I’m with Amare all the way on this one!

I know that the sports version of political correctness dictates you’re not supposed to say what he said.


Amaré Stoudemire meets with the media after Thursday afternoon’s practice.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

And in fact, the same thought must have struck him almost before he finished saying it because he almost immediately tried to sort of unsay it.�

What he said was, “I think we should take care of them (i.e. —the Lakers) pretty quickly.” And about three sentences later, obviously realizing his candor might cause collateral damage to his side in the form of a bulletin board bullet, he tried to atone for his pc misstep with, “The Lakers are playing great basketball right now.”

Nice try, Big Fella! And it would have successful too if only Lakers hadn’t been in the process of losing something like eight of their last seven games at the time.

But the bottom line is he was as right the first time as he was wrong the second.

Hyperbole and history to the contrary notwithstanding, there simply is no logical way it should take the Suns more than five games to dispose of the Lakers. Maybe not even that many.

Yes, I know this is the third time logic suggests a playoff series against these Lakers should be a pleasant walk in the park for the Suns. And yes I’m perfectly aware that on the two previous occasions the “walk” turned out to be not in the park but across a bed of hot coals sprinkled with ground glass.

The first time was in 1992-93 when the 62-20 Suns (still the best team in the history of the franchise in my book) met the 39-43 Lakers in a first-round best-of-five series – and promptly lost the first two games at home! But, thanks in large (sorry ‘bout that, “O”) part to a season-saving effort by Oliver Miller; they rallied for two wins in Los Angeles, and sweated out an overtime victory in Game Five back in Phoenix and eventually moved on all the way to the Finals.

The second time, of course, was just last year when, although the “park” was supposed to be a little less safe, the 54-48 Suns still were expected to dispose of the 45-37 Lakers rather handily. Instead, it took a Tim Thomas three-pointer at the buzzer in a win-or-die game in Los Angeles to save the putative deposers from becoming the dispose-ees.

But that and that, as they say, was then and then. And this is here and now.

And here and now the talent gap between the Suns and Lakers is big enough to drive Charles Barkley’s ego through. In fact, all of Charles.

And the short reason there will be no repeat of last year’s nearly calamitous cliffhanger is quite simply that the Suns are much better this year and the Lakers are not nearly as good.

I mean, does anybody really think last year’s series would have been so tough if the Suns had had a healthy Amaré and Kurt Thomas?

Also, while the Suns were considered to have overachieved last year by winning 54 games with no Amaré and not all that much of Kurt, they were considered by some to have somewhat underachieved in winning 61 this year – which should tell you just how wide the above-mentioned talent gap is.

The reason I say that is that’s amazing how much fretting there was done during the season about this team’s chemistry, focus, and heaven knows what-not. What’s even more amazing is that some of the most frenetic fretting was done while the team was in the throes of a 7-1 “slump.”

In some ways this is the most over-analyzed 61-win team I’ve ever seen.

And at times the analysis angst tends to obscure the fact the Suns achieved all but one of their regular-season goals, missing only on a number one seed – and that only because Dallas topped their great season with an even greater one.

Along the way there have been fears that, while they were in no danger of failing it, their grade in chemistry had dropped from A-plus to C-minus.

But this is a bogus concern – the kind of straw a columnist might clutch at on a slow day. The fact is chemistry doesn’t cause winning, winning causes chemistry. And thus whatever grade the Suns are getting in it will have nothing to do with whether they win it all or not.

Same goes, by the way, for the fans getting the team back in the game myth. It is, of course, the other way around. If the home team is getting wiped out the fans will really start cheering only AFTER it starts to make a move, NEVER before.

But I digress.

Getting back to Suns-Lakers, what we have here is a match-up of an elite team against one that was in danger of falling all the way from the lower middle of the second tier all the way into the lottery in the waning weeks of the season.

We also have a Steve Nash vs. Jordan Farmar match-up and an Amaré vs. – well, actually the Lakers don’t have any match-up for Amaré.

Last year the Lakers were able to impose their will on the games by taking quite a bit of air out of the ball, pounding away inside, and playing excellent defense.

This year they still have the option of taking the air out of the ball, of course. But with Amaré and Kurt on board their inside game won’t be nearly as effective. And they aren’t as good defensively now as they were a year ago.

Speaking of defense, I know Kobe had an off shooting night in the game here last week, but one of the reasons was an excellent defensive scheme that spun a web that made it tough for even him to free himself from.

Finally, by way of formally seconding Amaré’s notion, it should also be noted, the Lakers rolled into the playoffs on an impressive 11-3 run. This year they limped in on more like a 3-11 run.

I know the Lakers think they can beat the Suns, but then, the Lakers also think they are just a player away from rejoining the ranks of the elite.

The bottom line: Suns in Five! At the most!

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