PHOENIX (AP) -If Amare Stoudemire could have stayed on the bench when San Antonio's Robert Horry slammed Steve Nash into the scorer's table in last season's conference semifinals, the Phoenix Suns might be the reigning NBA champions.
Then again, ``what if'' scenarios are the story of this franchise since Nash arrived and transformed the Suns into a high-scoring, fast-break phenomenon that energized the NBA but never quite conquered the Western Conference, let alone bring the franchise its first league title.
If Nash hadn't had to leave the court with a cut gushing blood from his nose last season in Game 1 of that series, maybe the Suns would have won. If Joe Johnson didn't smash his face in the 2005 conference finals, if Raja Bell hadn't missed two games of the 2006 conference finals.
If, if, if.
Maybe the addition of a rejuvenated Grant Hill will finally push Phoenix over the top. Hill signed as a free agent for a relatively paltry $1.83 million because he wanted to play for a contender and he liked the Suns' style.
``We'll see how it all works out because you never know,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``We've been pretty good the last couple of years, but I think we're potentially as good or better than ever.''
Although his game is diminished by his many injuries, Hill still can be a prolific scorer and an even better ball handler and passer.
``He's another weapon,'' Shawn Marion said.
So are the other four starters: Nash, Stoudemire, Marion and Bell, and the first two players off the bench: ``Brazilian Blur'' Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw. The only big question is interior defense. Kurt Thomas is gone in a cost-cutting move, so who will guard Tim Duncan?
Sean Marks and Brian Skinner are candidates to fill in up front, but Duncan will require more attention than that.
D'Antoni likes a small rotation of seven or eight. Running, running and running some more is the Suns' game.
``A team's got to play at our pace,'' Nash said.
Nash is in his fourth season with Phoenix, and at 33, he looks as good as ever.
``It will take him a couple of games to really get going,'' D'Antoni said, ``then I expect him to have the same type of year he had the last couple.''
Nash and Stoudemire were first-team All-NBA last season, Marion was third-team, and Bell was a first-team all-defensive team choice. Around this group, after all his struggles, Hill feels he's in paradise.
``This is a machine,'' he said, ``this team and players and what they've done over the last few years. You don't want to come in and mess it up.''
No chance of that. Hill already has meshed well on the court, and he gives the Suns another solid citizen in the locker room. He's even gone 6-for-13 on 3-pointers in the seven preseason games. Hill was 2-of-12 on 3s for Orlando last season.
But there are always concerns about his health. He played in 65 games for the Magic last season, but said he feels great.
``There's nothing I can say to make anyone believe, or to make fans not skeptical,'' he said. ``All I can do is just go out there and try to be consistent, be reliable to my teammates day in and day out, week to week, month to month, and hopefully get through the season healthy.''
Stoudemire, who came off two knee surgeries to play in all 82 regular-season games last season, missed three weeks during the preseason after undergoing microscopic surgery on his right knee. He returned, though, for the last two preseason games and seemed his old dominating self, even if his conditioning needed work.
Stoudemire also believes this is the best of the recent Suns teams.
``With the experience that we had over the past years, and the players that we have, and the understanding of the game now, I think we're definitely a lot better,'' he said. ``We're looking forward to winning the title this year.''
Marion isn't rocking this speed boat, either. Irked that the team isn't interested in extending his contract beyond next season, and weary of being third banana on the team behind Nash and Stoudemire, Marion asked for a trade before training camp began.
New general manager Steve Kerr listened politely, but D'Antoni said there would be no deal unless it made his team better. It's hard to find a scenario that would do that.
And Marion is through talking business.
``I'm playing ball regardless. I'm not even thinking about that anymore,'' he said. ``It's all about basketball.''
Someday, the laws of nature insist Nash will show signs of age. These runs at the title won't go on forever. Just ask Hill, who played on a constant contender at Duke but hasn't come close in his injury-plagued pro career.
``I played 13 seasons in the NBA and we never expected to win a championship on those teams,'' he said. ``So I know these opportunities don't come around often.
``This is a special situation. This is the season.''

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