Suns News

Suns to Tip Off Season as Underdogs

Nash and Co. tip off the season at home against the Hornets on Dec. 26.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Dec. 22, 2011

It seems that a lot of people aren’t paying attention to the Suns this season. And that’s just fine with them.

Sports media is pushing the “Battle for L.A.” between the Clippers and Lakers, ESPN.com’s John Hollinger has the Suns finishing second from the bottom in the Western Conference and barely any magazine or website even have the Suns making the playoffs. It’s reminiscent of the outlook regarding the team before the 2009-10 season, which saw the Suns finish two games shy of an NBA Finals appearance.

Now, no one here is saying that the Suns are destined to be a Finals team or even a Western Conference Finals team, but the vast majority of pundits putting the Suns at the bottom of the conference – and especially their division – are undervaluing them. In a condensed 66-game season, the Suns have some advantages over a many of their Western Conference foes. First of all, they have a continuity coming into this season that many teams don’t.

During the free agent frenzy a couple of weeks ago, many teams completely reconfigured their rosters, which could pose a problem during a shortened season. Even if they made upgrades in talent, getting all of those players on the same page with very little preparation or practice will be an incredible challenge, especially with games starting on Christmas.

Meanwhile, the Suns are returning all five probable starters and a system that most of the players have operated in for at least a couple of seasons. Watch for teams that didn’t overhaul their rosters to be sneaky good this year.

Nuggets Head Coach George Karl echoed this point before the Suns’ final preseason game.

“The only thing that I know that I feel is going to happen is that there are going to be some teams that people don’t think are going to be any good, are going to be good,” Karl said. “And there are some teams that some people think are going to be really good that are going to stub their toes and falter.”

Next, almost every Suns player that returned from last season looks to be where they were or better than how they finished last season. Steve Nash is in incredible shape, Jared Dudley looks in midseason form, Marcin Gortat is much-improved, Channing Frye is coming off a career year, Robin Lopez looks to have some bounce back and Hakim Warrick is shooting the ball extremely well.

The only player that isn’t at his best this second is Grant Hill, who is currently working through soreness in his knee. With all of the returners already looking pretty sharp, the new additions just need to come in and be solid.

Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris already appear ready to step in and contribute, despite just becoming Suns in the last two weeks. Backup point guard Ronnie Price is a veteran that has shown some stingy defense and impressive athleticism, which could be a nice spark off the bench, as well.

Lastly, not only are many of the Western Conference Finals teams attempting to adjust to new rosters, but many of them could be ill-affected by the amount of change from last season. For example, the Lakers are adapting to an entirely new coach, offense, life without Lamar Odom and a bevy of trade rumors.

The Mavs lost rim protector Tyson Chandler, former All-Star Caron Butler and instant offense in J.J. Barea. Meanwhile, most of the starters from last season’s Nuggets team are back and starting… in China.

The Blazers have been riddled with the injury bug, losing Brandon Roy to retirement, suffered a setback with Greg Oden’s knee and lost LaMarcus Aldridge for all of training camp after he underwent a procedure to correct a heart problem.

To wrap it up, the Hornets lost their franchise player, Chris Paul, to the Clippers, while the Rockets lost Yao Ming to retirement. Those are six teams that finished ahead of the Suns that will have to overcome those hurdles, and do so in an extremely shortened preseason.

Last season, the Suns finished two games below .500 and six games out of the playoffs. With everything happening to those six teams, with all of the changes and lack of time to put everyone on the same page, the Suns to could easily end up playing the role of the dark horse this season.

The franchise’s motto this season is “rise up.” With no one paying much attention, maybe that’s exactly what they’ll do in the Western Conference.

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