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Denver Stiffs 2021 Conference Finals Roundtable

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NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns clinched a spot in the Finals last night. Are they your pick to win it all against the winner of the Eastern Conference?

Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): They are my pick to win it all, and I think a Suns vs Hawks series would be great basketball to watch. Both teams have a great #1 option, but they also exercise great depth. I feel at this point it is destiny for Chris Paul to win a championship. During this postseason, he has played marvelous and unstoppable at times. I’ve watched Paul for a long time but I don't think I’ve seen him play better than he did against Denver and last night against Phoenix.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): At this point, the Phoenix Suns appear to have the right mix offensively and defensively among the teams left standing. Led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, they have the perimeter creation necessary to always find a good shot, and they even have Cameron Payne who, if healthy, has been a force in these playoffs. What’s changed for them though is how impactful Deandre Ayton has been as an interior presence on both ends of the floor in over 35 minutes a night this postseason. Add in some timely shooting and versatility on the wings and they seem like the most complete team left. Also, the most healthy team left.

Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I have a lot of Bucks’ fans that are friends, and I think the Bucks are going to make the finals. However, I can’t pick them over the Suns. Phoenix just look like that team that wins it all every year. They’re getting hot at the right time while simultaneously being the healthiest team left. Chris Paul is now a couple of weeks removed from his Covid-19 stint, and, outside of Devin Booker’s broken nose, this team is pretty much at full strength. Throw in the fact that Deandre Ayton is causing issues for every team that likes to play small by managing to stay out there when most bigs are being run back to the bench, and the Suns have the ability to hang with anyone. With the extra few days of rest coming their way, I think the Suns are in a great spot to win their first title.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): If Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t healthy, then the Suns are easily the favorite. They’re the healthiest team in the playoffs, but availability isn’t the reason they’re in the Finals. This is a good, balanced team that has been playing great basketball all season. If Giannis and the Bucks make it, I don’t trust them to be consistent enough to win four games. It looks like the Suns title to lose.

Who’s your pick to win the Eastern Conference with the series tied 2-2?

Knowlton: The Hawks are my pick. Who knows how long Giannis will be out, but even if he plays I still like Atlanta. Offensively, they are deeper and they have great veteran, playoff scorers like Williams and Gallinari. Clint Capela is a massive reason for their success. He brings great rim-protecting, physical defense, and a lob threat. The Hawks have been slept on for too long just like the Suns and I would love to see them both in the Finals.

Blackburn: I’m going with Atlanta. The way Giannis Antetokounmpo went down on Tuesday night was very scary, and while there may be additional details released between me answering this question and when this post is released, it seems most likely that Giannis will be out for awhile. Atlanta proved they have better answers without Trae Young than Milwaukee does without Giannis, and I think that continues for the rest of this series.

Bridgford: I’m going with Milwaukee. Giannis has an unclear timetable on when he returns, but the Bucks are still the team with more top-end talent. That’s usually what wins out in these playoffs. Lou Williams, who has been one of the worst playoff performers of the last decade, shot 7-of-9 on the night. Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were a combined 12-of-34. If those two shoot like that again, yeah, I’m out on the Bucks, but I think they bounce back to close the series out.

Lewis: I’m not going to pick against the Bucks. With Holiday and Middleton, they should be able to get past the Hawks. I don’t think Nate McMillan is that good of a coach to get his ragtag team into the Finals.

Which team are you rooting for to win of the remaining squads?

Knowlton: I’m rooting for the Suns because of Torrey Craig, and I think it bodes well for Denver if they got knocked out by the champions. With that being said, I definitely would not mind if the Hawks won. For years, I have been waiting to watch balanced, team basketball in the Finals and we finally have it this year. As unfortunate as this postseason has been due to injuries, I think it is better for basketball to have at least one year where new teams can share the spotlight.

Blackburn: At this point, it’s the Clippers. Without Kawhi Leonard and with players like Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann putting together incredible performances in his stead, the Clippers are suddenly the fun, scrappy team. If they go down on Wednesday night, then it will be the Bucks who I root for. After all of the pressure they have endured over the last two seasons, seeing them break through and be successful would be rewarding for a mid market franchise just trying to do right by their international superstar. Sounds familiar.

Bridgford: I’m going with the Bucks. I think the Suns are a great story, and I think they’ve done a strong job of building the “right” way. However, I want the Bucks to win for Giannis. The amount of hate that Giannis gets despite being one of the most talented players the NBA has ever seen at his size is just sad, and, for a guy that is consistently improving, I just don’t get it. The guy is fun to watch, and, when the team is playing at full speed, they’re one of the most entertaining teams to see. Also, seeing Holiday win after suffering with the New Orleans Pelicans for so many years would be nice too.

Lewis: I live in Phoenix, and all my in-laws are Suns fans. Go Bucks.

How much of an asterisk will be placed on the team that wins the title with all of the injuries that have taken place both in the playoffs as well as over the last couple of months of the regular season? Should there be an asterisk at all?

Knowlton: I’m probably in the minority on this because I do not think there should be an asterisk beside this year's winner. I saw a tweet from Stan Van Gundy saying every year there are new challenges posed and whoever exceeds them the best deserves to win. Last year, there were several complex challenges and the Lakers met them so they deserved to win. Sure, this season probably would have looked different with all the stars healthy, but that is simply not the reality this year. Whoever wins met the challenges better than any other team. They should be crowned and declared the best team in the league.

Blackburn: I said on Pickaxe and Roll during Wednesday’s episode that these playoffs have been impacted by injuries perhaps more than any I can remember. From Jamal Murray before the playoffs to Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and now Giannis on Tuesday night. The goal of every postseason should be to see which teams are the best, and the way they become their best is if they can deliver their A+ performance at the right time. Very few teams have been able to do that this postseason because of season-ending injuries, and while that shouldn’t create an asterisk on the title winner, it does lead to questions of who the best team actually was this year.

Bridgford: I think these injuries happen every year, but there was something easy to point to this year to explain it. Players always get hurt. That’s the nature of the game. All of them happening in such rapid succession was wild. It was similar to when NFL teams come back and hamstring injuries abound from guys not being ready for full speed games. Outside of Murray, none of these players experienced injuries that would have sidelined them for the full season. It just so happens that they got hurt at the wrong time. Every season in every sport, the championship comes down to two major factors. Who is playing the best when it matter the most, and who is the healthiest when it matters the most? Right now, that’s the Suns. Injuries happen every year, and, if you’re one of the people putting an asterisk on this championship, you need to take a long look to rethink that.

Lewis: No asterisk for me. The Suns have been great all season, and are lucky to be healthy as well. I will argue the rest of my life that the Nuggets would have won the title if they were healthy, but they weren’t, and it’s impossible to know what would have happened. If an Eastern Conference team wins, they’ll have fought through a tough road to get to the top of the league.