The Suns are rising as the Playoffs Near

At the end of last season the Phoenix Suns finished with a dismal 29-53 record. With their 128-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets, the Suns won a franchise-tying 62nd victory and clinched home-court advantaged throughout the playoffs.

The Suns rise to the top is due in large part to acquiring a point guard in the off-season, who is in the running for Most Valuable Player, a shooting guard who has added depth to the perimeter and the emergence of two All-Star forwards.

Despite the fact he wanted to remain with the Dallas Mavericks, the Phoenix Suns and General Manager Jerry Colangelo came with an offer that Nash could not refuse. The British Columbian native signed a five-year, $65 million deal.

“The Suns wanted way more than Dallas did,” Nash told in an interview aired on TNT with NBA analyst, Charles Barkley on NBA All-Star One on One. “Phoenix not only with their financial offer, but just their presentation, everyone came, everyone really wanted me. Everyone made me feel like I was needed where as in Dallas, I was kind of like an after thought.”

In his second stint with Phoenix, Nash is averaging 11.5 assists per game, the first point guard to average double-digit assists since Jason Kidd in the 1999-2000 campaign. Nash is also scoring 15.5 ppg, shooting 50 percent from the field, 88 percent from the free-throw line, 43 percent from three-point range. His 49 double-doubles are third in the NBA behind teammate Shawn Marion’s 53 and Minnesota Timberwolves’ forward Kevin Garnett at 68.

From day one, head coach Mike D’Antoni has had a great deal of confidence in Nash.

“From day one, he let me do whatever I wanted and that’s hard,” Nash said. “I think he knew I was a good player, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know what to expect. But for a guy to come into a new situation, you think there still be a period of trying to gain each other’s trust and confidence and understand what one another want.”

How important has Nash been in his second stint with the Suns? In the six games he has not played in, the Suns lost four of those six games.

Because of Nash’s leadership and play, the Suns have become one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. According to an article in the March edition of ESPN Magazine, Suns are No. 1 in the league in scoring at 110.6 ppg, and shots made per game at 41.1.

The Suns are also a team that along with Nash, consist of a starting five of center Amare Stoudemire (25.8 ppg), forwards Shawn Marion (19.7 ppg), forward Quentin Richardson (14.9 ppg) and guard Joe Johnson (16.9 ppg) who all average over 15 points per game.

Signing as a free-agent on July 14, 2004, Richardson and Johnson are two of the main reasons why the Suns shoot an NBA best 38.5 from three-point range. Richardson this season has made 218 three-point field goals, 49 shy of the NBA all-time record for a season, held by Dennis Scott back in the 1996-97 campaign with the Orlando Magic.

The Suns as a team, according to Suns.com, have made 784 three-point field goals this season, a new NBA single season record previously held by the Dallas Mavericks in 1995-96 who made 735 three-pointers.

Along with his 14.9 ppg, “Q” as he is referred to by his teammates is third on the team in rebounding behind Marion (11.4 rpg) and Stoudemire (8.9 rpg) 6.1 boards per contest.

Richardson gives a team full of soft spoken guys a dynamic personality. This is most prevalent when he thumps his head after making a shot from the field.

“We have a really quiet team” Nash told the East Valley Tribune. “He’s a presence for us.”

Another astounding player who has really for the Suns has been Stoudemire. After playing in the 2004 Olympic Games last summer for the “Dream Team,” the two forwards have shown no signs of fatigue this season.

Despite missing 27 games a year ago with a severe ankle sprain, Stoudemire, the 2003 rookie of the year out of Cypress Creek High School rose his scoring and rebounding averages from 13.5 ppg and 8.8 in his rookie season to 20.6 ppg and nine rebounds per night. This year, Stoudemire is averaging 25.8 ppg, (5th best in NBA), 8.9 rpg while shooting 56 percent from the floor (2nd in NBA).

On Jan. 2 versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Stoudemire scored a career-high 50 points, while grabbing 11 boards. He became, according to NBA.com the fourth Sun to score 50 points in a game and the first since current Atlanta Hawk Tony Delk scored 53 points at Sacramento Kings on the same day four years ago. At 22 years and 47 days old, Stoudemire became the sixth youngest player to score 50 points in an NBA contest.

Because of their stellar seasons, Marion, Stoudemire and Nash became the first Suns trio to make the All-Star team since Walter Davis, Truck Robinson and Dennis Johnson in 1981.

With all of their success, there is still skepticism about the Suns chances of making it to the Finals, like the 1992-93 team that lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games. They do not rebound well, ranking 28th in rebounding differential, they give up an NBA-worst 103 ppg and lack of depth coming off the bench.

If the Suns are going to make a playoff run, they need the likes of Jim Jackson, who was acquired in January from the New Orleans Hornets, back-up point guard Leandro Barbosa and center Steven Hunter to give them solid bench production. More importantly, they must be able to defend and no one understands that better than Nash.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten it into our heads how important [defense] is,” said Nash. “I’m waiting for the point to make sure that if we don’t learn this as we go, to stress that myself because I been through that in Dallas.”