“Give me three reasons why the Suns will beat the Spurs,” my hooked-on-hoops neighbor demanded.

“Amare Stoudemire, Amare Stoudemire, Amare Stoudemire,” I replied.

Amaré Stoudemire is the key to the Suns advancing to the Western Conference Finals for�a third straight year.
(NBAE Photos)

“Okay,” he pressed on. “Now give me three reasons why they won’t”

“Amaré Stoudemire, Amaré Stoudemire, Amaré Stoudemire,” I replied.

If you’re reading between the lines here you’ve probably guessed the view here is that Amaré is the key to the series.

Don’t misunderstand. Steve Nash is still The Straw (i.e. —the one that stirs the drink) and an MVP for the ages, if apparently not this year.

But for me, given who the Spurs are and what they hang their hat on, Amaré will be The Difference. The one Sun, if you will, for whom the Spurs really have no physical answer for. They didn’t in 2005 playoffs, when he averaged 37 points a game against them in the playoffs and they still don’t.

If he stays out of foul trouble and the Suns don’t forget about him on offense (as they were prone to do at times during the regular season) the Suns figure to clear the biggest remaining hurdle between them and The Prize.

If he doesn’t . . .

And it’s not just his offense. Indeed, his emergence as a force on the boards and a looming inside presence as a help defender are the two biggest reasons this Suns team better than the first two in the Nash era (besides better health and Leandro Barbosa, of course).

Many of the cognoscenti favor the Spurs in this classic match-up between a great defense and a great offense, noting, among other things, San Antonio’s 17-4 edge in the last 21 meetings between the teams. They also point out that, even with Amaré scoring 37 points a game in that 2005 series the Spurs took the Suns out in five games.

But those Spurs are not quite as good as these Spurs, whereas these Suns, as noted, are significantly a bit better than those Suns.

And the very fact so many do favor the Spurs is an intangible plus for a franchise which has always done better as an underdog than a favorite. Flying under the national radar has long been the Suns’ best altitude.

The one thing I do see eye to eye with the cognoscenti is that the team that wins this series will go on to win the title. Well, almost eye to eye. I think the Suns would be a bit more a lock to do so than the Spurs.

The bottom line: Suns in more than five but less than seven.

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