Hard to see playoff payoff for Suns
If you're taking your 5-year-old nephew or 80-year-old grandmother to his or her first NBA game and you can't afford the ticket markup to watch
For all but a few months of the past six seasons (including this one), the Suns have been the most pleasant spectacle in team hoops. Against the steadily rising obstacles of age and past front-office penury and incompetence, this year's team continues to delight.
Add a helping of 7-footer
But as most everyone aside from your nephew and grandmother knows, the playoffs have not been so pleasant for the high-tempo team from the desert. During its otherwise marvelous six-year span, Phoenix has never exceeded its playoff seeding, and has twice been bounced by opponents with inferior records (the Spurs, in both 2005 and 2007). The same quality that makes the Suns so enjoyable to watch in November, January and March -- they try to outscore opponents by running them off the court -- dooms them when the playoffs commence in the spring.
"A lot of teams give in to the temptation of running up and down the floor with them in the regular season," said a scout from a Western Conference team jousting for playoff position with Phoenix. "But in the playoffs teams get more serious about execution [of their half-court sets on offense] and stopping people. That's when they get in trouble."
That's the leaguewide conventional wisdom about Phoenix. It is why Suns general manager
Basketball isn't rocket science. It isn't hard to figure out that you don't advance very far in the playoffs without a commitment to quality team defense. But that is a commitment Phoenix is either unwilling or unable to make.
The evidence couldn't be plainer: The Suns are 15-0 this season when holding their opponents under 100 points. But that's an underwhelming stat when you consider Phoenix is already 62 games into the season. The four vintage Suns teams from 2004-2008 held their opponents under 100 between 30 and 36 times per season; this year's edition would need to shut down nearly every one of its 20 remaining foes to reach that range.
Because of their run-and-gun pace, the previous Suns teams always ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed. Yet with quality defenders like
Can the Suns reverse this trend? Well, they've limited six of their last dozen opponents to fewer than 100 points, climaxed (at least thus far) by their stellar performance against Denver (the league's second-highest-scoring team behind Phoenix), when they forced 18 turnovers and allowed only 11 offensive rebounds. Of course, both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back and played much slower than their normal pace. Suns coach
A broader view would suggest that Phoenix's two stars, Nash and Stoudemire, aren't going to upgrade their horrible defensive play at this point in their careers -- like Popeye, they "am what they am." And in the playoffs, what they am are beautiful losers, seemingly gallant in defeat because of their magnificent offensive exploits, but ultimately betrayed by their own deficiencies at the other end of the court.
• You can't feign body language, and since the trade that brought
The NBA's active leader in career regular-season minutes is actually getting better as the season progresses. February was Kidd's most productive month for points, rebounds, assists and steals, a stat line boosted by his hardy averages of 14.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.5 steals in the first eight games after the trade with the Wizards. Remember when Kidd was simply too old and slow to be an effective defender anymore? (I do; I'm one of the people who wrote it.) According to
And how special was Kidd's triple-double (19 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists) at Atlanta last Friday? No player had produced at least 15 points, rebounds and assists in the same game since Kidd himself did it back in 1996. Kidd,
• Speaking of old codgers, trade-deadline pickup
Immediately after that overtime loss in Chicago, the Blazers headed to Minnesota for the second half of a back-to-back, where they learned a little more about Camby's strengths and weaknesses. He was blitzed by
"We found out it was better playing him off [the dominant scorer like Jefferson] and providing help defense," Portland coach
Of course, in
• Asked to explain why his Blazers are an NBA-best 12-3 on the second half of back-to-backs, McMillan indicated that the biggest factor might be embarrassment. "I would like to know what our record is the night before -- did we win or lose?" he said. "Because we watched a lot of film where we have lost games in situations like this, and then our guys have responded to the challenge." He's right: Portland is 4-11 on the front end of those back-to-backs.
• If there is any justice, the absence of