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Dan Bickley

Red-hot Phoenix Suns are making the playoffs look easy

DENVER, CO - JUNE 11: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns directs the offense in the first half in Game Three of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Ball Arena on June 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The playoffs are hard. The Suns are making it look easy.

Too easy?

It’s a fair question. It’s a ridiculous question. After a playoff drought that exceeded a decade on Planet Orange, it’s hard to make sense of anything.

The Suns have won six consecutive playoff games. They scored 37 points in the first quarter against a desperate team with home-court advantage. For most of the night, they made the Nuggets crowd sound like a coffeehouse gathering during a poetry recital.

The Suns are running on rocket fuel. A berth in the Western Conference Finals is a foregone conclusion. They can go 9-9 over their next 18 games and win their first NBA championship in 53 years.

They have been liberated by their landmark series victory against the Lakers, where they eliminated LeBron James while trolling LeBron James. They have been fortified by the improved health of point guard Chris Paul, who is piecing together the finest season of his career. They are beginning to resemble the 2003-04 Pistons, a team that won a NBA championship with brotherhood, balance and impenetrable defense.

It’s hard to believe these Suns once seemed near the playoff precipice, losing two of the first three games to the Lakers following a fluke injury to Paul. And yet the latest blowout victory also carries a nagging question:

Can a basketball team lose its edge in a non-competitive series?

In the playoffs, the NBA usually stands for the Nail Biting Association. Not in Phoenix, where the Suns have won seven playoff games by 9, 8, 20, 13, 17, 25 and 14 points. Their average margin of victory is 15.1 points.

The lack of hand-wringing is great for Valley fans who sorely deserve this tailwind of dominant basketball. But iron sharpens iron, and you wonder if the Suns would be better served with some real crunch-time experience.

Again, it sounds absurd for a region starving for these kind of party-hat performances. Teams that consistently win in dominant fashion shouldn’t apologize for lopsided outcomes. But the Nuggets are a drawer full of dull knives at the moment.

Denver head coach Michael Malone took extraordinary steps following the first two games, calling his team soft and accusing them of quitting. The Nuggets are also clearly fatigued from the condensed schedule in 2021, after spending 100 days in the Orlando bubble the previous season.

Nikola Jokic was so frustrated that he earned a technical foul late in the fourth quarter, just as his team was trying to mount a last-gasp comeback, prompting an ESPN announcer to say one of the dumbest things we’ve heard in a while:

“You’re not the MVP if you don’t get a technical on the night you win the trophy.”

Truth is, no one knows what to say at this moment. It looks surreal. It feels too good to be true.

The Nuggets are out of energy. They’re out hope. They’re almost out of time. And it’s been a while since the red-hot Suns have faced real adversity.

Not that anyone’s complaining.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier