The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers are fighting, sure, but they're fighting on different planes, for different things. Last year, they fought in the Western Conference Finals, with the Lakers finding their old rival more a speed bump than a road hazard. The Suns have since lost Amar'e Stoudemire, but not their identity; so long as Steve Nash stands upright, so will Phoenix, apparently.
But the Suns aren't serious threats to return to the conference finals; they may not be serious threats to make the playoffs, unless the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies cool off. Phoenix's most important ding since losing Amar'e has, obviously, been on offense, where the Suns rank No. 9 in the league. The defense remains bad (No. 23), despite the import of Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, two credible defenders. If anything, Phoenix's moves over the past year have led to a less bombastic but still skewed unit.
The Lakers have all they did last year; fears of age catching up to Kobe Bryant, or boredom catching up with Ron Artest -- there's little to worry about in L.A. The Lakers will lack home court advantage in a prospective Western Conference Finals matchup with the Spurs, and possibly in the NBA Finals against the Celtics or Bulls. But if L.A. is playing as well as it has since All-Star Weekend, a great many observers will consider the Lakers' three-peat favorites.
The Suns and Lakers hook up at 10:30 PM Eastern on TNT. For Suns analysis, check out Bright Side Of The Sun and SB Nation Arizona. For more on the Lakers, take yourself to Silver Screen And Roll and SB Nation L.A.