What hopes do all 16 teams have of hopping in the postseason driver's seat? Take a ride with NBA.com as we outline each team's Keys to Success.
MASTER KEY: Jason Kidd
is the best point guard in the game and the undisputed team leader. His court vision and passing skills are famous -- he led the league in assists with 9.8 per game -- but Kidd brings versatility and durability as well. He again tops the NBA in triple-doubles (7), he's scoring more than at any other time in his career (16.9 ppg), he's a quality defender (2.16 spg, fourth in the league), and he's capable of playing an entire game without rest should the Suns require it. There are so many different ways Kidd can impact a game that he alone makes the Suns a dangerous playoff team going in as the sixth seed.
KEY STOPPER: Shawn Marion
has become a star this season with his explosive style and highlight-reel dunks, but the second-year forward has also quietly been playing solid D. His height and leaping ability have made him the team's best and most consistent shotblocker at 1.37 a game, and his quickness makes him a constant threat to dart into the passing lane for a steal.
KEY IN THE KEY:
Phoenix has brought 7-2 rookie center Jake Tsakalidis along slowly this year, instead relying on a solid contingent of veteran forwards -- Cliff Robinson, Tom Gugliotta
and Rodney Rogers
-- to patrol the paint. All have been typically effective, combining for an average of 35.0 points and 13.0 rebounds a game. But it is Shawn Marion
who's been the real monster inside. The Matrix leads the team in both rebounds (10.7) and blocks and is especially valuable at keeping balls alive on offense, averaging nearly three offensive boards a game.
Don't be ridiculous.
KEY WIN, KEY VID: With four teams jockeying for two playoff spots late in the season, the Suns weren't able to rest easy until their win at Cleveland on April 7. With Shawn Marion posting 25 points and 10 boards, the 102-98 victory assured Phoenix its 13th straight trip to the postseason.
28.8+ | ISDN+
Anchored by last season's Sixth Man of the Year, Rodney Rogers
, the Suns have a quality core of bench players available to keep the pressure on their opponents. Rogers is a strong forward who can score, rebound and defend. Tony Delk
can play either guard position and actually put up 53 points in a game
against Sacramento on Jan. 2. And Tom Gugliotta
, a career starter, is now a valuable reserve after returning from last year's knee surgery.
KEY LONG-RANGE GUNNER:
Primarily a team that lives off quickness, turnovers and easy baskets, the Suns lack a shooter that can really knock down the three-ball on a regular basis. Cliff Robinson leads Phoenix with 90 treys this season, and that's 43rd in the league.
KEY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE:
Vision Quest: Jason Kidd sees all. The Suns point guard won his third-straight assist title this season, averaging 9.9 a game. (Carl Gooding/NBAE Photos)
Phoenix has had some terrific performances this season from a number of players: Any of Jason Kidd
's seven triple-doubles, Tony Delk
's 53 points against Sacramento, Cliff Robinson's 42 against Portland, Shawn Marion
's 38 points and 12 boards against Minnesota. But perhaps most impressive was Kidd's destruction of longtime friend and nemesis Gary Payton
in a win over Seattle on April 13
. Normally an exciting matchup of two great point guards, Kidd shredded his former mentor for 30 points, 17 assists, nine rebounds and four steals as the Suns cruised, 109-100.
It's fairly common knowledge that with a guy like Jason Kidd
playing point, the Suns want to get out and run. What's not so obvious is just how good they actually at forcing those situations. As a team, they're first in the NBA in opponents' turnovers (17.5 per game) and second in steals (9.5 per game).
The stats suggest that Tony Delk
was a significant offseason addition for the Suns, and indeed, the guard is averaging a career high 12.3 points coming off the bench. But when Phoenix signed free agent Mario Elie
last August, they got a true veteran leader and competitor with the experience that only three NBA titles can bring.
KEY TIDBIT: Tom Gugliotta
appeared on Wheel of Fortune during NBA Week in 1999. Can he and the Suns solve the puzzle when it comes to the 2001 NBA Playoffs? Phoenix is spinning for a Y, E and S.