Roundtable: Our gut feelings on the Suns after they dropped Nuggets in 4
A sweep of the Denver Nuggets is complete. Now the Phoenix Suns have time to rest as their potential Western Conference Finals opponents, the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, battle their series out.
We’ll have time to preview a matchup between the Suns and their next opponent, but let’s reassess what the they’ve done to get here and what lies ahead.
Arizona Sports hosts and editors were asked this question after Phoenix dropped Denver 125-118 on Sunday to take the conference semifinals series:
What is your gut feeling about where Phoenix as a team stands, and its chances in the next round and beyond?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: The Suns have proven themselves to be a great team. They have steamrolled their opponents and are 7-0 in their last 7 playoff games. They are headed to the Western Conference Finals.
They knocked off the defending champions and LeBron James. They swept the Denver Nuggets and turned the NBA’s MVP into a speed bump.
They have a young superstar that has scored 30 or more points in five postseason games. And in two closeout games, Devin Booker has averaged 40.5 points.
They have an MVP candidate and point guard legend that brings the tangible and the intangibles. The tangible in Game 4 was 37 points on the floor. The intangibles are seven wins in their last seven postseason games. Chris Paul is a clutch player that brings confidence to his teammates. He’s a player that makes talent around him play defense and care about playing defense.
They have a young gun in Deandre Ayton who is growing into something wicked good in front of our very eyes.
They have a coach in Monty Williams that has created one of the best cultures in the league, a coach that talks about gratitude, showing up on time, sharing the ball, working hard and playing defense.
The Suns check the boxes. If they lose in the conference finals, the narrative surrounding this team going into next season will include an expectation of competing for a championship. A team doesn’t have to win a championship to be a great team, playing great makes a team great. Yet people are hesitant to say what is obvious: the Suns are a great team.
They have everything it takes to win it all. It doesn’t mean they will, but they’ve certainly proven they are capable. If they stay healthy, I expect them to be in the NBA Finals.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: The most incredible aspect of the Suns’ postseason run is it appears they are becoming a better team as the playoffs continue. The ball movement, the defense, the communication, the attention to detail are all better. We’re not talking about just doing it right a few times. The Suns are on a seven-game winning streak against the defending world champions and the team with the league MVP; six of those seven games were a +13 point differential.
The Suns defense is giving up 100.8 points per game in the postseason. Only Michael Jordan has ever scored more points in the first two close-out games of a single postseason than Booker’s 81 combined in Game 6 against the Lakers and Game 4 against Denver.
Usually, teams play some good games and not so good games in the postseason. If you have the talent, then it’s up to coaching adjustments and players executing those adjustments. The Phoenix Suns are a better team than they were 10 games ago. I don’t have a prediction about the next round because the Jazz and Clippers are two totally different teams that create different match-up problems for Phoenix. The thing that amazes me is that no matter who they play in either of the next two rounds, if they keep improving, they’ll be the best team on the floor.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: The Suns will get plenty of rest but will face a much better opponent — and a much healthier opponent — than the Lakers or Nuggets, no matter who they play in the next round. The Lakers had a hobbled Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Nuggets were missing Jamal Murray and were limited early in the series with what they could do with Will Barton.
The Jazz do have an issue with point guard Mike Conley nursing a hamstring injury but did get Donovan Mitchell back in the first round, and he is now humming on all cylinders. The Clippers are healthy outside of losing Serge Ibaka for the rest of the season.
So the next round will be the toughest, by far. The Suns get the time to rest and gameplan that the Jazz and the Clippers do not. That could be an advantage. And the Suns are peaking, playing their best basketball of the season when it matters the most. Some may not want the layoff as it could lead to some rust in Game 1. But the biggest advantage a team can have rest-wise in the final few months of the season is the rest between a playoff round, not sitting a player for a game at the end of the season.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: My gut feeling is the Suns have their best chance of winning a title since the Robert Horry hip-check season. I suspect we’ll read a lot of stories and hear from many talking heads around the country who will now say the Suns are the new favorite to win the title. The two biggest obstacles to that are a healthy Nets team and a much tougher opponent in the Western Conference Finals.
Let’s start with the last one first, and let’s do it with a little bit of honesty here. The Suns have definitely caught a break by getting the Lakers without AD and the Nuggets with no Jamal Murray.
To their credit, they did exactly what you’re supposed to do with good fortune like that, but there’s no doubt in my mind the next round will present significantly tougher competition. They’re more than capable of navigating that, but understand they won’t be as invincible as they were in the first two rounds. As for the Nets, can they get healthy?
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski: At the start of the playoffs, I felt like the only team ahead of the Suns was Brooklyn. I think everyone around here had pretty high expectations for this group and, if anything, they’ve exceeded them so far. Now Brooklyn is coming down to earth a little, and the Suns are hitting an entirely new level. It’s one thing to go on a winning streak in the regular season. It’s completely different to rattle off seven in a row (and counting) in the playoffs — especially when you’re winning those games by an average of 16.3 points.
So with all due respect to the Clippers and Jazz, how can you not pick the Suns in the next round? Yes, Donovan Mitchell is a machine. But he’s already playing through ankle pain and that series feels like it’s just getting started. Phoenix gets to rest for a week while LA and Utah beat each other up, and that seems to be especially important this year, with star players around the league getting hurt every other day.
Kawhi Leonard is not someone to be messed with in the postseason, so the Clippers are probably the more difficult matchup for the Suns. And either opponent is going to be tougher than anyone they’ve seen so far. But this Suns team has seemed special for awhile now, and these playoffs have only validated that feeling. Maybe they’ll be a little rusty to start Game 1, but they weren’t exactly rusty in Game 1 against the Lakers after a week off. They’ve lost two games in the last month. I’ll take my chances with this group.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: This Suns team is, at the risk of sounding cliché, special.
For the first time in franchise history, they’ve won seven postseason games in a row. They trailed for a total of 91 seconds in the final three games of the sweep of the Denver Nuggets. Devin Booker has been an assassin in Phoenix’s two closeout games and Chris Paul is back to full maestro form after his Game 4 masterpiece in Denver.
They are buttoned up defensively, they don’t panic on offense. And a week’s worth of rest heading into the conference finals could be a very welcome advantage against the Jazz and Clippers, who looked poised for a long series right now.
Since the playoffs started, I’ve been asked this a lot: “Who would you rather the Suns play?” In the next round, it might not matter — that’s how good Monty Williams’ team is playing right now.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and co-host of Empire of the Suns podcast: Since the Denver series began, I began trying to find an answer to this question: What possibly could upend the Suns’ amazing run? The only sure answer was that Nets squad with three healthy superstars and a problematic matchup of role players who slayed the Suns in the regular season.
It’s too early to get into whether Brooklyn will have three healthy superstars by the NBA Finals, but at this point that’s still all I got. It’s entirely possible the Suns hit a wall after beating two injury-impacted and already flawed teams in the Lakers and Nuggets. It’s entirely possible either the Clippers or Jazz will hit a stride and their own stars will outduel Phoenix’s. But right now, the Suns have a balance on both ends, enough contributions from role players. Furthermore, two head coaches who generally are viewed as good at their jobs in Frank Vogel and Michael Malone haven’t gone more than a game or two of figuring out how to stop Phoenix, which continues to follow the same formula, rotations and trends that defined a strong regular season.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: I truly had a feeling this team could make it deep into the postseason. I didn’t think Phoenix would be this dominant, though. After watching the Suns gain that playoff experience everyone mentioned ahead of the postseason with a 4-2 series victory over the Lakers, Phoenix hit its stride in Round 2 with an impressive sweep of the 2021 MVP and the Nuggets. Talk about a gauntlet.
Personally, I think we are going to have a Suns-Jazz conference finals on our hands. That would mean home court shifts in Utah’s favor, but after going 3-0 against the Jazz this season, the Suns have more than enough confidence if that were the case. The Clippers had the upper-hand on the Suns this season, winning two of their three meetings, but currently face a 2-1 hole in their series against Utah. It’s certainly not going to get any easier, but being that I think Phoenix is the most complete team in the postseason, the Suns have a real shot at going the distance.