The Phoenix Suns have been knocking on the door of the NBA Finals the past two seasons.
The Suns, to borrow a phrase from the colorful playbook of former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, want to kick the door down. That's why Phoenix acquired forward Xavier McDaniel from Seattle earlier this season."He's just a natural intimidator," Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said. "He basically stands by what he does. A lot of guys talk a good game, but X isn't going to back off from anybody."
The Suns have scorched teams with their offense the last two seasons. The Kevin Johnson-Tom Chambers breakdance has been difficult to stop.
The problem was that the Suns rarely stopped anyone else. Their rebounding wasn't good enough. Their defense wasn't tough enough.
Enter McDaniel. His presence has made the Phoenix offense even more effective because a defender can't drop off him to double-team Chambers. McDaniel is the low-post option the team has lacked in its halfcourt game.
But above all, McDaniel has added some rebounding and muscle to a team that relied on finesse.
"We got him to bring some toughness to our team," Fitzsimmons said. "He just brings another dimension."
McDaniel had developed into the focal point of the SuperSonics' offense. That's not the case in Phoenix. Johnson and Chambers are the main men. McDaniel and guard Jeff Hornacek - or Hornacek and McDaniel, depending on the opponent - are next.
"I knew coming here I wasn't going to be the first option," McDaniel said. "That doesn't matter to me as long as we win.
"I don't mind taking less shots and winning. When you score a lot of points and lose, you go home sore. I notice here I'm not as sore as I was in Seattle."
McDaniel has averaged 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds since joining the Suns in early December. McDaniel's true value, however, will be determined in the playoffs.
"I think he'll mean a great deal, more so in the playoffs than he has so far," Fitzsimmons said. "I want to have him ready and rested. That's why I'm watching his minutes.
"Once you get into the playoffs, you need the Maurice Lucas-type player, the big guys who can do those type of things."
Portland is the perfect example. The Trail Blazers were unable to get over the playoff hump until they acquired Buck Williams last season. He proved to be the heart and rebounding soul behind Portland's drive to the NBA Finals.
The Suns hope McDaniel can have the same impact.
"That's what they were looking for me to do, to play a physical kind of game," McDaniel said. "That's the way I play anyhow."
The Suns sent Eddie Johnson to Seattle for McDaniel. Johnson won't be missed. His absence gives Dan Majerle, a better all-around player, more minutes.
Besides, Johnson did the Suns more harm than good the past two seasons in the playoffs as his jump shot took a vacation.
"We've gotten better every year, and this is our year to take a run at the whole thing," Fitzsimmons said.
The Suns are banking on McDaniel to help lead the charge to The Finals.
"This team could probably go without me," McDaniel said. "It's very talented.
"I think I'm just another ingredient."