DAN BICKLEY

Suns stand atop NBA summit waiting to plant championship flag

Apr 11, 2022, 3:05 PM | Updated: 4:33 pm

History hasn’t been kind. Our four major professional sports franchises have competed for just five championships over 138 combined seasons in Arizona. Only one of them cashed the ticket.

The 2021-22 Suns represent more than a fleeting chance at glory.

They are our redemption.

They ended the regular season with 64 wins, eight better than their nearest NBA competitor. Even the 73-win Warriors didn’t enjoy that level of separation. In 2015-2016, the Warriors were only six games better than the Spurs.

With the playoffs beginning this week, the Suns are also heavy favorites to win that long-awaited championship. This is a new mindset for a region that once carried bulky inferiority and persecution complexes. This is an entirely new vibe.

We are not trying to climb a mountain. We are the team standing at the summit, defending it from all takers, waiting to plant a flag when it’s all over.

Charles Barkley’s Suns were great and all, but they were looking up at Michael Jordan. Steve Nash’s crew sparked a revolution, but they were also chasing a dynasty in San Antonio. Before making an improbable run to the Super Bowl, the Cardinals were 9-7 with a 40-point loss on the resume. And while the 2001 Diamondbacks won the World Series, staging a miraculous rally against the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, their 92 regular-season victories only ranked fourth among division winners.

We’ve never been the heavy favorite. Not like we are now.

Expectations are massive. Anything less than an NBA championship would invalidate a team that recently set a franchise record for regular-season victories. That brings a new level of pressure.

But these Suns seem impervious to psychological barriers. They carry no fear of failure. The center position has been shored up with the additions of JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo. Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges have improved markedly from last season, and both are in contention for major individual awards. Cam Johnson was enjoying a breakout season before suffering a leg injury. Team chemistry is even better than it was in Chris Paul’s debut season. From head coach to backup point guard, they will strongly benefit from their extensive postseason experience gained in last year’s trip to the NBA Finals. And if Deandre Ayton plays with real force and urgency in the postseason, the Suns will make mincemeat of those who dare block their path.

The entire tournament might be more of a coronation than a competition.

Don’t fret or accuse me of casting an untimely jinx. Some teams are simply too good to be stalled out by curses, stern commissioners, bad luck and glowing predictions.

Besides, we’re due. It’s our time. And after all the Horry and all the gory, after all the misfortune marking our postseason history, wouldn’t it be nice to have a drama-free playoff for once?

Truth is, the NBA needs Phoenix to win a title as badly as the rest of us. The Suns are old-school in their collective mentality. They compete relentlessly. They treat every regular-season game with respect. They prefer a basketball court over the training room. They are good for the game.

Sadly, not every NBA outfit can say the same. When Commissioner Adam Silver recently said that too many of his star players aren’t fully committed to the rigors of regular season basketball, he wasn’t talking about the Suns.

The Suns are not the problem. They are the solution. They are a team most worthy of a parade. The biggest one we’ve ever seen.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Suns stand atop NBA summit waiting to plant championship flag