The Sun is Setting on the Phoenix Suns

Deep in the heart of the desert, as the sun slowly sets in the distance, it appears that the Phoenix Suns' hope of a championship are disappearing.

After going through their share of struggles this season, the Suns are poised to miss the postseason. Even if the Suns manage to squeak out a birth in the postseason, it is unlikely the will pose a challenge to the powerhouse teams in the West. For a team that has been expected to compete for a championship the last couple of years, the decline of the Phoenix Suns has been shocking.

Since becoming an expansion team in 1968, the Phoenix Suns have found success in the league. Posting 17 50-win seasons, the Suns have shown they know what it takes to win, at least in the regular season. They have made eight trips to the Western Conference Finals and in 1976 and 1993, they made it to the NBA Finals. Of course, for all of the success Phoenix has had, there is a stat that stills haunts their franchise: they have never won an NBA championship.

After the "[Charles] Barkley era" ended, the Suns struggled to find success in the late '90s and early '00s. In 2004, the Suns found success once again and started building a dominant franchise. Management signed unrestricted free agent Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks. Nash was sensational that season. He averaged 11.5 assists and was named the MVP of the league. Combined with high-flying Amare Stoudemire and sharp-shooter Joe Johnson, the Suns claimed the first seed in the West, and rolled all the way to the Western Conference Final. The Suns were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs, ending their amazing season.

Ever since that season, the Suns have continued to be one of the most competitive teams in the NBA. Phoenix developed one of the premier "run-and-gun" offenses in the game. Two-time MVP Steve Nash, the conductor of the offense, has effectively run an offense that has had the Suns competing with the best teams in the league.

Over the years with Nash and other players such Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, and Grant Hill, the Suns have maintained their high-octane offense. Just look at the stats. In the '04-'05 season, the Suns averaged 110.7 points a season, tops in the league. The next season, they averaged 108.1 points a game, also tops in the league. In 2007-2008, the Suns averaged 109 points a game, two off the league lead. Even this season, when the Suns are slightly struggling, they are still leading the league with 109 points a game.

So why have the Suns failed to reach the promised land? The Suns, in all of their offense glamor, have consistently failed to develop a crucial part of the game: defense. For every highlight-reel basket, every three-pointer, or slam-dunk made, the Suns have made a horrible play on defense. The Suns' offensive stats paint a pretty picture, but unfortunately the defensive stats do just the opposite. In 2004-2005, opponents scored 104 points a game against the Suns. The next year, opponents averaged 103. In 2006-2007, opponents averaged 103 points again and the next year, a whooping 105.

And how are the Suns doing this year? They are allowing 106 points a game. Is it any wonder they may miss the playoffs? Then Suns have always had a high-flying offense and they've been known to take risks on the defensive side. However, the Suns have failed to find a middle ground between their "run-and-gun" offense and playing smart defensive ball. Defense wins championships, and Phoenix's lack of defense has definitely hurt them.

Every superhero has its weakness. While Phoenix has been a superpower during the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs have been their kryptonite in the playoffs.

The Spurs have been a nightmare matchup for the Suns. They have have had little trouble dispatching the run-and-gun offense of the Suns. Though the Spurs have dominated the Suns in the regular season, they have provided a major roadblock in the postseason. In all three of their postseason meetings since the run-and-gun era began, the Spurs have won all three. In the 2005 playoffs, the Suns cruised all the way to the conference finals, before falling 4-1 to the Spurs. The Sun maintained their solid offensive play, but suffered on the defense end. They never held the Spurs under a 100 points. Two years later, the Suns fell to the Spurs again in the semifinals. Their defense was a little better, but they still couldn't find a way to win. Finally, in 2008, the Suns fell to the Spurs in the first round.

Throughout all of these series, the Suns have struggled with the big three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and TIm Duncan. Duncan has been able to control Stoudemire, while Parker and Ginobili have victimized the Suns' defense. Needless to say, the Spurs are not the Suns' most desirable match. The Spurs are in large part the reason Phoenix has failed to win a championship, even with such a talented roster.

The Suns may not win a championship this year, yet the future isn't hopeless. The team has started to better develop their younger players and still have experienced veteran players. Young players such as Alando Tucker, Louis Amundson, and Goran Dragic, mixed in with star players such as Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, and Shaquille O'Neal, should give the Suns a chance to be competitive again.

Yet, if you ask any Suns fans, they will tell you that the Phoenix Suns have missed a glorious opportunity to win the team's first NBA championship. Through years of missed opportunities, largely thanks to their defense and the San Antonio Spurs, the Suns have extended their championship drought.

A drought that may continue in the desert for years to come.

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