Editor's note: ESPN.com NBA analyst Kiki Vandeweghe answered some key questions after the Suns eliminated the Lakers, 119-110, in Wednesday's Game 5.
Western showdown looms
The Suns sent the Lakers off in five games. At first glance, how do you like the Suns going into a Spurs series?
When these two teams met in conference finals two years ago, Amare Stoudemire averaged 37 a game. Now he's a much better defender, rebounder -- a complete player.
What's the state of Amare?
I think Amare has everything back. Early in the season he didn't have the confidence to play full tilt. Now he's one of few guys who has come back well from microfracture surgery.
On the offensive end, he's developed the jump shot.
On the defensive end, it seems he has a better understanding of defensive positioning and is real presence in the middle.
Now we have the prospect of him facing Tim Duncan. That's a really interesting matchup.
Does Amare's presence and the Lakers' ill health explain why this year's Lakers-Suns series wasn't close?
Yes. The big advantage the Lakers had last year was inside. Lamar Odom could post up, and the Lakers' big people could get offensive rebounds. They could wreak havoc inside.
But this Laker team was not as healthy as it was last year. It just didn't come together this year for the Lakers. A lot of injuries. In the final two months of the regular season they beat one team with a winning record.
Marion ready to explode?
An extremely difficult matchup. He's physically a freak of nature, the way he elevates. One of the travesties of this year was that he was not on the all-defensive team. He should have been because he's a great defender.
Who do you pick, Suns or Spurs?
Picking the Suns in this one. The Spurs are obviously a great basketball team, but they're dependent on older players to play very well, having at least one or two of them step up. The Suns' team is a young team that has young legs.
The last time these two met in the playoffs, the games did not feature this version of Amare, who is older and better. This year is the Suns' best chance to win a championship.
Are they helped at all by the prospect of an early Dallas exit?
It's only natural to look at the best regular-season team in trouble and say this could be a little easier. But I don't think the Suns or Spurs think they can waltz into anything. They are not looking past the other, that's for sure.
Questions posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang
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Spurs guard Michael Finley was out to launch against Eduardo Najera and the Nuggets in Game 5.
While we're talking about this [race and officiating] study, one other item in it drew my attention: the finding that during the 13-year study period, teams with the greater share of playing time by black players won 48.6 percent of games. The authors seemed to imply some kind of mild institutional racism against black players by this result.
In fact, there's a much more obvious explanation -- the league imported a bunch of talent from Europe during the study period, almost all of it white, and the poorly run teams were the last ones to figure out there were good players on other continents. Thus, by default they ended up with more black players on their rosters.
Look back on the drafts of the mid-to-late '90s and you'll see what I mean. Players like Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko were all basically stolen in the draft by smart, forward-thinking teams. That their teams won more games than average is an effect of their superior front offices, not the officiating.
It's still too soon to put odds on this, but rumblings out of L.A. are getting louder that the Lakers will try to lure Jerry West back to the organization as a consultant now that he's leaving the Memphis Grizzlies on June 30.
West insists that, at nearly 69, he no longer wants to work full-time. There figures to be no shortage of teams offering him part-time work, but L.A. remains West's spiritual home after four decades with the Lakers as a star player, coach and lead executive in the front office.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, I'm told, would not oppose West's return. And West has always been close with Kobe Bryant since drafting him in 1996, so the prospect of helping L.A. reshape its roster around Bryant has to hold some appeal.
Yet it remains to be seen a) whether West wants to take some time off first; b) if the challenge of starting fresh with a new team would entice him more than returning to a club that he has already helped win six championships; and c) whether West would be willing to return and thus overshadow his protégé Mitch Kupchak.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Leandro Barbosa and the Suns had Kobe Bryant pretty well covered in this series.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Most double-digit assist games in NBA playoff history:
Magic Johnson 143
-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research
Tim Duncan scored 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists in the Spurs' series-ending victory over the Nuggets.
It was the 22nd career 20/10/5 game in Duncan's playoff career, tying him with Shaquille O'Neal for the most such games among active players.
If the Warriors beat the Mavericks on Thursday night and advance to the conference semifinals, here are some important notes about why this would be the biggest postseason series upset in NBA history.
• The Mavericks won 67 games during the regular season. The Warriors won 42 games. The 25-win differential from the regular season would be the largest ever overcome. Currently, the biggest postseason upset in NBA history (a regular season win differential of 21) was the 42-win Nuggets beating the 63-win Sonics in 1994.
• In 2003, the first round of the NBA playoffs went to a best-of-seven format. While this would be the third time that a No. 8 seed has defeated a No. 1 seed, it would be the first time that this has happened in a seven-game series. First-round series had been best-of-five games since the 16-team postseason format was instituted in the 1983-84 season.
Here's the biggest first-round upsets since that season . . .
-- Peter D. Newmann, ESPN Research