automatic ejection from Game 5, but it was also his 7th technical of the postseason. Which means he will be suspended for the next game. While there is a chance the NBA 'knocks down' the foul penalty, I think it is likely to be upheld. Which means that Boston will be without their starting center for the last game they have at home in this series.

Wallace is the primary backup and Davis gets solid minutes inside as well. With both of them on the mend, and Perkins gone for Game 6, Boston is in a bad position. Perkins has been by far Boston's best option to counter Dwight Howard. He doesn't help much on the offensive end, but gets his rebounds and keeps Howard's impact minimal. Without Perkins, the Celtics have had trouble defending Howard, and if he can have a big game again this series could be even, and heading back to Orlando. As long as the Magic don't get ahead of themselves, they are in a great position to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and return to the NBA Finals.

NBA Playoff Update

May 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet:

Phoenix Suns win 118-109 at home to close within a game of the LA Lakers:

The Phoenix Suns made this series interesting by knocking of the Lakers last night. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 42 points, while Steve Nash continued his brilliant play with 17 points and 15 assists. Kobe Bryant played his best game of the playoffs with 36 points 11 assists and 9 rebounds in a losing effort.

It looks like Phoenix has to play its absolute best to take down the Lakers. Stoudemire was lights out tonight, and it was barely enough for the Suns to earn a win. At the same time, though, Kobe was also playing a huge game. I would be surprised to see the Suns win again at home – the Lakers simply outmatch the Suns, and it shows even when the Lakers lose. It is always difficult to tell with Suns, though, as they are a streaky team.

Game four comes down to whether the Suns can execute their offense or not – and if they can start knocking down their three’s. That seems like a bright spot for the Suns – they won without shooting a great percentage from three-point land (25%). The Lakers are a bit more predictable: they will play tough defense and Kobe and Pau Gasol will have strong games. Ultimately it comes down to whether the Suns can work within their own game plan or they to play into the Lakers’ style.

It would be great to see the Suns find a way to win this series for an unthinkable Phoenix-Boston match-up in the finals. That would have to be the most improbable NBA Finals series in years.

Boston Celtics are up 3-0 on the reeling Orlando Magic:

This has been an absolute shock of a series. For starters, it is unbelievable that the Celtics made it this far. They looked like a team ready to keel over before the playoffs, and here they are – up 3-0 on the Magic after dominating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the prior series.

You can attribute Boston’s post-season success to two causes: great team defense and Rajon Rondo.

Boston has now held their opponents under 100 point for the last six playoff games, and they’ve held their opponents under 100 point in 11 of 14 games. Those three games in which their opponent scored 100-plus points resulted in the Celtics’ only three losses of the post season. The 2010 Boston Celtics resoundingly support the fact that team defense trumps superstars, as the Celtics are on the verge of knocking off teams led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

Rajon Rondo has been unstoppable for the Celtics – just as he was last year in the playoffs. Rondo is averaging 17 points, nearly 11 assists and 6 rebounds a night in the playoffs, and he is quickly becoming one of the best point guards in the league. Whoever the Celtics face (assuming they defeat Orlando) in the NBA Finals will have their hands full.

Lakers Take Game 2, Up 2-0 In The Series

May 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Lakers ran away with last night's game in the 4th quarter to beat the Suns 124-112, a game which was tied going into the fourth frame. Originally it looked as though the Suns could even the series as they played pretty solid basketball for 3 quarters. But Pau Gasol and the Lakers dominated their 4th quarter and took a crucial 2-0 series lead.

I really thought the Suns would make this a competitive series after the way they dispatched both the Mavericks and Spurs in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Unfortunately, they don't have an answer for the Lakers star players, like they did for their previous opponents. In Game 1 they couldn't contain Kobe Bryant who torched them for 40 points, in Game 2 Pau Gasol took advantage of more open looks and led the Lakers with 29.

The Suns strategy to slow down Kobe by double teaming him left the paint wide open for Gasol and company. The Suns were at enough of a size disadvantage in the middle, allowing more space was a death blow to them. The Lakers three big men, Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, combined for 59 points most of which came from inside the paint. As a team, the Lakers had 52 points in the paint (not to mention all the fouls that came from in the paint as well), which was one of the biggest keys to this game.

The Suns are getting solid offensive production out of their star players, but have not been able to find a way to slow down or stop the Lakers. Without some major defensive strategy change this series will be over for Phoenix before they know it. First they will have to abandon the double teaming Kobe plan, because that obviously didn't work. Next they are going to have to find a way to challenge more shots. The Lakers shot 57.7% from the field yesterday, and 56.3% from behind the arc. I guess in one sense the Kobe strategy worked since he shot just 44.4% and 33.3% from 3-point land. Unfortunately outside of Derek Fisher (speaking of which why is he shooting 8 times), no other Lakers player shot under 50% in last night's game. The Suns can't let the L.A.'s talented front court beat them like they did. In fact Phoenix should try to double team Gasol and company more on the interior and try to win back the battle for the paint. I think they can sacrifice guarding Fisher, since the Suns best defensive strategy last night was letting him shoot. Honestly though it is probably too little, too late to change the outcome of this series.

Los Angeles smells blood in the water and they are not going to let up. They are excellent in riding the momentum wave and closing out series when they have the chance. The Lakers now look to runaway with this series, and it wouldn't be shocking if they end the Western Conference Finals in Phoenix. Even if the Suns can win one game I don't see this series going past 5 games. The Lakers experience and talented starting 5* (I'm including Odom for Fisher even though he doesn't start) are too much for the Suns to handle. Phoenix has had a great and improbable run in these playoffs, but it looks like it is quickly coming to an end.

Western Conference Finals Prediction: Lakers in 7

May 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet:

The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns will play game one of the Western Conference Finals tonight at the Staple Center with the Lakers being a moderate favorite. It is safe to say that the Lakers are more of a known quantity in this series, whereas the Suns have a number of question marks: will they continue to hit their 3s? Will they continue to play consistent defense? Can they maintain their up-tempo style that San Antonio failed to stop? Will the Suns’ bench play as well as they did in the last series? In short, the Suns are an unconventional, and with that comes a number of uncertainties.

The Lakers, on the other hand, have relied on a consistent inside presence. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have offered size, defense, low-post scoring and versatility throughout nearly the entire season, which has made Kobe Bryant’s job much easier. And this is what makes the Lakers so good: even with Lamar Odom and Ron Artest being inconsistent, this team still goes three deep in terms of game-changing players. Kobe is surrounded by a team that could likely do very well without him. Danny Ferry could probably learn a few things from the Lakers on how to alleviate the workload of a superstar basketball player.

For these reasons, the Lakers look like the better team – they are more consistent and they have a legitimate size and length advantage. The Suns, though, look like a much better team than they did in the regular season. Their bench has been superb throughout the playoffs with Leandro Barbosa, Louis Amundson, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic providing a spark off the bench that has changed the dynamic in a number of games thus far. Jason Richardson has also been playing out of his mind – shooting 51% from the floor at 22 points per game. Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill have also made a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball that was missing in the regular season. This has been a very different Suns team in the playoffs.

With the Suns playing their best basketball in a long time, the Lakers will have to make some adjustments – on offense and defense. This has the makings of series with a strong “zig-zag effect” due to the fact that the Suns are extremely unorthodox and difficult to adapt to. This will be a long series, but the games might not always be competitive with one team blowing out the other one night followed by a reversal of roles in the next. This has been a common trend in the NBA Playoffs, and with these teams being an awkward match-up, it seems likely. At the end of the day, the Lakers will pull out at home in game 7 with superior inside play and defense.

How Good Are The Magic?

May 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Fanspeak contributing writer Geoff Nelowet

A lot of people are pretty high on the Orlando Magic right now – and rightfully so. The Magic are 8-0 in the playoffs after crushing the Atlanta Hawks in four embarrassing games in which the Magic won by 43, 14, 30 and 14.  This was not a close series by any stretch, and many people expected it to go six or seven games, so what can we make of this? Can we expect the Magic to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers (assuming they win) to make it back to the NBA Finals? At this point, probably. Should we pencil them in to beat the LA Lakers in the finals? No, and here’s why:

For starters, the Atlanta Hawks looked atrocious in the playoffs. They barely knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that lost its best player days before the playoffs began, after trailing the series 3-2. After watching Atlanta lose game five at home, you could tell this team was not ready to make a serious run in the playoffs. If the Bucks had Andrew Bogut, they probably would have won – and they should have won without him considering that they out-hustled the Hawks at every opportunity.

We also cannot ignore the match-ups that Orlando has greatly benefited from. Both Charlotte and Atlanta rely on tough defense to win games, but Orlando is a superior defensive team with Dwight Howard in the middle. Imagine a playoff series between the Phoenix Suns and say the Toronto Raptors – two below average defensive teams that rely on their scoring. The Suns would barely have to show up to sweep the Raptors because they are two teams that rely on the same strengths, but Phoenix happens to be substantially better at the same game. There is no doubt that if Orlando faced Boston, it would be a highly competitive series, and let’s not pretend that Orlando will have a walk in the park with LeBron James and Co. in Eastern Conference Finals.

If Orlando makes it to the NBA Finals, expect a similar result as last year. The Lakers (again assuming they win) are one of the few teams that can match Orlando’s physicality, which essentially nullifies the edge that the Magic have found in the playoffs. Whether its Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, the Lakers have an answer for Dwight Howard that the Hawks and Bobcats (and Cleveland) have not had. Vince Carter is not the difference-maker for this club, nor is Jameer Nelson. If the NBA Finals end up being a rematch of last year’s, expect a long and competitive series, but the playoffs have not proven anything new about the Magic other than that they benefited from an excellent draw.

Suns Sweep Spurs

May 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

No one including myself, believed the Suns were capable of this performance. Yes, they were a playoff team, but Phoenix has had their share of disappointments over the years. In fact when they failed to trade Amare Stoudemire at the trade deadline, I thought they made a big mistake, because they weren't built to win this year. I thought the Suns should make the best deal possible and rebuild to hopefully compete in the future. I didn't think an Amare led front court could get past the other bigs in the Western Conference. Well the future could be now as the Suns, not only did they finish the season as a three seed, but they have taken down Portland and San Antonio in successive series without too much trouble. By sweeping the Spurs, the Suns really made a statement that they aren't a fluke.

San Antonio might have been a 7th seed, but they were built to compete in the playoffs. They were overly cautious this season, resting Duncan for entire games to keep him healthy and fresh for the playoffs. They were a very veteran team, with good solid depth. And after the Spurs took down the Mavericks in the first round, it looked as though their strategy of ceding wins in the regular season (and potentially home court advantage) might payoff. Unfortunately for them, the Suns were too much for them to handle, and San Antonio couldn't slow down their fast paced offense. For what it was worth, their regular season strategy didn't backfire because the Suns never even got the benefit of home court advantage in the series with the sweep. What did backfire was the Spurs ability to stop the Suns from running, which they couldn't do. The Spurs had knocked the Suns out of the playoffs 4 times in the past 7 years, but this year it was Phoenix's turn to advance.

Phoenix is playing their best basketball in years. Playing as a team, and even playing a little defense, the Suns are playing to win. Steve Nash, Amare, and Jason Richardson have been a very good scoring trio for the Suns in these playoffs, and they have been supplemented by the ageless Grant Hill and a strong bench. Their bench could even get better when Robin Lopez returns (possibly by the start of the series with the Lakers). Lopez has missed the entire playoffs so far, but he is a solid option off the bench, who is known for his interior defense and rebounding. Two things that will be needed for the Suns to get past the Lakers.

Normally I wouldn't have given Phoenix a chance against L.A. (and it could still play out that way). But I like how they are playing right now, and I think if Lopez comes back healthy, he could have a big impact on this series. He might never lead them in scoring, but his interior presence (just the extra fouls will be key) on defense should slow down the Lakers big men. Nash and company seem hungry to win, and I'm not going to bet against the Suns again.