Sports

Phoenix’s quest for a first championship begins now


When the Phoenix Suns made the NBA Finals last season it was surprising, but not necessarily a shock.

The Suns were coming off an iconic 8-0 run in the Lake Buena Vista, Fla., bubble, added the Point God in the off-season and won 51 of 72 games. Then in their first playoff appearance since 2010, since Steve Nash ran the show, they made it within two wins of winning a championship.

They fell short, Giannis Antetokounmpo had a legendary Finals, but in a league where players switching teams is the only constant, they ran it back with the whole crew.

The result? A league-best record and the highest win total in Phoenix’s 55-year history. But the job’s not done, the only thing that matters is winning the title, and the quest to make that happen begins now.

Season series: 3-1 Phoenix

Quick Tape

Suns: 64-18 | No. 5 offence | No. 3 defence | No. 1 net rating

Pelicans: 36-46 | No. 19 offence | No. 18 defence | No. 21 net rating

Betting Futures

To win series: PHX -1350, NO +750 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)

To win championship: PHX: +220, NO: +13000 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)

Suns Starting 5: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Suns Bench: Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Torey Craig, Javale McGee

Pelicans Starting 5: CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Pelicans Bench: Devonte’ Graham, Jose Alvarado, Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy, Naji Marshall

Pulse of the Suns

The pulse of the Suns is just confidence. And why shouldn’t it be? With 64 wins, they finished eight full games ahead of the next best team. There’s really no debate over who the best team was this season.

As proven last year, they’re the type of team made to go on a deep run as well. Whether it’s Paul, Booker or Ayton, different guys can step up to take over a game or even a series. Bridges and Crowder fill it out to leave no holes in the starting lineup. Johnson is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and players like Payne are also making worthy contributions off the bench.

Chris Paul’s health is always lingering in the background, considering his history of injuries in the playoffs. Also, the common conception in the NBA is you need stars to win. Phoenix has stars, but does it have a Top 15 player? It’s debatable. League history shows you usually need a Top 5 player on your roster to win, but there are exceptions.

Pulse of the Pelicans

Many counted the Pelicans out. They began the season with a 1-12 record, Zion’s return date kept moving back, and making the play-in, let alone the playoffs, looked out of reach. Even when they acquired CJ McCollum, which was a win-now move, the thinking was they’d get this season over with and regroup for the next. That still may be the case.

But in all that, the Pelicans played like a team with nothing to lose down the stretch. Over time that led to steady confidence building. McCollum is playing some of the best basketball of his career, Ingram has thrived since returning from injury, Valanciunas continues to be a consistent, underrated big, and Jones could sneak into All-Rookie First Team.

No one will expect them to give the Suns a run for their money, so they’ll bring that same nothing-to-lose energy into Round 1.

Key matchup to watch

Mikal Bridges vs. CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram. The only way this series gets interesting is if Ingram or McCollum or both go off, so the Suns naturally have to key in on them. Their best guy to do it? All-Defence shoo-in and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bridges. The 25-year-old is essential to Phoenix’s success. He shuts down the best wing or guard on defence and knocks down threes on offence. Every contender’s dream player. This seems like a perfect time to remind people the Philadelphia 76ers traded him on draft night even though he was born in Philly, went to Villanova and his mom worked for the organization.

Suns win if …

They play average. Honestly, a little below average is probably fine. Even if they have a couple bad games where they let the Pelicans keep it close, the Suns are the most clutch team in the NBA with Paul and Booker to close things out, so they should come away with the win.

Phoenix’s real test might not even come until Round 3, with the Warriors or Grizzlies as likely opponents.

Pelicans win if …

Paul, Booker and Ayton get injured? That’s dark, I know, and nobody wants to see that. The simple truth is Suns are not losing to the Pelicans in a seven-game series unless something truly crazy happens. If I’m wrong, I will gladly submit this to Old Takes Exposed.

 

Editor’s Note: Gambling problems aren’t only about losing money. They occur on a continuum, and can affect a person’s whole life. To learn more about developing a healthy relationship to gambling, and to find resources for support, click here.

 



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