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Art Garcia

Amar'e Stoudemire says the Suns have played better as an underdog in the playoffs.
D.Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Suns' run to West finals paved with plenty of surprises

Posted May 13 2010 10:33AM

Karma or good luck? Perhaps it's a bit of both for the Suns. The Western Conference finalists have taken a somewhat surprising path through the first two rounds.

Some might call a road lined with luck.

"No one even expected us to be in the playoffs," Jason Richardson said.

Phoenix, it could be argued, fell into the No. 3 seed. The unfortunate George Karl-less fall by Denver plus Utah's late skid allowed the Suns to leapfrog from fifth over the last four days of the regular season.

Once in third place, a seeding locked up on the last day of the season, could there have been a more agreeable opening-round foe? Portland lined up without its best player (Brandon Roy) and its original center rotation. The Blazers did put an admirable fight, dragging the series out six games, but they seemed to be waging an uphill battle even after winning Game 1.

On the other side of the bracket, the favors kept coming. As much as San Antonio appeared to be putting it all together late in the regular season, matching up against Dallas offered up the perfect upset recipe. The Spurs were beaten by the Mavericks in the last two playoff meetings, including a last season. That still stands as the only time Tim Duncan was part of a first-round loss. That series was personal for the Spurs and they played like it.

Getting past Dallas had a twofold benefit for the Suns. The Mavericks had won the season series against Phoenix and would have enjoyed home court. Dallas being out of the picture meant a desert opening in the semifinals.

For once, it was one of the key Spurs not at full strength instead of a Sun. Manu Ginobili played the entire series with a broken nose. San Antonio's regular-season MVP wasn't right. Ginobili at less than 100 percent hardly made up for all those Phoenix injuries over the years, but it did impact the series.

Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire didn't have to talk about revenge. Everyone just knew.

Sweeps have a way of driving that point home.

This in no way means Phoenix had a free pass to the conference finals. The Suns earned their way. Neither the Blazers nor Spurs can honestly say they were better than Phoenix. At full strength, arguments can be made. The games that were played produced a true victor.

Still, there is an element of surprise in the Suns getting this far.

"I didn't expect necessarily, for sure, to make the Western Conference finals," Nash admitted, "but I thought we could win 50-plus games, I thought we could beat somebody in the first round and you never know how good your team becomes.

"I'm obviously excited with what we're developing into and obviously thrilled we have a chance to play for the West."

The Suns will arrive in Los Angeles as the underdog. The defending champion Lakers appear vulnerable. At least as much as a defending champ can.

"We play much better when we're underdogs," Stoudemire said. "When we're against all odds we play much better. I prefer it this way so we can come out extremely focused."

The Lakers won only three more games than the Suns during the regular season. Kobe Bryant has that broken finger and other nagging pains. Andrew Bynum is in less-than-ideal physical condition. The Suns are planning on the return of 7-footer Robin Lopez.

Should the Suns advance to The Finals it won't be a fluke. Just don't count out a bit of karma, luck or some other cosmic good vibes adding a helping hand.

"We've definitely surpassed expectations so far this year," Stoudemire said, "but we know what our goals were at the start of training camp and we've been playing well. We want to make sure that we continue to play that way and see if we can go further in these playoffs."

The Suns don't look at this as playing with borrowed time or house money. Getting past the Lakers is just the next step on a path where every turn has been the right one.

"It means we have a chance to win a championship," Nash said. "That's really all it means. Getting there, I guess, would be nice in some respect, but winning a championship is the point of it."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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