A Milwaukee Bucks – Phoenix Suns Finals Rematch In The Making?

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the strongest one of all?”

“I see a beast, I see the sun, in a field of carnage, and dreams undone.”

As the frenzied smoke from the trade deadline cleared, what was evident was that the NBA’s Western Conference slam-bang duels would soon become even tougher. In all, three stars were seen flying in the dead of night, travelling westward to new frontiers and even newer homes. The Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving led the flight to the west, landing in Dallas to team up with Luka Doncic and the Mavs. Not long after, his more illustrious teammate, Kevin Durant, would fly off to yet another contending Western leaguer, the Phoenix Suns. Russell Westbrook, another future Hall of Famer, would finally leave the LA Lakers, but would touchdown in not-so-far-off Utah, though it is reported that he would not stay for long with the Jazz.

The Luka-Kyrie partnership in Dallas appears to be a formidable, yet intriguing super-guard combination. Both are starters in the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. No other guard tandem can match up with this prolific scoring duo. On paper. However, Kyrie’s questionable demeanor in the past points to a powder keg that could blow up in the Mavs faces fast. It will be recalled that Kyrie left Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavs in 2017 to look for a team where he could play top dog. With the Boston Celtics, he failed to win the coveted title and failed to provide the leadership and inspiration for the Celtics’ young crew. Instead, the Celtics proved emphatically that they could go even deeper in the playoff duels without him. Leaving the Celtics in 2019, Kyrie joined forces with Kevin Durant in the Brooklyn Nets. And as if this wasn’t big enough, they formed a seemingly unbeatable trio with another former MVP in James Harden. Unleashing the super-trio, the Brooklyn Nets looked like a cinch to win the NBA crown, even leading the eventual 2021 champs, Milwaukee Bucks, 2-0 before bowing out in the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunate injuries would spoil the Nets’ bid for the crown. The next season, Kyrie’s insistence to go against Brooklyn’s COVID protocols would blow up the triumvirate, forcing an irate Harden to leave the Nets. Last season, the Nets would bow out right in the first round against the same Celtics’ squad that Kyrie had dumped for the Nets. A few months back, he made the news once again, but only for more off-the-court fiasco. (Pls read: Is This The End For Kyrie Irving?) Now he leaves behind Kevin Durant high and dry, just like he did Lebron James in Cleveland, and the Celtics’ young stars in Boston. This time, he joins Luka in another attempt at forming a built-for-a-title dynamic duo. Question is: who’s going to be the top dog in this team? Is Kyrie ready to play second-mate to Luka in Dallas when he had demonstrated a desire to lead his own team even with the presence of James and Durant? Will Kyrie be able to stay focused on playing, or will he leave the team the same way he left the Cavs, the Celtics and the Nets? Finally, how will this super-guard duo fare against more stacked and more bulky contenders in the Western front?

Over in LA, the Lakers were clear winners in the recent trade deadline, having exchanged their quintessential, yet misfit guard, Russell Westbrook, for some fine support pieces for the team’s Lebron-Anthony Davis tandem. The entry of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt plus the arrival of Rui Hachimura answers the Lakers’ need for a stronger supporting cast for the final push for the crown. This present line-up now has definitely got what it takes to reach deep into the playoffs. Except that the West has gotten extremely deeper with more superstars now joining the fray.

The Phoenix Suns’ bold move in trading for Kevin Durant, plus the recovery of both Chris Paul and Devin Booker from injuries completes a super-team with DeAndre Ayton. This is a quartet no other team in the entire league can match. The Suns have been slowly but surely climbing up the standings with Paul once again orchestrating the offense. With Durant and Booker on opposite ends of the firing line, and Ayton providing inside muscle, the Suns are simply too good offensively. This could be Paul’s last opportunity to get that elusive championship ring, and the team will surely give their all for their spiritual leader.

And then, we have the Conference-leading Denver Nuggets. With a fully-recovered Jamal Murray now leading the attack, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has a strong partner leading a no-nonsense, no-intrigue Nuggets line-up. This year’s Nuggets’ campaign is by far their most serious ever, and with a great team chemistry that knows who’s tops in the pecking order, this team is definitely a strong candidate to reach the Finals as well.

Except that there are more gunslingers out there in the wild, wild West.

There’s the reinvigorated LA Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard now getting back his fearsome championship form. The Clippers have always been a strong contender, even without their main man, Kawhi. His re-entry now will make for a compelling case for the Clippers. There are rumors of Westbrook eventually landing with the Clippers. If that pushes through, and the chemistry is right, a Kawhi-George-Westbrook trio could be another team to watch.

And we haven’t even talked about the defending champs, the Golden State Warriors, or the young dudes from the Memphis Grizzlies, or the rejuvenated Sacramento Kings. The Warriors are presently minus their injured scoring leader, Steph Curry; but expect them to be back in the running once he gets back. The Griz, on the other hand, are a pugnacious group of hungry fighters led by that human highlight machine, Ja Morant. This squad will not back down from any challenge or obstacle placed before them. Same with the Kings. The Kings have found a new chemistry this season that has upped everyone’s game tremendously, rewarding both De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis with All-Star berths.

The hunt for the Western Conference title then will be frenetic, with teams so bunched together, only 6 games separate the 3rd and the 13th. There is parity never before experienced in the league, and it is far more evident in the West. This campaign will depend much on the health of each teams’ stars, plus the often-overlooked, yet all-important team chemistry. The Lakers’ sad experience with Lebron, AD and Westbrook; plus the Nets’ failed attempt at a Durant, Harden and Irving triumvirate are recent examples of the significance of acquiring great team chemistry to win the coveted title.

Over in the Eastern front, things have been relatively more quiet. The Boston Celtics have been leading the pack, with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart playing sweat music together. However, the 2021 titlists – Milwaukee Bucks – have silently coughed up an immaculate 12-0 win streak these past weeks, with Kris Middleton slowly getting back his All-Star form. With the arrival of another strong rebounder and defender in Jae Crawder, they have a PJ Tucker play-alike that can definitely help them in the grittier playoff wars. It was Tucker’s presence in defending against the likes of Kevin Durant that played a key role in eventually bringing the Bucks the coveted 2021 crown.

No other team in the East has gained serious ground at the trade deadline. The Cleveland Cavaliers, starring this season’s new acquisition Donovan Mitchell, have a good chance to challenge the Celtics and the Bucks. Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Miami Heat remain in serious contention, although they have not added any significant pieces for the playoff run.

That said, it looks to me like it’s the Phoenix’ fearsome foursome of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton going up against Milwaukee’s terrific trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday for this year’s finale. This time, Phoenix will take the upper hand with the entry of Kevin Durant. With the playoffs coming up fast, teams are alternately pacing their stars, developing the teamwork and chemistry with the new trade acquisitions, defining individual roles and preparing for the long grind ahead. Up ahead, it’s the playoffs. Let’s get ready to rumbleeeee!!!

For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of the Bright Side of the Sun. Other photos courtesy of the Bright Side of the Sun, Fadeaway World, CluchPoints, Marca, the Denver Stiffs and Sporting News.


  1. Good reporting Charlie and while most of the teams in the West got better, Portland just kept treading water and now while 11th in the standings. They got two good journeymen forwards that added some much-needed defensive help, but overall the Trailblazers will be lucky to make even the Play-in. Fans are disappointed and irritated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Charles, it is going to be as wide open a race to the title as I can remember. Giannis’ injury is a concern, as well as whether or not the Suns will really come together and be a cohesive team. Lots of good teams waiting in the wings if the Bucks and Suns can’t get to the Finals!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, Bruce. Injuries will be the bane of these contenders. Especially in the highly competitive western conference. One seemingly small injury could spell the difference for teams trying to reach for the crown. Teams are so bunched together in the west that 1 or 2 lost games could take them to a far more difficult route to the top.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Charles, in our town a lot of folks are very unhappy right now with Joel Embid for playing 28 minutes in the all-star game after being on the questionable list for the last dozen games or so. I don’t watch that “event,” but was amazed he didn’t just put in an appearance and check out for the night.

    Liked by 1 person

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