Monday December 7th, 2009

It's a question longtime members of the Suns franchise have been asked over ... and over ... and over again: Can this run-and-gun, all offense-no defense style of play really win a championship?"You kill me with that question," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "In five years we went to two Western Conference Finals. We have had success. It's hard to win a championship. There have been a lot of great teams that didn't win. The Stockton and Malone Utah teams, the Sacramento teams with Vlade [Divac] and Chris Webber. Sometimes it doesn't work out. To say we [can't] win a championship with the system that we play, I don't agree. [In the past] we just weren't quite good enough. It amazes me how everyone says we can't win a championship playing this way. I don't think it's the system so much as if you have great players you win a championship."

Gentry's argument is not without merit. The 1980s Lakers were one of the most explosive offensive teams in history (Showtime!), outscoring teams to four NBA championships. But those Lakers had a dominating inside presence in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. These Suns do not.

Think a superior inside player is a luxury? The 2009 Lakers (Phoenix's top competition out West) have two: Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In the first meeting with the Lakers, L.A. lived in the paint, scoring a whopping 78 points in the colored area. They gave up only 40 points in the paint to L.A. on Sunday, but Gasol and Bynum made 57.9 percent of their shots in a 20-point blowout.

Bottom line, it's the same in any era: if you can't control the paint, you can't win.

NBA Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
Ron Artest's admission he used to enjoy a sip of cognac at halftime surprised everyone -- except the Lakers. "I think that he's just growing up and this is maybe a delayed process," Phil Jackson said of Artest's statement. Jackson has a reason to stand by his star: Artest has turned the Lakers into a top-10 defense, which has helped stake the Lakers (heading into Sunday's matchup with the Suns) to an average lead of 10.2 points going into the fourth quarter, up from 6.4 a year ago.
 
2Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 4
Carmelo Anthony gets the credit, and Chris Andersen gets the love, but Chauncey Billups is still the engine that drives the Nuggets. Over the last two seasons Denver is 29-10 when Billups scores more than 20 points, including 7-1 this season. He didn't quite cross that threshold against San Antonio, but his 18 points were enough for Denver to pick up a big road win Saturday.
 
3Orlando Magic
Last Week: 3
It's nice to have the Knicks and Warriors around to work out the kinks in your offense, isn't it? Orlando put up 244 points against its only two opponents this week and now has a top-10 offense (102.1 points per game) to go with their equally tough defense (95.4).
 
4Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 5
Cleveland's formula for success is pretty simple: score lots of points in the paint and don't let your opponents anywhere near it. In three wins over Dallas, Phoenix and Chicago last week the Cavs nearly doubled their opponents PIP (50.0-26.0) and are surrendering up a league-low 33.5 points in the paint this season.
 
5Boston Celtics
Last Week: 7
Here's an honor Kevin Garnett would probably rather not own. Last month he became the youngest player in history to play 40,000 minutes, besting ironman Oscar Robertson by nearly a year. KG's balky knee seems to be holding up OK, though: He scored 20-plus points in back-to-back road games against San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
 
6Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 6
By all rights a home loss to the Knicks should send a team careening out of the top-10, but we'll give the Hawks a break after they rebounded with a road win over Dallas the next night. For all the talk about Atlanta's perimeter shooting, the Hawks are actually the NBA's best in points in the paint (49.8).
 
7Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 2
No, no, no, Phoenix -- the All-Star break is in February. There are no vacations in December. The once-mighty Suns couldn't get within 17 points in road losses to the Lakers, Cavs and (yes) Knicks last week and only a narrow win over Sacramento prevented a winless week. Can't blame them for being road weary: Phoenix has played 14 of their first 21 away from home.
 
8Miami Heat
Last Week: 10
Miami Heat (11-9)
The Heat was one Kobe Bryant heave from a 3-1 road trip. Still, 2-2 on a four-game, six-night West coast swing isn't bad. More encouraging is that Dwyane Wade is starting to get some help. Michael Beasley led the team with 27 in a win over Portland, and Beasley and Quentin Richardson chipped in 20 points apiece in Sunday's drubbing of Sacramento.
 
9Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 9
Here's where the Blazers will miss Greg Oden: they have been quietly effective defending the rim this season, holding opponents to 43.8 percent shooting -- third best in the league -- with Oden (2.4 blocks) leading the way. Bright side: Joel Przybilla is as good a backup as you get. Among reserves, Przybilla leads the NBA in rebounds (154), and ranks second in offensive rebounds (50) and blocked shots (27).
 
10Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 8
The Mavs put the Nets into the history books by handing them their 18th defeat, then they started playing like them. A blowout at Memphis was followed by a home loss to the Hawks, a game in which they put up 75 points. Maybe they should let Shawn Marion toss up a few threes. Marion has made 670 triples in his career but has attempted only four this season -- and made none.
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