Phoenix just better than Dallas
I know even before I write this article that I will be accused as being a homer. I can just imagine the type of e-mails I will get from Mavericks fans about my honesty because I happen to broadcast for the Suns – in my estimation, the best team in the NBA and the most exciting squad I have ever seen. Phoenix is indeed the best team in the league, although the Mavericks have beaten them twice this year. I will go on the record and say the Suns will beat them handily when they meet in the Conference Finals in May and here is why... But again, before I start Maverick fan, hear me out!
I have never been accused of being a great defender, but yet I carved out a 17-year career. I heard a story Larry Bird once told at a camp about the importance of great offense. He said, "Take a look at that gentleman standing underneath the basket on the other end of the floor. He was one of the best defenders I have ever seen play basketball. But guess what? He never played a minute in the NBA. Now let’s talk about shooting and scoring the basketball."
My message to all these gurus of how to win a championship: You need to settle down and stop looking at what the Pistons of the 80s and what the great Bulls did on the defensive end and take notice of what they did on the offensive end of the court.
Offense creates good defense, not the other way around. Detroit and Chicago controlled the tempo with the way they balanced the floor offensively. They always knew where the shot was coming from and because of that, they had a balanced floor. So when they retreated defensively, they were not vulnerable to a fast break or high-percentage shots.
The great Lakers and Celtics championship teams led by Bird and Magic Johnson were exactly the same. But they were uptempo like the Phoenix Suns are today. They ran with a purpose and had assignments based on the position they were in on a fast break – which enabled them to keep a balanced floor.
So when I hear that the Suns can’t win with their style of play, I say go ask Larry Bird and Magic Johnson if that is true. I say that because they know the secret to fast-break success.
Here it is!
You must first have a point guard who is a born leader and a threat to score 20-plus points and add 8 to 12 assists every night. But most importantly, you must have a frontcourt player with similar skills. This allows continuation and flow of the break – especially when the fast break moves to the secondary stage. You see most breaks fizzle out after the first thrust, but those Lakers and Celtics teams hit you hard on the secondary movement of the break.
That’s the secret to the success of the break and that is why teams might want to play like the Suns, but they can’t because selfishness creeps into their game – thus surprising teammates and creating an unbalanced floor for defensive breakdowns on the other end.
One important note is that the point guard does not have to be a speed demon. Dennis Johnson is my first example.
Johnson played point guard for the Celtics and most players could outrun him not going at full speed. But he and Bird gave Boston two passers that kept things in motion and made their break extremely dangerous. With Bird normally handling the ball in the frontcourt during the secondary break, the ball always found the right hands with a balanced floor – thus the good defense on the other end.
Here’s another example...
The Lakers had Magic. He had good, but not blazing speed. Then they had James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. L.A. happened to be blessed with the best passer ever and two more excellent passers in Worthy and Kareem. The scouting report for most teams before the game against the Lakers was retreat and retreat fast thus ignoring any offensive rebound attempts – which was basketball suicide because the Lakers normally led the league in field-goal percentage. That meant teams had no chance to win if they attempted less field goals against them.
That’s why the Kings were so good with Mike Bibby, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac. But the triangle offense and the inside-outside dominance of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant was too much for them to overcome.
But here is the difference... There are no inside-outside dominant combinations in the Western Conference. Definitely not in Dallas. That's the reason why the Suns are the best team in the league and will beat the Dallas Mavericks in May.
The Suns have the blueprint for fast-break success to a championship. Steve Nash's and Boris Diaw's excellent passing abilities have given the Suns what the great fast-breaking Lakers and Celtics teams had in the past.
Yes, Dallas beat the Suns in the Conference Finals last year and are up 2-0 so far this season, but when you dig deeper you will find out why the Suns will prevail in the end.
Dallas' success over the last few years has come against a Suns team affected by injuries. In the back of their minds, they know they wouldn't have beaten the Suns at full strength.
Amare Stoudemire did not play last year and was rounding into shape the first two encounters this season. Kurt Thomas was coming back from a foot injury and Raja Bell pulled a calf muscle and struggled after Game 2 of the series. Yet the Suns took the Mavericks to Game 6. I don't think the Mavericks would have won a game had they lost Josh Howard or Jason Terry.
The Mavericks have no answer for Amare Stoudemire. They have to stay big because Dirk Nowitzki cannot and will not guard him fearing foul trouble. So the Mavericks lose the extra scorer they need on the floor because they have to play Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop.
The Suns have the bodies – Diaw, Shawn Marion and James Jones – to wear Dirk down over a seven-game series, especially with Amare and Kurt Thomas in the paint to negate him from posting up freely and rolling to the basket.
The Mavericks will be the tired team because they depend on three players – Nowitzki, Howard and Terry – to put up big numbers, while the Suns have seven players on their roster that can score 25 points any given night and their scoring comes off the catch-and-shoot instead of the bumping and grinding Dirk and Howard go through every night.
Finally, the Steve Nash factor. Dallas has no answer to negate him. If they double off the screen-and-roll, the Suns will get open three-point attempts. If they switch, then Amare gets 40 points. Finally, if they go under the screen-and-roll, Nash scores 30-plus points.
Everybody, including Charles Barkley, says the Mavericks are a great defensive team and that’s why the Suns can’t beat them. Well, let’s look at the numbers.
- The Mavericks allow 92 points a game and score 99; 7 point differential. The Suns allow 102 points per game and score 111; 9 point differential.
- The Suns and Mavericks both hold the opposition to 45 percent from the field.
- The Mavericks average 42 rebounds per game. The Suns average 41 rebounds per game.
- The Mavericks allow opponents six less rebounds, but the Suns have taken over 300 more three-point shots – giving opponents more attempts at rebounds.
- The Mavericks and Suns both average 5 blocks and 6.5 steals per game.
- The Suns force one more turnover a game than the Mavericks.
- Here is the scariest stat of all for you defensive gurus... When the Suns play in a game when both teams are below 100, they are 5-1. That loss came against Dallas on a buzzer beater by Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs, on the other hand, are 5-6 when teams score over 100 points against them.
Both teams are truly the class of the NBA and Avery Johnson and Mike D’Antoni should be truly admired for what they have accomplished so far. It is truly remarkable how two teams can be this focused especially after subpar starts to the season. The Suns could be going for their 33rd win in a row if the snow doesn't hold them up in Denver before losing to the Wizards and without that last-second shot by Nowitzki a few days later. Dallas is just plain ridiculous as well. They are 34-4 since starting the season with four straight losses.
But the Suns get the edge.
Eddie Johnson is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this column. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com