Mike’s Take: Rising Suns

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein-NBAE via Getty Images

For much of the season, the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks have been considered the only teams capable of dethroning the Lakers in the West. But there may be another team ready to throw its hat in the ring – the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns have been up and down all season, and their recent hot streak (11-4 in February and March) may simply be nothing more than that. There are reasons other than Steve Nash, however, why this may be the sign of a stronger push:

1) Amar’e Stoudemire:  Since the trade deadline, Amar’e has stepped up his level of play. His points are up and, more importantly, he seems to have a renewed commitment to rebounding on both ends of the floor. Free of the rumors surrounding his future (and perhaps realizing that he will be a free agent after the season) Stoudemire has been a dominant force on the inside.

2) Robin Lopez:  The insertion of Lopez into the starting lineup has not only added an interior defender and shot blocker to the mix, but it has also allowed Stoudemire to move to his natural power forward position. Overall team speed has not been sacrificed as it was at times with Shaq.

3) Bench play:  Led by Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic and Louis Amundson, Phoenix’s bench has provided a significant energy boost and has allowed Coach Alvin Gentry to get his veteran starters much needed rest. The bench should be bolstered by the expected return of Leandro Barbosa.

Photo by Christian Petersen-Getty Images

4) Jason Richardson/Grant Hill: Both Richardson and Hill have the ability to shoot from the perimeter and post-up smaller defenders, giving the Suns additional inside-out capabilities. Both players are also solid defenders against opposing swingmen and good finishers on the break.

As always, defense is going to be the real key for the Suns come playoff time. While this team is still not a great defensive team, it is much improved from previous Suns teams, and the offense is clicking on all cylinders. Steve Nash is, as expected, playing his role as catalyst to perfection and is still capable of stepping up his scoring responsibilities if required. The Suns, especially Nash, are having a lot of fun playing ball right now, and it is reflected in their overall play.

The Suns host the Pacers tonight at 9 PM ET.

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