In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Steve Nash v. D-Will
This matchup showcases two of the very best point guards that play the game. Steve Nash is a senior citizen by NBA standards – he’s 36 years old and his résumé includes a 14 year tenure in the league. If you watch the guy napping on the sidelines while he rests, you’d think he was preparing for the stretcher to come haul him away. Despite his aching back and limited minutes, Steve Nash continues to impress. Last season, he averaged 16.5 points and 11 assists. Sure, running mate Amar’e Staudemire bolted for the Big Apple and a huge payday, but in the uptempo Suns’ offense, Nash will literally run circles around opponents and put up huge numbers for such a little guy. Though Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz run a much more structured offense, D-Will in the open court looks an awful lot like a young Steve Nash: great decision making, court vision, a deadly pull-up J, and the ability to make his teammates better. Despite the age difference, Grandpa Nash vs. D-Will is always fun to watch.
Robin Lopez v. Big Al
With the departure of Amar’e, Lopez will be forced to play more minutes than last year (he only logged 24 mins/game last year). This just may be the season that Robin Lopez emerges as one of the better big-men in the West. In his limited court time last year, Lopez put up more than 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block. Lopez might be an inch or two taller than Jefferson, but Big Al is much stronger. Al Jefferson ought to have his way with Lopez in the paint – and should be able to score and rebound at will. Where Utah wins this matchup, though, is with its bench. Currently, the depth chart for the Suns at center is anemic – actually, it’s just Lopez (although 6’11” power forward Channing Frye can play some minutes at center). Utah’s bigs ought to overwhelm the Phoenix front line, especially once Okur returns from his injury.
Although Phoenix watched its team dwindle in free agency, it received some pretty nice pieces to fill out its roster. Setting Suns include the aforementioned Amar’e, Brazilian speedster Leandro Barbosa, and Louis Amundson. In return, Phoenix acquired Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress. While the additions appear to offset the key off-season losses, Phoenix is an injury or two from missing the playoffs.
Phoenix leads the all-time series 81-71, including a victory over the Jazz in the season finale last year (heartbreaking for Jazz fans). Recall that the winner of the final game of the regular season would clinch home court advantage and the third seed in the Western Conference. The loser would be relegated to fifth, opening the playoffs on the road. In that ever-so-important game, Utah’s leading scorer and rebounder, Carlos Boozer, watched from the sidelines with a strained oblique – the same injury that you get after too many Halloween sweets. You know the rest. Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur got into foul trouble, and the Jazz struggled to find their rhythm. Phoenix went on to win the game, clinch the third playoff seed (and home court advantage) – and fight their way into the Western Conference Finals (only to be ousted by the juggernaut Lakers). Anyone else wish Al Jefferson was playing in that game instead of Boozer?
Phoenix’s roster includes four players drafted in the top ten:
Steve Nash has missed just 10 games in the past 3 years.
Of active NBA players, only Kurt Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal are older than 38 year old Grant Hill.
The Jazz will get an early look at the Suns for the Utah home-opener on October 28th. Unfortunately, this comes on the second night of a back-to-back (the Achilles Heel for past Utah teams). That first home game has the potential to set the Jazz on course for another solid season at ESA, and start off the back-to-back record on the right foot. Utah gets its second and third (and final) looks at Los Suns just before the All-Star break with a home and home set. Phoenix is a bit of an enigma to me. If they stay healthy and cohesive, they can run with anyone in the league – thought to be outside the playoff race last year, the Suns made a unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals. One injury to a key player, though, and Phoenix will have to re-tool to compete in a pretty tough Western Conference.
Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [AT] gmail [DOT] com