Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Suns looking to return to the Western Conference elite

By Max Mandel,

When the Portland Trail Blazers host Phoenix tonight at the Memorial Coliseum, they will see a team that is trying to regain the swagger and confidence that made it one of the elite teams in the Western Conference. With Steve Nash running the point, the Suns continue to have arguably the best point guard in the league. However, in order for this team to return to the playoffs the supporting cast must be healthy and find the consistency that was missing last year.

Having been a key piece in the memorable playoff run with the Golden State Warriors during the 2006/2007 season, Jason Richardson certainly knows something about being part of an explosive offense. Now that he has had the chance to get comfortable with his Suns teammates, Richardson thinks this team is close to replicating the great offensive teams that fans became accustomed to in Phoenix.

“ I think we are real close. We just got to get adjusted to things that we normally do as far as running and being organized,” Richardson said. “ That’s why the preseason is important for us.”

In Golden State, Richardson played some of the best basketball of his career playing alongside Baron Davis. It’s pretty clear that Richardson thinks he can return to that form playing with Nash.

“ It’s very similar. Both of them are great point guards. They both understand the game and how to get guys the ball, and they can score. It’s definitely reminiscent of the days back in Golden State, where we were up and down the court and running, and that will make the game a lot easier for myself.”

For the first time in a couple of seasons, it seems that the Suns are finally healthy entering the season (Robin Lopez injury not withstanding). With the team healthy, Richardson has high expectations entering the season.

“ We have high expectations for ourselves. There aren’t too many people in the NBA world talking about us because other teams made major changes and we didn’t. I think our major change is getting back to the style of play that made everybody successful. Getting back to running makes Steve successful, myself successful, and Grant successful. Also, having Amar’e come back from the eye surgery, I’m definitely excited about that. We have some high expectations for ourselves, and we are going to go out there and try to accomplish them.”

Perhaps the most important piece to the success of the Suns this season is Amar’e Stoudemire. Having been a key part of some of the most dominant Suns teams in recent memory, Stoudemire has a good perspective on what it will take to return to that form. If preseason and training camp are any indication, Stoudemire thinks this team is capable of bringing that success back to Phoenix.

“ I think we are close. It’s just a matter of still incorporating it,” Stoudemire said. “ A lot of these guys haven’t been a part of this type of offense, so it’s just a matter of getting them use to playing that way. I think as we keep working and practicing, and with games also, it will allow us to really incorporate our strategies offensively, and also defensively.”

In order for the Suns and Stoudemire to find that comfort on the offensive end, it’s imperative that he stays healthy for the full season. Although it’s early, Stoudemire insists this is the best he has felt in years.

“ I feel great. I definitely feel closer to being back to that form. I’m right there. With the eye procedure, I’m 100%. I’m getting my legs back into better shape, so I’m almost there. We can never limit ourselves short of anything. If we just keep our motives in line and take care of what we should take care of and play hard out there, then we got a chance.”

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