One thing everybody agrees on about the Suns is that they are different. And most of the time almost everybody says Vive�la Difference! But there’s one “difference” that’s really not all that much to “vive” about.

 

Shawn Marion registered a double double with 26 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday night’s series-clinching win over the Lakers.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

I refer, of course, to the fact that unlike almost any other team in any other sport, these guys seem to have the darndest time coming from way AHEAD to win. They usually manage to, of course, as witness their 61 regular-season victories, their 4-1 disposal of the Lakers in the first round, and the growing consensus that, while the way to The Prize still runs through the Southwest, it’s through Arizona, not Texas.

 

Last night offered a perfect illustration of this maddening “la Difference.” At 10:25 in the third period the Suns had opened a 15-point lead and seemed well on the way to the blowout a lot of people expected and, no matter what they say publicly, the Suns really wanted.

 

But at 1:30 in the third period the lead was cut all the way down to two, and the palpable perspiration in the stands wasn’t due to a sudden breakdown in the US Airways air conditioning system.

 

But not to worry!

 

Remember, it’s only when they are way AHEAD that the basketball version of the Ferrari that is their high-speed offense suddenly starts sounding like a 1946 Hudson and their defense starts leaking points. So thus it was no surprise that by 5:52 in the fourth period the lead was all the way back to 16.

 

Worry!

 

With three minutes to play that lead was back down to five, Kobe Bryant had finally located the basket, and the Suns suddenly found themselves fighting a guerrilla war on the boards to survive. Fortunately, they were winning that war, thanks to some great inside work by Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and finally managed to put the Lakers in their rear view mirror for good.

 

Incidentally, in their lone loss in the series, the Suns got off to an 11-0 start and eventually built a 17-point lead, and then pfft!

 

Leading hoopologists are unsure what causes this strange quirk, but suspect it may be built into the very pedal-to-the-metal, fire when ready (or not) modus operandi that makes them the most entertaining team in the NBA, not to mention one of the most successful.

 

“La Difference” aside, usually the Suns win in style, but in the end this win was as much or maybe more about hustle and muscle than run and fun. The Suns won partly because Amare was able to foul out two thirds of the Lakers’ starting front line while scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, and Shawn Marion had a brilliant all-around game at both ends of the court. In fact, Marion, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, gets our coveted game ball for this one. And you have to believe that if the Suns can somehow find ways to get NBA voters and/or the league office to snub him two or three more times there will be no stopping them.

 

Shawn, easily the most versatile defender in the league, was dumped on by both the coaches and the media in Defensive Player and All-Defensive balloting. And as he often does when he feels slighted, he takes his frustrations out on the opposition.

 

While the Suns were clearly pleased to be moving into the second round, they had really hoped to finish off the series with a bit more of a flourish. After all, they not only are much better than the Lakers but also much healthier.

In the pre-game notes they have a listing of injuries for both teams. For the Suns it was, “INJURIES: None.” For the Lakers it was, “INJURIES: Kobe Bryant (sprained left ankle) will play. Kwame Brown (sprained left ankle), Lamar Odom (torn labrum, left shoulder; hyper-extended left elbow) and Luke Walton (sprained right ankle; dislocated right pinky finger) are probable. Chris Mihn (right ankle surgery) out for season.”

The main reason I cite this is not to try to drum up a little sympathy for the Lakers, but rather to underscore the biggest reason I like the Suns chances of finally winning their first championship much better than in any of the previous Nash Years, namely, health.

The early bottom line on Round Two: I like the Suns because of their home-court advantage vs. the Spurs, and because of Amare (though, not necessarily in that order). Remember, that’s my EARLY line.