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2007, November 27: ESPN.com – Daily Dime: Checking Out The Best Of The West

June 24, 2008

November 27, 2007 — When we talk about the top three teams in the
West, we see that the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix
Suns, which all somehow managed to fall Monday night to teams that came
in with losing records, have much in common.

Usually, they win. That, and an established approach to the game, a
clear team identity and being well coached are all foundations for the
West’s Big 3.

It’s in their styles where we see the clear contrasts. The Suns want to
run and gun, get it going in a high tempo (see their 129-114 loss to
Golden State). The Mavs emphasize defense but they too want to play
up-tempo. And the Spurs play efficient, winning, championship-level

Phoenix, the team I finished my playing career with last season, is one
whose style can make an opponent look its worst on a given night.

They have a tremendous superstar Big 3 with Amare Stoudemire, Steve
Nash and Shawn Marion, supplemented well by Raja Bell and Leandro
Barbosa. But what they don’t have is depth in the size department. With
no Kurt Thomas on the team this year, when Stoudemire’s out, at times
Boris Diaw is in there as the center. That’s not exactly imposing as a
playoff lineup in the half-court game.

Many have seen the turning point of the Western Conference Spurs-Suns
semifinals last season as the Game 4 brawl and suspensions. But that
could have been the best thing that happened for Suns fans — when the
series ended, everybody was talking about how Amare and Diaw left the
bench. Nobody was talking about how Tim Duncan took away home-court
advantage in Game 1. Our game plan as we played them last year was to
put Tim in position to beat us, the theory being if he goes out and
gets big numbers, this in turn would stop everyone else on the Spurs
from getting theirs.

Also, why was it a foregone conclusion that had we eliminated the
Spurs, we would have beaten Utah in the West finals? That was a team
that had beaten us three out of four times in the regular season.

This year, the Suns have a different look. When we played the Lakers in
the playoffs, we had James Jones in the starting five. Then we had
Thomas starting against the Spurs. Now you have Grant Hill filling that
spot. For him to be a superstar player, he has to have that playoff
success. We’ll see — that’s a team that will spend the regular season
making a lot of teams look their worst. That’s how they’re built.

Dallas is the team that is a balance between the San Antonio and
Phoenix styles, more flexible in its approach than the other two, and
built to play against either the Suns or Spurs, offering speed and
quickness along with size.

Dallas has its Big 3 — Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki —
they all average around 20, have won a Western Conference championship
together — a team that has been knocking on the door for a few years.

Dallas is a deep team. The Mavs acquire players for specific situations
they might face, and this year is no exception. Some felt Golden State
was the tougher team in the playoffs, so they got Trenton Hassell and
Eddie Jones to combat that. Devin Harris becoming the starting point
guard allows them to bring Terry of the bench. And I would like to see
my college teammate Juwan Howard get a ring with Dallas.

Of course, the Spurs will have something to say about that. They have
the championship pedigree that neither the Mavs nor Suns have, and they
have consistent defensive presence in Duncan, who just so happens to
get 20-10 a night. Not mentioned enough as one of the great point
guards, Tony Parker, the Finals MVP. And I see this season as something
of a present to Manu Ginobili — they’re going to let him cut it loose
offensively. By the way, he did take it to the U.S. Olympic team and
he’s got a championship ring. Helped by several established role
players, the Spurs are a team that can maintain their style and win.

There are other challengers too. A team like Denver can give anyone
problems, including the West’s Big 3. I like them as a wild-card better
than the Rockets because the Nuggets’ role players are a little more

In the end, though, you won’t go wrong by saying one of the Big 3 will win the West.

By Jalen Rose – ESPN.com
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose posted a career-high 22.1 ppg for the Bulls in
2002-03. For more about Jalen, visit his website: JalenRose.com.