Ten to Watch: Does Phoenix Have the Defense to Win the West?
By Brad Friedman
The Suns have the No. 2 seed in the West and are seemingly in prime position to make a postseason run. But not everybody believes this Suns team is for for real.
The criticisms go back to last season, when the No. 1 seeded Suns fell in five games to the Spurs in the West finals. It wasn't because San Antonio's suffocating defense could stop Phoenix's league-leading offense. Rather, it was a case of the Suns being unable to stop the Spurs' offense.
Over the course of the series, San Antonio averaged a 109.2 points per game, 13 points more than their regular season average.
And just like that, everything the Suns accomplished during the regular season – an NBA best 62 wins, a 33-game turnaround, an MVP for Steve Nash, a Coach of the Year honor for Mike D'Antoni and an Executive of the Year award for Bryan Colangelo – suddenly felt less significant.
Nash can lead an offense, but what about the D?
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Teams play for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and think rings, not regular season honors.
The last thing Suns fans want is another playoff disappointment this year, but it's possible Phoenix could suffer that fate again.
Could its Pacific Division title -- an admirable 54 wins without star pivot Amare Stoudemire in the lineup in all but three games -- be for naught?
If the Suns keep playing the defense that it played in the regular season – yielding 102.9 points per game, third highest in the league – the answer may be yes.
While that scoring average is slightly inflated by the increased number of possessions in Suns' contests because of Phoenix's up-tempo style of play, the club obviously has trouble getting a stop when it needs one. It was 0-7 this season in games decided by three points or less.
The Suns might stand a better chance of toppling Dallas than they would the Spurs. The Mavs, though a solid defensive squad, aren't as physical as San Antonio, and Phoenix was able to split the four-game season series with them this season compared to the 1-3 record they posted against the Spurs.
Likewise, the Suns were able to outrun Miami to the tune of a two-game season series sweep compared to the 0-2 showing they had against Detroit, which manhandled Phoenix in the paint.
So does Phoenix have the defense to win the West, and possibly the title? That could depend on the teams it runs into.