This question has been bouncing around my head for a few weeks now and despite all evidence to the contrary, I've been unable to drop my natural pessimism and jump on the bandwagon.
But here's the funny thing: there's not a single game (other than the Lakers w/o Frye) that I've not felt the Suns would win.
Where's all this Sad Sally stuff coming from?
At 20 and 5 since the BIG SEASON TURN AROUND (aka benching Amare in the 4th quarter of the Jan 28th Mavs game), the Suns have been a team on a mission. Playing with focus and determination. Clicking on all cliched cylinders.
Beating good teams like Oklahoma, Utah, Denver and Portland. Destroying bad teams in decisive fashion like Minnesota, New York and New Orleans. Even pulling out tough road wins in very losable situations like the Warriors and...well that's it, because the Suns have been at home long enough to burn through 10 pages of Honey Do's.
And yet, doubt remains.
So, just sit back and hear me out as I seek to exorcise my demons of doubt though the time tested process of group therapy.
The Best Franchise Never To Win A Ring
Suns fans are not Lakers or Celtics fans. Their obnoxious ways are born from success - a combined 32 out of a possible 63 championships will do that.
Suns fans can't relate. Zero rings in 41 seasons (and only 2 conference banners and a measly 6 division titles) is a pretty hefty record of futility for the recently named fifth-best NBA franchise in all of known recorded history.
- First there was the original 1976 Sunderalla Suns that made it to the finals, played one of the best NBA games ever, and lost the series in no small part due to a blown call.
- Then the early 90's team was Jordan'd in the '93 Finals and Rocketed the next two years before Barkley left for greener pastures (and better BBQ).
- Right up to the 61-win 06-07 Suns, who had plenty of eyes on the prize but not enough focus on the bench during a ruckus.
A cycle of hope, followed by disappointment, followed by hope, followed by...who knows.
And if that's the story of the Suns history, this season is a smaller mirror image. A hot start, followed by a mid-season sub .500 swoon, followed - so far - by a strong finish.
And if that's the story of this season, how many games this year have followed the same pattern? Hot start, double-digit lead, blown lead, sometimes win, sometimes not.
That's just the emotional side of lower expectations. This team, for all its strength, is still not a threat to contend in the West. Or is it?
Just How Contenderitous Are the Suns?
There's not a team in the West that isn't flawed.
- The Lakers bench is crap and their offense has been a lot worse this year than last.
- The Jazz are small up front and predictable on offense and middle of the pack on D.
- Denver is thin in the front court and on the bench and J.R. Smith is more of a threat to implode than explode this year.
- Dallas doesn't get enough points inside and is 6th in the league in long 2's.
- The Thunder are young.
- The Spurs are old.
- The Blazers are playing Juwan Howard big minutes (and still winning) and are also overly reliant on jump shots.
and the Suns are...
- Really strong up front with Amare KILLING IT, Robin doing exactly what's needed and Channing and Lou coming off the bench to either spread the floor, rebound the ball, or get in fights
- Getting strong play from Jason Richardson on the wing and are deep with Dragic and Barbosa able to provide looks going small and Dudley able to come in and guard bigger twos
- Still running out one of the top point guards in the league who is getting healthy at the right time and is well backed-up for the first time in forever
- Enjoying Grant Hill running the floor, controlling the perimeter D, and putting his 37-year old body on the line every night
- Deep, versatile, and playing with great chemistry
but the Suns also are...
- Highly dependent on Steve Nash, who has shown that his body tends to break down during the course of a long playoff series (and that was two years ago)
- Hoping the Amare can continue to dominate at this level and doesn't revert to his bad decision-making ways come playoff time
- Counting on a bench crew with minimal playoff experience
- One hard fall away from losing Grant Hill with no good options to replace him
- Getting better defensively (11th in opponent's eFG% for the season and middle of the pack in Defensive Efficiency since Jan 28th) but still have some significant holes in the starting line-up
- Lead by two guys in Nash and Amare who've not yet gotten it done (as compared to Kobe and Duncan)
- Still saddled with a history of finding ways to lose playoff series in the wackiest ways possible
There's a lot to be hopeful for. You can easily make the case that the Suns are at least the 3rd best team in the West behind the Lakers and Mavericks and no team is more than one big injury away from having their chances ruined. You just never know what might happen once the post-season starts.
And yet, after 41 years of frustrating Suns history, I still won't believe it until I see it.
...and yet, how can you deny Amare?