|Optimistic Suns gear up for title run|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 19 April 2007 15:23|
It's obviously playoff time for a Phoenix team that believes it can win it all.
``We worked hard all season long with a 61-win record,'' Stoudemire said. ``Now it's the real season, so we're definitely ready for it.''
First up are the Los Angeles Lakers in a rematch of last year's tighter-than-expected opening-round series. Los Angeles jumped to a 3-1 lead before the Suns regrouped to win the next three and take the series.
Stoudemire wasn't part of that as he recovered from knee surgery, and he doesn't expect this one to last that long.
``It won't go seven games,'' he said. ``That's just the way I feel.''
For the third time, coach Mike D'Antoni directed the team to a Pacific Division title. The past two were derailed in the Western Conference finals. He feels this squad - with Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas back - is the best equipped of the three to win an NBA championship.
He senses his players understand that, too.
``It's funny,'' D'Antoni said after the team went through a light workout on Thursday. ``Coming into the training room there was just an extra buzz. It's amazing. All the little pettiness, the little worries, all the tiredness is gone. Now it's like 'Yeah, let's play.'''
Leading the way, of course, is Steve Nash, a leading contender for what would be his third straight MVP trophy.
Nash is going through morning and evening workouts in preparation for Sunday's series opener in Phoenix.
``I've done that my whole career,'' he said. ``It's a good time to fine-tune everything and really be in the best position I can be in. I'm not going to be out here running sprints or anything, but I just want to be sharp and give myself the best chance to help my team win as many games as possible.''
These playoffs, with the Suns healthy, should be the best test yet of whether the team's frenetic, fast-paced style can succeed in the postseason, when the game usually turns rough and slows down. Nash thinks that's a non-issue, though.
``I have confidence in the system,'' he said, ``but that's not going to be the determining factor on whether we make it. It's going to be the intensity and how much heart we show.''
D'Antoni said the Suns, who have the No. 2 seed in the West, achieved every regular-season goal except having the best record. ``And that was more Dallas than us,'' he said.
``The other objectives were to get Amare 100 percent healthy by playoffs. That's done,'' the coach said. ``Get Steve 100 percent healthy going into the playoffs. That's done. Having our rotations down so that we know what we're doing. That's done. And I think we feel pretty good about ourselves.''
The Raja Bell vs. Kobe Bryant matchup that was so intense a year ago will not be so personal this time, Bell promised. A year ago, the two exchanged harsh words in print, and Bell was suspended for a game for ``horse-collaring'' Bryant and throwing him to the court.
This year, there was a return to civility.
``I think the best way to put it is it's a done deal,'' Bell said. ``The whole issue I think should be over with.''
The relationship between Bell and Bryant improved in their regular-season games.
``I don't know when I realized it,'' Bell said. ``Probably when we played here at home. We had a decent rapport. That was really the first time I had seen him (since last season's playoffs). It seemed relatively friendly and then it kind of carried over to the game in L.A.''
That doesn't mean Bell will tone down his trademark intensity, he said.
``I can't tell you what will happen,'' Bell said. ``A series is a series, and it shapes up the way it does, but I would like to think I wouldn't make that mistake again.''
The 33-year-old Nash believes this is his best team, but he says that alone won't win a title.
``We've got to continue to sacrifice for one another. That's the main thing,'' he said. ``Everyone is going to be fired up to play, but is everyone going to stay focused and really understand what it takes collectively? The type of commitment to each other it takes to win?
``That's going to definitely be a characteristic of the team that wins it all.''