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Archive for Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Keep eye on Suns

March 28, 2006

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The Phoenix Suns were able to build a 45-21 record without Amare Stoudemire, doing it with Steve Nash playing arguably better than he did during last season's MVP campaign and with possibly a more unconventional and harder to defend style of play.

So how does reintroducing a less-than-100-percent Stoudemire help a team that seemed to be rolling into the playoffs?

It might not.

Even Nash sounds like he prefers this season's style of play to last season's, which involved mostly pick-and-roll plays with Nash and Stoudemire.

"I think we move the ball a little bit better this year," Nash said. "We get more open looks. We're a little more clinical offensively.

"Last year, it was a lot more about talent and overpowering people, and that was opening threes for people.

"This year, we're a little more clever and unselfish."

Stoudemire, who underwent knee surgery in October, won't command the ball as much as he did last season because he won't be at full strength.

But should the big man feel close to normal by, say, the second round of the playoffs and want to get more involved, it could throw off the team's chemistry just enough to have the Suns ousted before the conference finals.

Remember how Chris Webber's return to the Kings' lineup late in the 2003-04 season threw off that team? Or how Alonzo Mourning's return in the final weeks of the 2000-01 Heat season contributed to a first-round sweep at the hands of the Hornets?

The player who could be most negatively affected by Stoudemire's return is the one who makes the Suns entirely unique. Boris Diaw, the versatile frontcourt player who plays like a guard, will likely see fewer touches and shorter minutes as Stoudemire's return is expected to force Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni to go with more traditional lineups.

If anybody can figure out how to remain unconventional, though, it's D'Antoni.

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