There is no question that the Phoenix Suns have been one of the best teams in the NBA the past three seasons, averaging 59 wins including 61 victories last year.
Yet there is still some question as to whether the Suns' run-and-gun style under coach Mike D'Antoni can translate to major playoff success. Detractors point to the fact that the Suns haven't made it to the NBA Finals despite their three consecutive Pacific Division crowns.
To be fair, it should be pointed out that the Suns gave the '07-champion Spurs a tougher playoff series than any other team last spring, losing 4-2 in the second round. And if it weren't for controversial suspensions in that Spurs series, they might have had a breakthrough playoff campaign.
In any event, the Suns are again the class of the division. Golden State came on strong at the end of the year, made a nice playoff run and should be better. Meanwhile, both Los Angeles teams are filled with question marks. Sacramento has a new coach, but that probably won't be enough to get them back into playoff contention.
1. PHOENIX SUNS
2006-07 RECORD: 61-21
DIVISION FINISH: first, lost to San Antonio 4-2 in second round of playoffs
COACH: Mike D'Antoni, fifth season with Suns
TOP ROOKIES: F Alando Tucker, G D.J. Strawberry
KEY ADDITIONS: F Grant Hill, F Brian Skinner
KEY LOSSES: F Kurt Thomas
STRENGTHS: PG Steve Nash makes everyone around him better. He averaged a league-best 11.6 assists last season. F Shawn Marion and C Amare Stoudemire are All-Stars. Hill, a former star, will be a nice complimentary player, while G Raja Bell is a defensive stopper and 3-point specialist.
CONCERNS: Marion, the team's highest-paid player, is unhappy and has asked to be traded. There are still concerns that they aren't tough enough to win grind-it-out, half-court playoff series.
2. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2006-07 RECORD: 42-40
DIVISION FINISH: tied for second, lost to Utah 4-1 in the second round of the playoffs
COACH: Don Nelson, second season of second stint with Warriors
TOP ROOKIE: G Marco Belinelli
KEY ADDITIONS: F Brandan Wright, G Troy Hudson
KEY LOSSES: G Jason Richardson, C Adonal Foyle
STRENGTHS: PG Baron Davis (20.1 ppg, 8.1 apg, 4.4 rpg) is a fine all-around player who is the undisputed leader. G Monta Ellis and forwards Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington all averaged better than 16 points per game last season. Run-and-gun style of play is fun to watch and difficult to defend.
CONCERNS: Wariors lack size and, as witnessed by their series with the Jazz, get dominated inside and on the glass. C Andris Biedrins is the team's only real big man that gets major minutes and even he can get pushed around.
3. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
2006-07 RECORD: 42-40
DIVISION FINISH: tied for second, lost to Phoenix 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs
COACH: Phil Jackson, third season of second stint with Lakers
TOP ROOKIE: G Javaris Crittenton
KEY ADDITION: G Derek Fisher
KEY LOSSES: G Smush Parker
STRENGTHS: G Kobe Bryant (31.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg) is arguably the best all-around player in the NBA. He is certainly the league's top one-on-one scoring threat. Fisher gives the team additional veteran leadership, while Jackson has coached nine NBA championship teams. F Lamar Odom (15.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) came a hair away from averaging a double-double last season.
CONCERNS: Bryant wants out. The star has asked for a trade and it has become a distraction for the team. Could they possibly get enough value for Kobe to make a trade worth it? If Kobe isn't traded, can he lead a franchise that he says he doesn't want to be apart of?
4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
2006-07 RECORD: 40-42
DIVISION FINISH: fourth, missed playoffs
COACH: Mike Dunleavy
TOP ROOKIE: F Al Thornton
KEY ADDITIONS: F Ruben Patterson, G Brevin Knight, F Josh Powell
KEY LOSSES: None
STRENGTHS: If healthy, this roster of players could be the second best in the division. Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley and Corey Maggette are veterans who give the Clippers a strong backcourt. Rookie Al Thornton has shown promise and will see immediate minutes due to the injury to star F Elton Brand.
CONCERNS: Brand and young PG Shaun Livingston are injured and aren't expected to return until midseason, at best. Cassell has started to show his age, while Maggette and Dunleavy just can't seem to get along.
5. SACRAMENTO KINGS
2006-07 RECORD: 33-49
DIVISION FINISH: last, missed playoffs
COACH: Reggie Theus, first season
TOP ROOKIES: C Spencer Hawes
KEY ADDITIONS: F Mikki Moore
KEY LOSSES: F Corliss Williamson
STRENGTHS: The Kings have a strong backcourt with Mike Bibby (17.1 ppg, 4.7 apg) and Kevin Martin (20.2 ppg). F Ron Artest (18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 spg) can be a problem child but he's been a decent citizen in Sacramento and is strong both offensively and defensively.CONCERNS: Bibby and C Brad Miller are coming off of down seasons. The players ran off Eric Musselman in one season and it may be difficult for Theus, formerly the New Mexico State coach, to get control of the asylum.
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