Because we feel that no one understands the NBA more like the way we wish we understood the NBA than the gang at Free Darko, we've asked them to write up previews of every playoff series throughout the postseason. It will help us understand what's at stake in each series, what matters, what it means for the individuals involved, their fanbases and their history. And there will also be funny, bizarre, non-linear photographs.

After the jump, one of the final two playoff previews, the series between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers. We actually forgot just how close the Lakers were to winning their series with the Suns last year; most aren't considering it too likely that they'll do the same this time. (We just remembered, by the way, how excited everyone was about a potential Clippers-Lakers series last year. That's funny.) If you want to hop in with your predictions in the comments, please do. Because we type about sports, and people expect it, our prediction is Suns in 5.

And now, Bethlehem Shoals, from Free Darko, after the jump. Enjoy.


Let me break some real raw news to you: Last year's Suns/Lakers series, the highlights of which will blot out the airwaves this weekend, wasn't real. It wasn't competitive; it just proved how vulnerable and flimsy that version of Phoenix was. Kobe didn't almost pull off the unthinkable; he just happened to run across a team that would let him write his own script. That game seven meltdown was so weird that only a slaphappy cow would think to make sense of it. And anyone who watched the whole thing knows that it wasn't Nash/Bryant, it was Tim Thomas/Kwame Brown. So please, spare me the rivalry phonics and the rematch sonatas. "Before Sunrise" is blaring in the living room, but only because it goes well with a certain someone's dental surgery and Modelo.


I know you all want to hear about Kobe. He of the scoring binges, searing public ambivalence and inscrutable living. The non-stop legacy monitor, the effortless world-historical events, and the Diddy-on-the-cross pomposity. The message I have for you is clear: Kobe does not matter one bit in this series. Bean Thousand will go for 25, or he will muster 60, and either way the game belongs to Smush and Sasha. The non-Kobe Lakers aren't just important here — they're the de facto stars of the series. By the end of it all, we won't even notice Bryant, and all the crowing will focus on what this means for Lamar Odom's resume. Not saying that they'll step up or carry the team. On the contrary, they'll roll on their backs, shake their legs and be pulverized by the onrush of Nash, Amare, Marion and Barbosa. But with Kobe the unflinching constant, and the other Lakers so obviously thrown into the light, we'll worry over them with a fury usually reserved for the incredible. The question isn't "how does Kobe scoring 50 affect the Lakers," but "what will the Lakers do when Kobe scores 50?"

The only reason 2006 happened was that the Suns lacked size. The takeaway moments were Kobe's shot, Kobe's shot, Kobe's dunk and the roaring silence of game 7's second half. The crux of the matter, though, was Kwame, Odom and Turiaf floating into the post as if upon an obliging cloud. With Amare Stoudemire back, those days end now. Granted, Amare's concept of defense is a little too next for the human heart to bear. And like his cro-mag forebear Kenyon Martin, his shot-blocking has as much to do with his offensive game as it does the fine art of position and angles. That said, his name is BLACK JESUS. He wears out big men on the other end, draws fouls, enthusiastically gets in the way and should easily turn last year's Laker cakewalk into a bug-infested nightmare. Andrew Bynum or no Andrew Bynum. Not to mention the ever-expanding Barbosa, who can now legitimately spell Nash at the point, and a team-wide swag that was notably absent from the '05-06 assemblage. There is absolutely nothing trifling about these Suns, who combine the carefree bombast of '04-05 with last year's spidery precision.

Honest, I feel for the networks. Kobe really needs to get moved to the East, where he'd carry a team and look like a doctor. With all the attention invested in him, you'd think they want him around a little longer. The Recluse just said "it's going to be really weird when Kobe retires." Me, I think we're getting a little taste of that dissonance well in advance. The Suns, well, let's just say that Raja Bell's lockdown D is not selling any Big Gulps. This is a series where vibrant storylines saunter to their graves, where valuable commodities are torched beneath the magnifying glass. All that said, this is not a series we will soon forget. It will be the first and last time in many people's lives that they give Kobe Bryant a pass. Completely unjustly, the less-than-100 percent Lamar Odom will again know what it is to be scapegoated. And when the Suns score 80 in a half, there will be parades made of nothing but couches.

Suns in five. They're a team that runs hot and cold, that forces nothing and seemingly lucks into fits of utter dominance. Because of this, there are never guarantees with them; the sky won't fall if there's a 92-89 Lakers win. And when Kobe hits that three at the buzzer, the camera will cut right to Luke Walton's golden reaction.