Phoenix’s Keys To Capturing the Western Conference Title

Say hello to the enemy, Lakers fans. The Suns are much better than you had expected. But that doesn’t mean Phoenix will take the series.

The Suns roll into Staples Center tonight for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. It's the third straight conference finals appearance for the Lakers, and the first for the Suns since they lost to Dallas in '06. The Suns are the oldest franchise without an an NBA championship, while the Lakers, of course, are the defending title holders. It’s only fitting that the two should meet. And though the two teams play in the same division, I believe few Laker fans really know what this year's Suns are all about. Heck, I don’t think the Suns knew either until their second round series victory over San Antonio. But that sweep, along with Steve Nash’s valiant one-eyed pirate imitation in the series clincher, finally put Phoenix in the championship conversation. The Suns are for real.   They are offensive opportunists. They have to be. Two of their starting five should be in the NBA’s retirement home, sipping tea and playing Wii with Clyde Drexler. And while they’re not going to beat you with their athletic superiority or aerial acrobatics, the Suns are perhaps the smartest team in the league at exploiting their strengths. They have a legion of slightly-better-than-average players, who have meshed together both on the court and in the locker room.   That's a scary proposition, especially for a Lakers team filled with so many prominent personalities.   The Suns have camaraderie. They get into the seams, they move the ball and hit their threes. They enjoy being together, and have bonded as dorks of the highest caliber. They're unabashed internet geeks, who film C-grade Avatar knock-offs while traveling between games. (This shouldn’t benefit them, but for some reason, it does.) Like dogs let out from the shelter, many of the Suns are transplants from other, more promisi...

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