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“Success is Counted Sweetest...

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

...by those who ne’er succeed.” (Emily Dickinson)

How often do we hear college and pro athletes and their teammates who accomplish the improbable say, “No one believed in us, but ourselves”?

As 19th century American poet, Emily Dickinson, posits, success is savored most sweetly by underdogs.

It is pure joy these days to see the Phoenix Suns and their rabid fans reveling in the sweet exhilaration of victory.

For those keeping score, the Phoenix Suns have never won an NBA Championship.

By virtue of their emphatic Western Conference Championship win in six games over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Suns now have earned their third trip to the NBA Finals (1976, 1993, 2021).

What’s fascinating about this year’s Suns’ team starts with the fact that trading in the off-season for perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul team and reuniting him with head coach Monty Williams who coached Paul in New Orleans during the 2010-11 season, which was previously Williams’ best season as a head coach (46-36) was the perfect way to give Williams his best ever chance to win in the NBA. His 6 year head coaching record heading into the 2020-2021 season was 207-260 (,443) and a 2-8 playoff record.

That said, Williams and his young Suns, led by All-Star guard Devin Booker and fast-ascending C Deandre Ayton, captured the imaginations of the NBA world last year when they mounted a stunning 8-0 record while in the NBA Bubble. Although they would fall short of making the playoffs, the positive buzz about the Suns coming out of The Bubble was obviously attractive to Chris Paul, who from the get-go embraced his trade from the Thunder to the Suns with open arms.

Up until this playoff season, Chris Paul’s teams (Hornets, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder) had made the playoffs 12 times, losing in Round 1 six times, losing in Round 2 five times and losing in his one Western Conference Championship series with the Rockets in 2018. The Rockets lost 4 games to 3 to the Warriors, after tantalizingly squandering a 3-2 games lead.

The limited success of Chris Paul’s teams in the playoffs had been a menacing source of frustration for “The Point God” of the NBA.

Now, after last night’s win, the bright young Suns have a superb chance to bring their first ever NBA Championship to The Valley.

It is amazing to think of what the addition right seasoned, tough-minded, ever-hungry veteran can do to lift the spirits and hopes of an entire program.

For long suffering Arizona Cardinals’ fans, the Suns’ meteoric rise into NBA prominence must provide more than a glimmer of hope, particularly in light of the fact that the Cardinals may have added their veteran leadership version of Chris Paul in this guy:

You might recall that the opening odds of which team was going to win the J.J. Watt sweepstakes was (according to BetOnLine):

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: +200

Baltimore Ravens: +600

Green Bay Packers: +600

Dallas Cowboys: +900

New England Patriots: +1200

Los Angeles Rams: +1200

Miami Dolphins: +1400

Cleveland Browns: +1400

New York Giants: +1600

Tennessee Titans: +1800

As Gomer Pyle U.S. M. C. would say, “Well gooolllly! Sha-zam! Sha-zam! Sha-zam!”

Obviously, J.J. Watt’s decision to sign with the Cardinals shocked the NFL world.

However, CBS Sports quickly came to the conclusion that there were “five reasons” why J.J. Watt is a nifty fit with the Cardinals and “why the move actually makes sense.”

https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/j-j-watt-shockingly-signs-with-cardinals-five-reasons-why-this-move-actually-makes-sense/

And here’s a sixth reason:

“Let’s finish what we started.” DeAndre Hopkins’ plea to J.J. Watt.

With Hopkins and Watt, the Texans won 3 AFC South Divisions in 4 seasons. Alas, they were only able to go 2-4 in the playoffs. And in their last playoff game together (2019) in the divisional round, after beating the Bills in overtime 22-19, in the Wild Card round, the Texans jumped out to a 24-0 lead over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium only to watch Patrick Mahomes lead the Chiefs to a furious 51-31 comeback victory which spring-boarded the Chiefs toward their first Super Bowl win since their first one in 1969.

Perhaps Hopkins’ plea to J.J Watt may wind up looking a little like this?

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

Last night, after the Suns’ big win over the Clippers, Chris Paul thanked the Clippers from the bottom of his heart, with the regret that when he was a Clipper they weren’t able to finish what they started. He told the Clippers’ fans that he will always be a Clipper and he will always love them.

As I was rejoicing in the Suns’ win and Chris Paul’s message to Clippers’ fans, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this message from J.J. Watt to the Texans’ fans.

Last year the Cardinals showed flashes of brilliance with their young team in ways similar to what the Suns flashed in 2020. Neither of those teams would qualify for the playoffs.

The Suns traded for Chris Paul and the Cardinals signed J.J. Watt and traded for Rodney Hudson.

On the day of the Suns traded for Chris Paul (according to sportsbettingdime.com:

[November 16] In the first blockbuster of the season, Phoenix acquired Chris Paul from the Thunder for a package anchored by Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre. The Suns average odds shortened to +4250 from +6500 after the deal. The Nets odds have also shortened to an average of +700, as speculation heats up James Harden could be traded from Houston to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

According to VegasINSIDER.com, the Cardinals’ current odds to win the Super Bowl are +3300 (33/1), ranked 18th in the NFL.

Who knows?

Who would have ever thought at the beginning of the season that the Suns would be able to beat the Lakers (4-2), Nuggets (4-0) and Clippers (4-2) on their way to the NBA Finals?

On December 14, 2020, here is how ESPN ranked the favorites in the Western Conference.

ESPN’s 2020-21 NBA season preview

Western Conference standings

The contenders

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-23

2. LA Clippers: 46-26

3. Denver Nuggets: 45-27

4. Dallas Mavericks: 43-29

5. Utah Jazz: 43-29

6. Portland Trail Blazers: 41-31

The play-in group

7. Phoenix Suns: 40-32

8. New Orleans Pelicans: 36-36

9. Golden State Warriors: 36-36

10. Memphis Grizzlies: 33-39

NFC 2021 Playoff Odds (per sportsbettingdime.com):

Contenders:

Green Bay Packers- 670

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -670

Los Angeles Rams -182

Dallas Cowboys -167

San Francisco 49ers -167

New Orleans Saints -115

Seattle Seahawks -106

Play In Group:

Minnesota Vikings +154

Washington Football Team +180

Arizona Cardinals +200

Chicago Bears +220

Carolina Panthers +225

New York Giants +260

Philadelphia Eagles +275

Atlanta Falcons +300

Detroit Lions +575

Who knows?

As dreamers know, some improbable reunions can wind up looking like this:

Say it out loud, if you wish: “Zay - Watt - Tan - Ao”