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The Suns can conquer the Western Conference again

The Phoenix Suns endured the bitter disappointment of losing the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks at the end of the 2020/21 campaign. Phoenix ended their 10-year playoff drought by surging into the post-season as the second seed in the Western Conference as Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton guided their side to a 51-win term. The Suns stunned the Los Angeles Lakers with a brilliant comeback, inflicting a first-round playoff exit on LeBron James for the first time of his illustrious career.

Monty Williams' men then swept the Denver Nuggets before battling past the Los Angeles Clippers to take their place in the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years. Although they made an excellent start by winning the opening two games of the series, Giannis Antetokounmpo fired up the Bucks and guided them to the NBA crown with four successive wins. It was a bitter blow for the Suns, none more so than for outstanding point guard Paul, whose NBA title drought was extended to a 16th season. Phoenix put faith in the 36-year-old and his sensational leadership qualities by signing Paul to a four-year extension worth $120 million.

Their belief has been rewarded in the 2021/22 campaign as the guard has delivered brilliant performances once more to put the Suns on the path towards the playoffs. Phoenix won 20 out of their opening 24 matches as Paul, Booker, Ayton and Mikal Bridges picked up from where they left off in the last regular season. The odds from Space Casino have backed the Suns at +900 to win the NBA crown, but the challenge remains a tough one for Williams' men to even return to the Finals given the standard of competition in the Western Conference.

During his prime years at the Clippers, Paul was blighted by Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who dominated the Western Conference for a five-year period. After two disappointing seasons, Golden State have regrouped and are the team to beat in the west again, fired up by a resurgence from Curry and Draymond Green along with Andrew Wiggins. Steve Kerr’s men will be in in for the long haul, and the Suns will have to match their rivals on the court throughout the campaign.

The early matchups between the two sides have been even as the Suns defeated Golden State on home court even though Booker was far from his best. Ayton put the team on his back with a 24-point performance to secure a 104-96 win. The Warriors won the return game, although Booker was missing with a hamstring injury. Williams and his men battled for the majority of the game before the Warriors ran away with the win in the final quarter. Those performances will give the Suns all the confidence they need that they can win the Western Conference, especially given the way they played in the second contest without Booker on the road.

The other challengers in the Western Conference all have their faults. The Lakers are not the championship team of 2020 even with the addition of Russell Westbrook, while the Clippers and the Utah Jazz are up and down. The opportunity is there for the Suns to make another Finals run, but they will need Paul, Booker and Ayton to maintain their high standards and more importantly remain healthy over the course of the season.