Mike D'Antoni watched Sunday with a smile as the Suns, as he put it, "slayed an old nemesis" by sweeping the Spurs in a Western Conference semifinal.

He appreciated what it meant for his former allies Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and coach Alvin Gentry, but D'Antoni also took from the Suns' success a measure of personal vindication.

That's his system the Suns are playing. And they're back in the conference finals for the third time in six years.

"What I'm really happy about is you see the way Orlando and Phoenix play, they're arguably two of the best teams, and that's how we need to play,'' the Knicks' coach said. The Magic also uses a spread offense featuring the pick and roll and three-point shooting. "They're reaffirming the blueprint that'll get us to a championship. And that's what we've got to do in New York."

D'Antoni said he thinks the Suns "have a legitimate shot at beating the Lakers'' in the Western Conference finals. He would love to see the Suns play the Magic in the NBA Finals, for two obvious reasons:

(1) The offensive style he believes in would be guaranteed to win a championship, which many detractors say it can't do.

(2) It would mean LeBron James' Cavaliers didn't reach the Finals for the third consecutive year. That might motivate him to consider joining the Knicks as a free agent this summer.

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Finally overcoming the Spurs was something to savor because of the bitter history, but there is some reality to consider. Despite upsetting the second-seeded Mavericks in the first round, the Spurs hardly are a championship contender anymore. "The Spurs aren't half the team they were," D'Antoni said. "Tim Duncan isn't the problem he used to be."

But the Suns are exactly what they were under D'Antoni. Gentry is credited for re-establishing D'Antoni's offense while also emphasizing defense after D'Antoni's replacement, Terry Porter, was fired last season.

Stoudemire routinely points out that Gentry talks more about defense than D'Antoni ever did. Statistically, however, the Suns aren't more efficient than they were under D'Antoni.

According to HoopData.com, Gentry's Suns ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency (110.2) compared with D'Antoni's teams, which for his four seasons were 16th (106.8) on average.

"They're playing better defense, and you've got to give Alvin credit for that," D'Antoni said. "Amar'e can say what he wants, but we talked every day to him about defense. I mean, we're not stupid. We emphasized and tried, but he wasn't ready to buy into it totally.

"And Alvin got him to buy in, and I think that's Alvin's strength. He got a bond with Amar'e that I probably couldn't reach, and it's worked."

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