Tomorrow is one of the biggest games left on Boston's regular season schedule. In anticipation of it I am kicking things off a day early by exchanging some questions with TexSun from Bright Side of the Sun. My responses will be up there at some point. But for now let's learn some more about the Phoenix Suns.
Green Bandwagon: Over a month and a half has passed since the Shaq deal was officially announced. How do you feel about it now?
Bright Side of the Sun: It took a while, but at least for the here and now, the Suns look like they're clearly a better team than they were before the trade. They are much less dependent on a single player (Nash) to set up everything. They're finally holding their own on the boards. Scoring has stayed roughly the same. Perhaps most importantly, the fans really love Shaq, and it seems the players do too. Overall, I think most people would agree at this point that the Suns are closer to being legit championship contenders than they were before. As for me personally, I still can't call myself a "Shaq fan", and there was something about the small ball Suns that appealed to me in a way this "big and bad" version never will. But that's my problem. Shaq's done everything he said he would and then some so far. Any complaints I have at this point are irrational and unjustified. (But let's see where we stand a year from now).
Green Bandwagon: If you do a Google search for "Radja Bell" three of the top four results are unflattering. This tells me that a) a lot of people don't like Bell and b) many of those people don't know how to spell his first name (Raja). How important is Bell to what Phoenix does?
Bright Side of the Sun: People who don't like Raja Bell are not Suns fans. He is huge for this team. When he's not being a nuisance to the Kobe Bryants and Tracy McGradys of the league, he's daggering home three-pointers. The Suns are 10-0 this season when Raja scores 20 or more (hat tip Arizona Republic).
Green Bandwagon: Who do you want the Suns to play in the first round of the playoffs?
Bright Side of the Sun: From a purely "it would be sooo satisfying to beat those guys" perspective, I would say the Spurs. But we can save them for a later round. The West is so tough this year, that I'm not sure you'd want to play anybody in the first round, but since having a bye is not an option, I'm going to stick with the Yao-less Rockets as my pick. I like having the Suns' best defender match up naturally with their best scorer (Raja Bell vs. Tracy McGrady). I like that, despite his recent run in the 22-game streak, Rafer Alston is no Steve Nash. I like Amare and Shaq against Mutombo and Scola. I like Grant Hill vs. Battier. Really, all the matchups in the starting lineups seem to work in the Suns' favor. The Mavericks are another popular pick, and Dirk's recent injury would probably change my mind if picking them just for that reason didn't make me feel so icky.
Green Bandwagon: Who is the most underrated player on Phoenix's roster?
Bright Side of the Sun: Amare Stoudemire would say it's Amare Stoudemire. I say it's Grant Hill. He's the single most important reason why the Suns are not missing Shawn Marion as much as some of us thought they would.