A Tense Renegotiation

Enough head-hanging at the season gone by, Suns fans. The NBA draft is a month away, and soon after, it’ll be time for free agent signings, then the Vegas summer league, and then, before you know it, it’s training camp time for the 202007-08 season.

It’s time to look ahead, to think about the future. That’s what I’m doing, and I started the process last week by holding talks with the Suns organization to renew my status as a blogger for the Suns.com website.

Such negotiations can be tense. If talks between players and a team are nearly as nerve-wracking as talks between a blogger and a team, then it’s a wonder team officials and pro basketball stars have any fingernails left, let alone knuckles or wrists. In the interests of continuing to use my somewhat special status as a typical fan officially associated with the Suns to bring other fans “beyond the curtain” whenever possible and share glimpses of what goes on behind the scenes, I thought it might be educational to present the transcript of my renegotiation talks with the organization. Present for the conference call were Suns VP of Interactive Services Jeramie McPeek, my Agent, and myself.

McPeek: Hello?

Beechen: Jeramie! My man!

McPeek: Who is this?

Beechen: It’s Adam Beechen!

McPeek: (silence)

Beechen: From the website!

McPeek: Website…

Beechen: The Suns website. I write a blog. From the fan’s perspective.

McPeek: Oh, right. How did you get my home number, and why are you calling me…at 3 am?

Beechen: Oh, well, see, I read in this book about negotiating contracts that you’re supposed to use the element of surprise, and hit up your employer when they’re not expecting it! Are you surprised?

McPeek: Yeah…So are my wife and children, who were sleeping soundly. “Hit up your employer” for what?

Beechen: About extending my contract to continue my blog for Suns.com for the 202007-08 season! I’ve got my agent right here on the phone!

Agent: *snoring*

Beechen (loud whisper): Mom! Wake up!

Agent (startled): Adam! Is there an intruder in the house? What do I smell on your breath? Are you on drugs?

Beechen: Heh heh…Just lulling you into a false sense of security, Jeramie…You should know we’re very prepared for a brutal series of negotiations, and we have a lot of leverage on our side.

McPeek: Leverage?

Beechen: Yep. I hate to break it to you like this, but the Milwaukee Bucks have made me a very lucrative offer…

McPeek: To write a “Superfan” blog for them?

Beechen: That’s right.

McPeek: But you’re not a fan of the Bucks in any way, shape, or form.

Beechen: Well, no. I was going to try to convert their fans into being Suns fans…

McPeek: Uh huh. What are they offering to pay you?

Beechen: Pay me?

McPeek: Are you telling me their “lucrative offer” was just to LET you write a blog for them? The same as we do?

Beechen: They offered to match anything I was receiving from the Suns.

McPeek: We don’t give you anything, except a little bit of bandwidth for your blog.

Beechen: Exactly. So you better sweeten your deal with me, if you want to keep me around!

McPeek: Sweeten it how?

Beechen: Oh, I have a list of demands! My agent will read them off.

(long pause)

Agent: *snoring*

Beechen (loud whisper): Mom! The list of demands!

Agent (startled): Huh?! Oh…Adam demands season tickets.

McPeek: No.

Agent: Adam demands Suns locker room access and a ride to and from every game with Steve Nash.

McPeek: No and no.

Agent: Adam demands a spot in the Ring of Honor, with a special halftime induction ceremony during the regular season opener.

McPeek: Heck no.

Agent: Adam demands lambada lessons from Leandro Barbosa.

McPeek: What?

Beechen: I’m aware it’s a forbidden dance, so I’m flexible on that one. Keep going, Mom.

Agent: Adam demands a spot in the team photo for 202007-08, his own bobblehead doll, an autographed foam finger from Robert Sarver, and a bag of the Gorilla’s toenail clippings.

McPeek: I’m going back to bed. Adam, good luck in Milwaukee.

Beechen: Wait! Jeramie, wait! You know I don’t want to go to Milwaukee! I’m a Suns fan for life! Negotiations are supposed to be give-and-take…Tell me what you’re prepared to offer me, and we’ll go from there!

McPeek: What we’re prepared to offer you? How about your own fan blog on Suns.com for another season?

Beechen: That’s it?

McPeek: That’s it.

Beechen: How about at double my current salary?

McPeek: Well, we’re not paying you anything, so two times nothing is nothing.

Beechen: I know, I know, but it’ll sound good in my press release. Is it okay if I say I’m getting twice as much?

McPeek: Whatever.

Beechen: Then it’s a deal! I’ll have my agent draw up the papers, we’ll send them over, and then we can start discussing plans for next season! I’m thinking I’ll fly everywhere with the Suns on the team charter…

*Sound of McPeek’s phone hanging up*

Beechen: Yes! Back with the Suns for another go-round! I’m a veteran, now! Sure feels good. Although, I gotta say, I kind of expected more from you as my agent, and I’m seriously considering cutting your percentage of my new contract down to four percent from five. Still, all in all, I think everything worked out pretty well, don’t you? Mom?

Agent: *snoring*

2006-2007 Season In Review

You’ll excuse me if this blog isn’t up to regulation standards, I wasn’t quite expecting to do a 2006-2007 recap of the 2006-2007 season until later in June.

Jessica Alba is a Warriors fan, hence she can’t be part of the “Fun-tastic Four.”
(NBAE Photos)

That said, I’m going to forge ahead anyway, and I’ll do so without trying to paint a pretty picture avoiding the fact we failed to reach our ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship. I will, however, take a page from Mike D’Antoni’s book and state that the season was anything but a waste because of that.

 

Again, there isn’t a Suns fan or employee on this planet who didn’t want to capture a title. But at the same time, there isn’t a Suns fan or employee out there who can say they didn’t enjoy the ride this season.

 

SEPT. 30 – The Suns enjoy their first practice in Treviso, Italy. Europe was the home for training camp in 2006, the team bonding greatly because of it. Friendships were born and it was kind of like one of those buddy films only instead of two guys you had like 14. The trip had more highlights than lowlights, but the worst moment perhaps came in a Steve Nash-planned trip to a Milan soccer game. As Sean Marks stated, “Unfortunately we were on a bus that’s top speed led little to be desired and I am sure that a Suns fast break would have passed it by.” The group arrived at halftime to watch a game which ended in a 0-0 tie.

 

OCT. 17 – The Suns are back in their rightful home of Phoenix, Arizona for a contest against the Clippers. With D’Antoni preparing for the team which took them the distance in last season’s Conference Semifinals, I have the task of updating him on the Mets-Cardinals playoff game taking place. I ultimately have to tell him the disappointing news that the Mets fell in Game 4 by a final of 4-2. There is no joy in Mudville for Mets fans, and even worst, the Suns fall to the Clippers.

 

OCT. 31 – The Suns opened the regular season against the team they opened last season’s postseason against, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were without their star Kobe Bryant and as expected, the Suns took advantage early. A late comeback, however, was led by forward Lamar Odom and Los Angeles found themselves 1-0 on the season. The Suns meanwhile were 0-1 but quickly came back the following night against the Los Angeles Clippers and captured a 112-104 victory.

 

NOV. 9 – Trouble in paradise. Following a 112-119 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns quickly find themselves 1-4 on the season. D’Antoni is irate during the postgame press conference and states, “I guarantee the next game we will have some passion and every game out.”

 

NOV. 17 – As predicted by the Head Coach, the Suns improved their play instantly – a big win coming without the services of Nash against Philadelphia. It is during Phoenix’s 106-94 victory I take notice of Leandro Barbosa. The “Brazilian Blur” is a different player than he’s been in the past, confident and most importantly, poised. He scores 26 points and a la Wilt Chamberlain grabs 10 rebounds in the win.

“I have been playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Barbosa after the game. “I’ve been comfortable. Everybody has been helping me. The coaches have made me comfortable and I think it’s been good for me.”

 

NOV. 20 – The Suns play a huge contest against the Golden State Warriors. No, not huge because the California team has found a way to reunite Chris Webber, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullen. Huge because it is a chance to prove they will bring it each and every night regardless of the opponent – something they’ve failed to do against subpar teams in the past. In a tied ballgame, Nash hits a tiebreaking three-pointer with just 4.1 seconds remaining. Phoenix hangs on for a 113-110 win in ORACLE Arena.

 

“Our record isn’t where we want it to be, but it’s only 10 games, and we’re still learning how to play with this mix,” the two-time league MVP said after the win improved Phoenix’s record to 4-6 overall.

 

DEC. 7 – Boy those Suns sure do learn fast, don’t they? After Nash’s comment about learning to play with this new mix of players, the team wins its next six straight contests and is looking to stretch their win streak to eight in New Jersey. Again it is Nash carrying the Suns on his back, finishing with an incredible line of 42 points, 13 assists and six rebounds. It was a performance reminiscent of Reggie Miller in my NBA Live 96 video game, back when I would go out of my way to have one player do everything. As if the statistical line wasn’t enough, Nash would also hit a three-pointer which would force the first of two overtimes in East Rutherford. In a score which was also reminiscent of something you’d see in a video game, the Suns outlasted the Nets for a 161-157 win.

 

DEC. 8 – Ignoring my request to give the Suns a night off following the double-overtime affair, the NBA keeps the Suns-Celtics contest slated for the very next evening. Unsure of how the team will perform, Shawn Marion shoulders the load and finishes with 29 points and 12 rebounds as the Suns are again victorious. His big shot with approximately 40 seconds remaining, sparks an argument between my friends and I about what point in the ballgame a shot can truly be called “clutch.” Either way, the Suns are looking good, and unless the league can clone the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, it doesn’t look as if they will be challenged any time soon.

 

DEC. 20 – A night after winning a franchise-record 15th-consecutive ballgame, the Phoenix Suns have their contest against the Denver Nuggets cancelled due to snow.

 

DEC. 22 – Just hours after returning from Denver, the Suns face off against the Washington Wizards and fall in overtime. I make the mistake of heading to the Suns’ tunnel in the third quarter to watch some of the game and eventually find myself standing there a lot longer than I’d anticipated. The results stink, but I do get one of my favorite quotes of the year from assistant coach Phil Weber. Writing a story about both the streak and the team being stuck in Denver, I ask the coach about his time in the Mile High City.

 

“We were definitely stranded and I got to know our hotel like none other,” the coach laughed. “We never left, stranded at the Westin Hotel and there was definitely no Ginger.”

 

The quote was definitely a lot better than the one I got from Jalen Rose, who looked at me a little funny when I asked whether or not the trip was a “bonding experience” for the team.

 

JAN. 2 – With the winning streak over, the Suns begin a new streak to start the New Year. Who better than Barbosa to stretch the new streak to three after his game-winning three-point shot in Chicago? My favorite memory of the shot was no doubt the look on Barbosa’s face. It was hard to tell whether he was grilling the Bulls or in shock. My first interview after joining the Suns organization in 2005 and an overall great guy, I think it is the latter. Loving the fact that Phoenix is winning ballgames they did not the previous season, something about Barbosa is apparent: The “Blur” is no longer just one of the nicest guys in the NBA, he’s one of the most talented. His efforts would be recognized at season’s end when he is named the Sixth Man of the Year. Another amazing story from this game was the Suns receiving another sold effort from big man Amaré Stoudemire. The All-Star finishes with 24 points, 18 rebounds and four steals and has already made the two separate knee surgeries a distant memory.

 

JAN. 21 – The Suns are hosting a contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves. A win would be their 13th straight, but all I can think about is the fact I’m missing the Conference Championship matchup between my Indianapolis Colts and some team that plays in New England. With Indy trailing big at the half, a friend calls me to rub it in that my team will again be on the short end of the stick. I tell him in my best Paul Westphal voice, and I quote (hence the quotation marks), “We’re going to win this game. Peyton Manning is going to come out the second half on fire and lead us to victory. Then tomorrow everybody will talk about what a great game it was and how Manning had to do the impossible in order to finally get past New England.” The Colts win the contest, 38-34 and two weeks later defeat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.

 

JAN. 26 – The Suns are still enjoying their second amazing streak of the season and are in Milwaukee for what I’m seeing a potentially dangerous contest. I hope the guys keep their focus on the Friday night contest against the Bucks and not on the Cleveland Cavaliers who they’ll play in a nationally televised contest that Sunday afternoon. Shawn Marion pulls down 23 rebounds as the Suns remain hot in the cold Milwaukee weather, winning 98-90.

 

JAN. 29 – In Minnesota, the new franchise record of 17-consective wins is snapped. Kevin Garnett is unstoppable and scores 44 points in one of the Timberwolves’ few bright moments of the season. Raja Bell leads the Suns with 26 points, including five shots from beyond the three-point arc. He would ultimately go on to tie Gilbert Arenas for the league lead in that category in addition to receiving All NBA Defensive Team honors.

 

FEB. 1 – A great night as the Suns defeat the San Antonio Spurs 103-87 at home. I rush to the arena following my night class at ASU just in time to watch us put on the finishing touches in the blowout victory. It’s a great occasion as I have always had more venom towards the Spurs than any of our other rivals. I guess it’s a case of Yankees-Red Sox syndrome of hating the team that seems to put you on your butt more than the others. Ever since Stoudemire and Stephon Marbury raised eyebrows against them a few years back, I have disliked San Antonio more than any other NBA franchise. They wouldn’t end up doing themselves any favors come May of this very season.

 

FEB. 18 – Three Phoenix Suns represent the team in Las Vegas for the All-Star Game, although Nash is unable to participate due to injury. Marion and Stoudemire help the Western Conference and their coach Mike D’Antoni to a victory, STAT nearly capturing the game’s MVP Award in the process.

 

MAR. 14 – I watch the NBA’s game of the year at the Rokerij – a restaurant ran by my good friend Clark. With the Mavericks seemingly having the game in hand, Clark grabs his “lucky charm” in the form of a flashing Phoenix Suns hat. The headpiece is beyond ridiculous but somehow manages to get the job done. Nash helps too I guess, scoring 10 points in the final minute of regulation and like he did in Jersey, forces the first of two overtimes with a clutch trifecta in the closing seconds. The Suns go on to win a nail biter 129-127 and the hat is immediately sent off to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Our hope is that it can find a home next to the basketball used the night Chamberlain scored 100.

 

APR. 14 – In what would prove to be one of the longest days of our lives, my friend Wes and I watch the Suns blowout the Jazz from a restaurant in Tempe. It would also prove to be the last regular season win for the Suns who would drop their final two contests against the Houston Rockets and Clippers. Even with the two-game skid to end the season and the slow start which began it, the Phoenix Suns still finish with an impressive 61-21 record overall.

 

APR. 22 – The Suns open up the 202007 NBA Playoffs against their long-time rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m immediately reminded of what my biggest gripe with the team is – their pushy media. Following the Suns 95-87 win, I wait outside the Lakers locker room for reaction. The doors are open and a member of the Los Angeles media literally shoves two people out of his way to be the first inside. I wear a wide grin as he realizes that all he’s rushed into is an empty locker room as players haven’t finished showering.

 

APR. 24 – Another win over the Lakers, this one in blowout fashion. Phoenix burns Los Angeles 126-98 and I almost find myself sympathizing with the losing ballclub following the game (I repeat, almost). When I ask Kwame Brown what this Lakers team can do to slow down Phoenix, the center morbidly responds, “I was hoping you could figure that out and tell me man. Hopefully the coaching staff will figure something out because whatever it is, this isn’t working.” The mood in the locker room leads me to believe this thing will be over in four.

 

MAY 2 – It ends up taking five games, but the Suns to dispatch the Los Angeles Lakers after a 119-110 victory in Phoenix. The best moment of the day is when Bell – a new proud papa – tells me he enjoyed my Suns.com story about his being named to the All-Defensive Team. I ask him if this means I can have the trophy he received for his three-point efforts. He declines.

 

MAY 6 – The San Antonio Spurs make their way into town. Perhaps it is my subconscious dislike for the boys in black and silver, but it’s apparent early I won’t become friends with anyone on this team soon. Bruce Bowen gets aggravated at my holding the microphone too close to his mouth while Michael Finley asks me if a question of how to slow down a Suns team clicking on all cylinders is a “trick question.” I wanted the Lakers out of this building because of their media, I want this team out of this building because they’re making me feel like a rookie.

 

MAY 14 – The game which changes the series in favor of the Spurs comes after a Suns victory (go figure, right?). Robert Horry’s flagrant foul on Nash ends a 104-98 Phoenix victory, but leads to the suspensions of both Stoudemire and Boris Diaw who left the Suns bench during an altercation.

 

MAY 16 – One of the most heroic displays in NBA history takes place in the US Airways Center during Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Undermanned, the Phoenix Suns hold their own with the Spurs through three and a half quarters of play. The game gets away from them late, however, and they fall by a score of 88-85. With a nation now rallying behind this team, it’s as close to a moral victory as one can get in the postseason. Nevertheless, the team now faces elimination.

 

MAY 19 – I report to the arena after a long night of Game 6. The Suns players will be cleaning out their lockers and it is the last chance for members of the media to get reaction on a season which didn’t meet expectations. The guys are as cool as you can be after being eliminated from the postseason, questions already surfacing on what changes – if any – the team will undergo during the offseason.

 

Today – I realize the importance of keeping a journal. This way next season’s “year-end wrap up blog bonanza” won’t be as difficult to write. It’s also a pretty good idea because it very well could chronicle a season which sees the Suns win their first NBA Championship.

 

A while back fellow blogger Adam Beechen issued a challenge to find a nickname for this scrappy, never-say-die Phoenix Suns team. After watching the effort they give while short-handed in Game 5, I think I have one. Comic book characters are notorious for never saying die. They’ll give you every thing they’ve got and even when they do fall short, still manage to make a return issues later (sometimes they do these “clone” storylines which drive me crazy, but that’s besides the point).

 

Anyway, this Suns team has battled as much adversity as one team can these past three seasons. Joe Johnson missing a crucial part of the 2005 postseason, Stoudemire missing nearly all of last season including the playoffs and the suspensions this year which cost them two of their top players. But the Phoenix Suns never bow out easy, they keep fighting, keep scrapping. And being that Beechen is in the business of writing comic books himself, I think it fitting to name them after a comic book team. To me these Suns will always be “The Fun-tastic Four.”

 

The Fun-tastic Four – Nash, Stoudemire, Barbosa and Marion – the four players who have remained constants on this roster since the two-time MVP made his way back to Phoenix. Nash is of course Mr. Fantastic himself and like the super team’s leader, never seems to disappoint. Stoudemire is The Thing, at times an unmovable force down low and this season proving to be a rock in terms of stability. Barbosa’s speed make him a Human Torch in his own right, Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson stating the nickname “Blur” doesn’t begin to do his speed justice. Finally you’ve got Marion who in terms of the national media has at times been Phoenix’s underappreciated Invisible Man. When you do something so good for so long, it’s funny how people begin to take you for granted.

 

But while it’s okay to be disappointed that this team didn’t bring Phoenix its first NBA Championship (yet), let’s realize that at times the grass has been greener on our side. I’ll take a ring in a second, but would you want it done any other way? The recap you just read provided double-overtime thrillers, amazing performances and team with a heart the Wizard of Oz himself couldn’t provide. There are a number of NBA fans who would kill to have that excitement surrounding their team day in and day out, so let’s not take that for granted.

 

A perfect example of this perhaps coming in the fact the San Antonio Spurs failed to sell out their Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz. While I don’t mean to imply winning a championship any way possible is fun, you can’t fail to see the irony. The Suns sold out every game of the 2006-2007 season, but ultimately fell short. The Spurs meanwhile didn’t play in front of a sold out crowd when just eight wins away from the title themselves.

 

One who loves metaphors, I’ve got one which sums up the juxtaposition between these two teams perfectly. The Spurs are like the movie “The Piano.” Sure it wins all kinds of fancy awards, but does anybody really leave the theatre in ecstasy of what they’ve just seen? Do you call your buddies like, “Dude, you’ve got to see The Piano, you’ll have a blast.” The Suns – for these past three seasons anyway – have been more like Spider-Man. Everybody who sees it seems to enjoy themselves and everybody tells everybody they know it’s a must see. I’d much rather watch the latter.

 

I knew Peyton Manning would come through for Indianapolis because I know the way it usually works is that the great ones come through only after having their hearts torn out. It seemed to take Michael Jordan forever to get past the Pistons. The Boston Red Sox were crushed after their 2004 defeat to the Yankees and found themselves down 3-0 to New York the following year before getting over the hump. Great athletes never say die. Just like the “Fun-tastic Four.”

Suns Still in Search of First NBA Title

As you look back on the Suns season, you sense the Suns just needed a break! They certainly didn’t get any breaks in Round 2 with the Spurs.

A dejected Steve Nash walks off the AT&T Center in San Antonio after the Suns were eliminated by the Spurs on Friday night.
(NBAE Photos)

Between Steve Nash’s bloody nose and the suspensions of Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, the team’s “Eyes on the Prize”, came to grinding halt. It will be a series that will always be tainted!

The question now being raised is… will the window of opportunity to win a title remain open? So often teams assume they will get in position to win it all, several times or at least the next season.

NFL coach Dick Vermeil, who won one Super Bowl and lost another, once told me, “You better win it now, because you may never get back here again.” Certainly, the Suns let a golden opportunity get away.

Dallas had been eliminated, the Suns had home court advantage the rest of the way and the team for the first time in two seasons was healthy. The quick exit makes a third straight Pacific Division title, a franchise record 17-game winning streak and a 61-win season be almost forgotten. The Suns admit that their entire success would be determined only by what they accomplished in the post-season.

Many experts would like to tell you that the Sun’s high-octane, up tempo-style of play, just doesn’t hold-up in the playoffs. I disagree!!

The style can work, especially now that the defense has tightened up. The Suns showed some new found toughness that bodes well for the future.

Will the Suns stand pat, or make wholesale changes?? Steve Nash has urged patience, to take time to let the season to sink in.

The Suns face a luxury -tax hit, estimated at $ 12 million dollars if they return to core of players and sign 3 first round draft picks.

They can expect continuing growth from Amaré, Leandro and Boris, and Nash shows no signs of slowing down. It seems everyone is quick to trade Shawn Marion, but I remind those who do, that his style of play is perfect for the Suns System.

I would like to see Mike D’Antoni be able to expand the bench, get more players into the rotation. This season’s additions, Banks, Rose, Piatkowski and Jones never made an impact. Mike has been criticized for being stubborn and not playing them more, but I honestly believe he didn’t feel they were good enough to invest minutes. Mike since the end of the season has admitted the Suns need depth and that he’s “on it.”

Finally, it was a remarkable run. I wish the regular season had ended in January, after the team went 15-1 and were the talk of the basketball world. At that time the Suns looked invincible!!

But, still there is no NBA Title.

It leaves the Suns as the best franchise to have never won a championship.

It hurts to know this season was probably the best shot the Suns have ever had at winning the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Suns Still in Seven!

They said it couldn’t be done, and in the end the Suns couldn’t do it. But if they gave medals for trying this would be the most decorated team in the entire sports pantheon today.

 

What it lacked in offensive manpower, it made up for in heart and defense. But alas, while it never ran out of those two items, it did run out of gas late last night.

 

The Game 5 loss left them down 2-3 heading back to San Antonio, but they are in better shape than most teams in such a predicament.

 

This wasn’t a must win. Friday is a must win, and Sunday is a WILL win! (Trust me on this one. There is no way the Spurs win a Game 7 in Phoenix against a full strength Suns team. No way!)

 

“We know we can beat these guys,” said a far from dispirited Coach Mike. “We’ve shown it and we’ve done it.”

 

And I’m most definitely with him.

 

Although they came up short, the Suns demonstrated that even without Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw they can defend the daylights out of the Spurs, and that’s the main reason I still very much believe Phoenix will advance to the next round.

 

That “D” was almost enough to get the job done, even with a huge chunk of the NBA’s best offense on suspension. And I’m expecting Amare to come out smokin’ hot Friday.

 

There’s something else, too.

 

It has seemed to me almost from the start that much of the national media seemed to frame this as a case of the Suns trying to upset the Spurs, something I think both teams sort of bought into early.

 

That, of course, was an upside down view. The right side up, of course, is that the Spurs are trying to upset the Suns, who have a better record, are higher seeded, have a decent defense of their own, and a much, much better offense.

 

Part of the reason for the upside down view, of course, was rooted in the last few years, when the Spurs were indeed the gold standard in the NBA. They’re still very good, of course, but not THAT good.

 

The bottom line: See you Sunday.

Soft No More

Two years ago in the playoffs, the Suns’ Joe Johnson got his face broken in a game against Dallas. He coolly got up and shot free throws. The Suns responded in the next game with a gutty comeback. Still, they were called “soft.”

Raja Bell and the Suns showed toughness despite their Game 5 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday night.
(NBAE Photos)

Last season, the Suns ran to the Western Conference Finals without Amaré Stoudemire and, for the most part, Kurt Thomas, and overcame a suspension at a critical time against Raja Bell, who would later play through a painful calf injury. Still, they were called “soft.”

Last night, the Suns ignored suspensions to Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw and played one of the grittiest games I’ve ever seen, leading the nearly-full-strength Spurs for 43 minutes before running out of gas. It was, by any measure, a heroic stand by a severely undermanned team. And though the Suns fell just short, if their efforts last night didn’t wash away the dreaded “soft” label once and for all, I don’t know what will.

For as long as I can remember, literally, “Suns” and “soft” have been linked together in NBA conversations. Going back to the MacLeod Era, when the Suns started an undersized center at the high post, and their offense was predicated on fast breaks and pinpoint passing, they were characterized as “pretty,” just another word for “soft.” It was a characterization that led the Suns to trade for noted tough guys like Truck Robinson and Xavier McDaniel. Didn’t help.

In 1992, the Suns acquired one of the toughest men ever to play the game, Charles Barkley. Hoops watchers shook their heads in disdain at the Suns teams that followed over the next few years. “Chuck is tough,” they said. “The Suns aren’t.”

The “Bad Boy” Pistons of the late 1980s and early 1990s were considered tough. They bludgeoned, clubbed, mugged and didn’t care how many flagrant fouls and ejections they ran up so long as they won. The Knicks of the mid-1990s were considered tough. They turned “winning ugly” into a popular phrase, setting Slob Screens and mowing down opponents with elbows and knees.

That’s not the kind of tough I want my team to be. I want my team’s definitions of tough to be, “won’t back down from a challenge,” and, “faces adversity and ratchets up the effort when it’s needed most.” I want their toughness to come from playing hard, playing well, and playing honorably. I want their toughness to be in their hearts as well as their biceps.

“Tough” should be Kurt Thomas playing more minutes last night than in any game since anyone can remember, spending most of it isolated on one of the best players in the league, and contributing not only on defense, holding that player to a sub-par game, but providing stellar efforts on offense and on the glass, all the while remaining out of foul trouble.

“Tough” should be Shawn Marion, overcoming a reputation for playoff inconsistency, turning in a double-double in the first half, when the team had trouble scoring as a whole, when the team absolutely needed him the most.

“Tough” should be Steve Nash, having already taken six stitches to his nose, a knee to the groin, and a scorer’s table upside the head, still darting again and again into the heart of the best defense in the NBA, coming out with his own double-double.

“Tough” should be the fact that none of these players, nor anyone else who played for the Suns last night, blamed their loss on the absence of one of their best players and one of their top reserves.

Using those definitions as standards, last night, the Suns proved themselves once and for all to be as tough as anyone could want. And the final score doesn’t impact that a bit.

Don’t agree? Tough.

The Letter of the Law

A few years ago, Temple University basketball Coach John Chaney sent one of his deepest bench players into a game for the sole purpose of incapacitating an opponent’s best player.

The poor scrub dutifully did as he was told, and then sat our the length of his ensuing suspension, while the opponent’s star was lost for considerably longer, essentially ending any hope his team had for a season of success. It was a horrible piece of calculated gamesmanship that paid off perfectly – in the short run, Temple won the game. But in the long run, all of basketball lost.

For the record, I don’t believe for a second that the Spurs’ Robert Horry body-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table at the end of Game 4 with the intention of hurting the Suns’ star, and I don’t believe he did it with the intention of luring two of the Suns’ best players off their bench and into debilitating suspensions at the most crucial stage of a playoff series. Nor do I think Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, or any member of his staff, encouraged or ordered Horry to deliver an unnecessarily hard foul to any Suns player with the intention of doing that player harm or seeing opponents suspended.

I think what happened was this: Robert Horry blew his cool. Simple as that. Frustrated by the Spurs’ collapse in a game they had largely dominated, upset at seeing the home court advantage they had fought to steal be stolen from them, he made a mistake and unloaded on Steve Nash. I didn’t see any post-game quotes from Horry, but I bet he’d say much the same thing. And I bet Popovich either read Horry the riot act after the game before the press entered the locker room, or he knew that, since Horry has been in the league since prior to the invention of the shot clock, that he didn’t have to, because Horry knew exactly how badly he had screwed up.

The players of the NBA, while they may not always get along as individuals, are a fraternity. No one wants to see anyone else’s health damaged or career threatened. And the Spurs are a class organization. They don’t make any more “dirty” plays, intentional or not, than any other team in the league. They don’t need to resort to dirty tricks to win games or championships. They’ve proven that in the past. They’re simply a hard-nosed team that plays a very physical brand of basketball, and has a lot of success doing it. Obviously, they’re the villains of this piece to every Suns fan, but trust me, dirty play is not part of their institutional culture.

Still, the unintentional result of the incident is that the Spurs are left without a valuable role player for two games, while the Suns are left without their leading scorer, and one of their top two reserves. Based on that, even though Horry’s action was not premeditated, it works out to be a brilliant bit of gamesmanship that essentially neutralizes the Suns’ regained home court advantage. It’s a trade that definitely works in the Spurs’ favor, and any protests to the contrary, they have to be pretty happy about it. I know if it happened the other way, I’d certainly be glad to come out ahead – though I’d keep it to myself.

Boris Diaw and Amaré Stoudemire, seeing their teammate and leader take a cheap shot, left the immediate vicinity of the bench to come to his aid. That’s a fact. Doing so was a clear violation of NBA rules. That’s a fact. The penalty for violating that rule is a mandatory suspension of at least one game. That’s a fact. In terms of the letter of the NBA law, Boris, Amaré and the Suns received just punishment. It doesn’t matter that Amaré stepped out barely onto the court simply to get around other players. It doesn’t matter that neither player made it as far as half-court because of the heroic restraining action of the Suns’ assistant coaches. It doesn’t matter that, as others have been saying, Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen may have stepped onto the court in the second quarter of the same game when it looked like another altercation might take place (I didn’t see that play, so I can’t comment). It doesn’t matter what went before in the series’ physical play. In this case, the NBA got it right, according to the letter of their law.

Now, that letter of the law can (and probably should, and probably will) be debated – in the off-season. It’s an ironclad rule with no room for flexibility, and maybe there should be some flexibility built into it for future seasons. But now, in the middle of a playoff series, isn’t the time to rewrite a rule, however inappropriate to a situation it may be. I don’t believe Stoudemire and Diaw deserve their sentences, based on what they did when the incident occurred. I think most people who saw the play, maybe even some of them in San Antonio, would feel the same way.

Doesn’t matter. The rule is the rule.

And the truth, however unpalatable to Suns fans, is that Amaré and Boris should’ve known better. Their reaction to seeing Steve Nash laid out was one hundred percent human and absolutely natural. I have no doubt that, in the same situation, I’d have been hard-pressed to remain in my seat and resist the urge to rush to my teammate’s aid. But however hard it would have been, they should have resisted. They’re young guys, and this is a terrible way to learn a hard lesson. But they’ve learned it. Time to move on and look to Game 5.

Can the Suns win Game 5 without Diaw and Stoudemire? Of course they can. Will it be easy? Of course not. But they’ll be fired up beyond belief, and so will the crowd. And this is why teams have benches, and the Suns have a bench filled with playoff-tested veterans. While they may not have played much this season, they know what to do and what is expected of them. Someone will need to step up, shake off the rust, and justify the organization’s trust in them, whether it’s Jalen Rose, James Jones, Pat Burke, or someone else. It can definitely happen, and hopefully it will.

If the Suns lose, and go on to lose the series, it’ll be pretty obvious that the suspensions will have played a role in the ultimate outcome of the match-up. But that doesn’t mean Suns fans will be justified in griping, or that the playoff series should be assigned an asterisk in the record books. It’s all part of the game, at the moment, and maybe the NBA will address the situation after the playoffs are over, maybe they won’t.

It stinks, but it’s life. And in this case, the Suns simply came out on the short end of the stick.

If anything, I’m grateful Steve Nash didn’t break his arm when Robert Horry checked him into the scorer’s table Monday night. Or rupture tendons in his knees that might have finished his playing career. Because, if the same situation had resulted, the Suns would have lost three players to the Spurs’ one, one of them (a two-time MVP) forever, again with no legal recourse as the NBA handed out its justice, however undeserved.

It’s hard to say the Suns got lucky in this case, but at the moment, the Suns’ fans have to take their good luck where they can find it.

Pop, Do The Right Thing!

Okay, fans, let it out. And let it out Loud! The venting over the recently handed-out suspensions has begun. Fans not only in Phoenix but across the NBA nation are screaming about the ludicrous “letter of the law” interpretation which will severely hinder the Suns chances in Game 5 on Friday.

The Suns have been stripped of their Power Source AND their versatile back-up at the 5 spot.

The suspensions of Amaré and Boris are an absolute travesty. We all know it. And so too does Gregg Popovich, who should do “The Right Thing” and sit Tim Duncan for Game 5. Duncan could conveniently come down with a case of the 24 hour flu because you know if the Spurs end up winning this series; it will be the most hollow series victory in the history of the league. Popovich realizes his player (now known as “Cheap Shot Bob”) not only embarrassed himself with the cowardly and unsportsmanlike act, he embarrassed the proud Spurs franchise. Pop knows the Suns will be heavily outmanned at the center position, and any dominating performance by Duncan would just add to the injustice of today’s ruling handed down by the NBA.

Pop is a smart man. He’s a fair man. He could even the tables by making this unprecedented move. Sure it’s a pipe-dream for Suns fans, but could you imagine the reaction to such a bold move? He would be properly lauded for failing capitalize on the league’s unjust ruling, one which punishes the victim instead of the perpetrator.

Horry’s action should shame Spurs fans. Not only could it have resulted in a serious injury to Steve Nash, it now has tipped the scales in the Spurs’ favor for all the wrong reasons. And I don’t want to hear that “Amaré and Boris should have known better.” That was an instinctive movement on their part. A predictably human reaction. But each player quickly caught himself with no further escalation of the incident.

I’m not even going to analyze the rationale of the league with this decision. There is nothing we can say or do to change their narrow-mindedness. They have a rule and are sticking by it. Obviously this rule needs to be reviewed and re-written to inject common sense and allow for an interpretation that could be flexible enough to include extraordinary circumstances.

The NBA may also be losing out on a golden opportunity. The Suns are the heartthrob of NBA fans around the world. They are called the most entertaining and fascinating team this league has produced in years. The NBA has been advocating a more wide-open and exciting brand of basketball with the Suns as their beacon. The defensive rules have been tightened in hopes of loosening-up the nets with the kind of high-scoring games we used to witness in the ’80s and early ’90s. TV ratings are on the rise. Fans are talking about this game again, purchasing tickets and buying the jerseys. The NBA had a chance to stand behind the kind of team that has rekindled interest in this great game. A game defined by grace, speed and skill. Instead, it has handicapped this team and its chances of achieving their first NBA title.

This is not to say the Suns cannot or will not win Game 5. This resilient Suns team has constantly played its best when faced with desperate situations. On Friday night, in front of their furious fans, it will take a Herculean effort from Nash and Marion and a break-through game from Leandro Barbosa to stun the Spurs. So keep the faith even after you may have lost some in the game’s governing body.

In the meantime, the only person left who could somehow diffuse this volatile situation is the Spurs Head Coach. Horry and Duncan for Stoudemire and Diaw seems like a fair enough deal. Do you think Popovich would make that deal if proposed to him in trade talks? You bet he would!

Game 4: Blogging from San Antonio

It’s 4:25 am Phoenix time (6:25 am back in San Antonio) and I’m back home, about ready to crash. Special thanks to all of you who read my in-game blog last night. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. For those of you just now reading it, forgive my over exuberance. I couldn’t help myself!

If I didn’t approve your reply at the bottom, it was either because, 1) You were asking about potential suspensions, of which I’m not at liberty or informed enough to discuss, 2) You were a Spurs fan, who took out your dissapointment over the loss on me with a diatribe of profanity; or 3) I probably just missed it, as my eyes are a little blurry at the moment.

——————————–

FINAL SCORE: SUNS 104, SPURS 98!!!

The Suns win the “biggest game of the year” and if they go on to wrap up this series, this could go down as the biggest win in franchise history!!! Yes, I’m exclamation point happy. Sue me.

I’ve got to sign-off for now. Got to send out a text alert and update the playoff index page real quick before heading downstairs to the locker room.

Keep your comments and feedback coming. I’ll post your replies as soon as I can get back to my computer. And from a dead-silent AT&T Center, I�sign off with one more… “HUGE!!!”

4th Qtr, 00:18.2
— WOWWWWW!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!!!! I think the Spurs just proved STAT correct with that one. Don’t be surprised if Robert Horry misses the next game after body checking Nash into the courtside press table. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

And boy am I impressed with Raja that he didn’t completely lose it. He got a technical for getting up in Horry’s grill, but he maintained his composure. I’m really surprised no one threw any punches there. That could have really been ugly. I say it again, UNBELIEVABLE!!!

This game isn’t over yet, but Spurs fans are heading for the exits! I LOVE IT!!!

4th Qtr, 00:32.5 — ANOTHER BUCKET BY STAT, right over the outstretched arm of Duncan. Suns lead by three! Suns TV Producer Marc Goldberg and I are going crazy up here, pounding the press table. I don’t think anyone minds. Most of the reporters who were up here with us left minutes ago to head down to the “victorious” Spurs locker room. The crowd’s “Go Spurs Go!” chant is pretty weak. They don’t sound too confident.�I think we’re going to pull this one out!!! Can’t give up any threes here.

4th Qtr, 00:53 — SUNS LEAD!!! SUNS LEAD!!! SUNS LEAD!!! That last sentence typed with “Good ‘Ol J.R.’s” voice in mind. I’m sick of saying “huge,” so I’ll say enormous bucket by Amare. Suns first lead since mid-way through second quarter.

4th Qtr, 1:48 — Duncan scores. Nash scores. And the fans in front of me are standing! I can’t see the court… Huge pass from Raja to Marion under the basket for two! It’s a ONE POINT GAME!!!

4th Qtr, 3:58 — STAT’s back in the game. Suns trail by seven… Amare drives inside and scores! 22 pts for the big man. If he can just�keep from getting his sixth foul. Raja drives inside for the bucket and San Antonio’s lead is back down to three. Wow, is this intense!

I’m having flashbacks to Game 1 of the 2003 playoffs when a rookie STAT drained the three-pointer to send the game into OT, and then Stephon Marbury went full court for another three at the horn to win the thriller. Although I’m not sure my heart can take an ending like that tonight. I think I’d much prefer a nice 2-point win in regulation.

4th Qtr, 4:22 — Hard foul by LB on Parker. Suns are in the penalty. TP hits both, Spurs lead by five once again.

4th Qtr, 4:38 — “Throwing any object onto the court will be subject to ejection.” That’s Spurs fans for you! Sorry, I coudln’t resist.

4th Qtr, 5:35 — Two-point game! Kurt knocks down a pair of free throws… ARGGHHH… would someone please cover Michael Finley?! Spurs back up five.

4th Qtr, 6:47 — @#$%*&%@$… two quick fouls on Amare! He’s got five now.�Not at all what we needed. And the Spurs follow that up with a big three-pointer by Michael Finley.

And now Duncan’s got five fouls! And Raja’ hits a jumper. I can’t type fast enough!

4th Qtr, 7:34 — I don’t know about you, but I’m so nervous. I can’t stop fidgeting in my seat. Although that could also be the 16 oz’s of Full Throttle… HUGE shot by Steve! Spurs lead�down to�three! It’s anyone’s game!

4th Qtr, 7:56 — I don’t know how many times I can say “huge,” but that was a huge three by Marion… and now another big shot by Trix, a running floater to cut the Spurs lead to 5!

4th Qtr, 8:55 — The Suns are getting some good breaks, they just need to take advantage of them. Duncan just got his fourth foul, an offensive foul this time. Now — right now — the Suns need to make their push.

Quick reply to Natasha of Canada’s reply (see bottom). Your dad turned off the game for CSI Miami? And he’s from Canada? Where’s the love for Nash?! Tell your dad that’s just cruel and unusual punishment. He can always watch CSI Miami, New York or Vegas on Spike TV. If you get that channel in Canada that is.

4th Qtr, 10:08 — Huge sequence there. Nash steals from Duncan, pushes down court, Amare slams home a missed shot by LB. 8-point game.

4th Qtr, 10:56 — Okay, letting Duncan dunk it, and then sending him to the line on the next trip down was not exactly what I had in mind. Spurs 83, Suns 72.

3rd Qtr Break — Here we go fans. In last night’s blog, I said this was the biggest game of the season for the Suns. That makes this quarter the biggest quarter of the year for our team. They currently trail 72-80, but there’s 12 minutes of basketball to be played. I still feel like they can pull this out. But they’ve got to give it everything they’ve got right here, right now. I’m looking for Steve and Amare, in particular, to step up and show the world why they are All-NBA First Teamers!

3rd Qtr, 1:40 — Another big bucket and an “and 1″ for Amare! Suns need to keep going to him down low.

3rd Qtr, 2:44 – Nice dunk for Amare! Want to see more of that… but don’t want to see Parker drive the lane uncontested… or Brent Barry draining threes!!! Ugh.

Speaking of ugh, Juan from Fort Worth, I’m not even going to post your reply.

Sorry I’ve slipped a bit this quarter, fans. I’m trying to blog and crop photos for our�game coverage gallery�at the same time. Not easy to do. But I will step up in the fourth quarter, just like I expect our Suns to. Don’t give up. You and I know both know this Suns team can reel off a dozen quick points just like that!

3rd Qtr, 7:05 — And Duncan takes a seat! Time for Stoudemire to take control down low. Although the Suns have to stop giving Parker and Co. open looks! Timeout Phoenix. Spurs take a 10-point lead. Let’s go fans! Let ‘em hear you from back home!!! Scream at that TV! Just don’t scream at your computer screen while reading my blog, please.

3rd Qtr, 7:27 — Well, I don’t like the way this quarter began, but I love the fact that Duncan just got his third foul, as Steve Nash drove inside.

3rd Qtr, 9:41 — Back from the Cowboys room. Yes, they have a Cowboys room and a Cowgirls room. Isn’t that cute? A whole lot of testosterone flowing in the restroom, by the way. Lots of inebriated Spurs fans hooting and hollering about how great their team is. Disgusting.

Saw a great site walking back to my press seat, though… a guy and his�gal (Texas talk, of course), wearing Dirk Nowitzki jerseys and wearing paper bags over their heads.

Still Halftime — Pablo from England (see replies at bottom)! Wow, how cool is that, that I’ve got live readers in England! This isn’t THE Pablo that I met at our Training Camp in Italy is it? What time is it there in England anyway? I’d look it up online, but I’ve got to go use the restroom, buy a “Full Throttle” and give my wife a�quick ring�before the game begins. I’ll be back!

Halftime – Suns trail by five, but I still feel pretty good. We escaped the first half with a limited number of fouls, which means Amare can play the majority of the second half. We’ve played with intensity and passion. Nash is hitting his shots. The second half will be ours!

By the way… if you don’t want to listen to Charles Barkley at halftime, open that other browser window to Spurs.com again and watch the halftime show. Some freaky looking, bald gymnast guys lifting each other in the air… On second thought, watch Charles. At least you’ll get a good laugh or two.

2nd Qtr, 00:50.9 – First half almost over.�Parker just hit a big shot for San Antonio to give them a five-point lead, and Nash turned it over on the other end.

2nd Qtr, 3:55 — Did you see that? A huge charge taken by Nash! Duncan barrelled�down the middle�like a runaway locamotive and MV3 just stood there and took the full brunt for the good of the team. He is so tough!

I asked him a week or two back if he felt he had a better season this year than last. Although always humble, he admitted that he did feel he had improved in several areas this season, and one of the first he pointed to was taking charges. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I know he’s taken quite a few of them in the postseason alone.

2nd Qtr, 6:02 — The Spurs computer specialist was up here before the game talking to their web folks about the datalines they’ve set up for the live webcast, and told him he’d set it up again if there was going to be a Game 6. I told him he should go ahead and just leave it up since they’re will definitely be a Game 6.

2nd Qtr, 6:48 — Boy Tim Duncan is good. I’ve really been impressed with Thomas’ D on the Spurs’ big man. He does not even budge when Duncan is banging into him, but Tim is so good with that turnaround bank shot. I really don’t know how you stop that, other than double-him, and if you do that it’s only going to leave one of San Antonio’s sharp shooters (Finley, Ginobili, Bowen) wide open.

2nd Qtr, 8:43 — In reference to Mike’s question below, the technical was called on the Suns for a defensive�3-second violation. Don’t worry. No one’s lost their cool or anything as of yet!

Just had the first-quarter box scores delivered to us (we’re a long ways away from the press room). Quick hits: Nash was 3-of-3 for the first quarter, Thomas had four rebounds and three Suns registered a block.

2nd Qtr, 10:52 — Big shot by LB. He hasn’t been quite the spark that he was in the Lakers series, which surprises me a bit. I expected this to be another big series for him. Although I guess it still could be. After all, this is only the middle of what’s going to be a full seven-game Conference Semis.

In reply to Andrew’s comment on Robert… I’m not sure I’d call what he does “Jawing,” but he definitely gets into the games.�He’s as big a fan as any of us, I think!

1st Qtr Break — Interesting promotion they just ran during the quarter break. A couple of kids had to try and score baskets while being defended by a giant smiling grocery bag. I started to make fun of my Spurs.com friends and then admitted that my kids would probably have loved�it!

And the second quarter is underway.

1st Qtr, 0:39 – That was scary. Trix just chased a ball into the cameras and fans along the baseline and was pretty darn slow to get back up. But he’s fine! There are always a few times a year that Shawn goes down hard, putting a scare into teammates, coaches and fans, only to bounce back up 30 or 40 seconds later and get right back into the game. He has the healing powers of Wolverine!

First quarter over and Suns lead, 24-22. Not a bad start. Although the Spurs look pretty good themselves, so far.

1st Qtr, 2:22 — Foul on Marion. I was a little concerned it was on Thomas there for a second. First quarter almost over and we’ve only got one foul each on Kurt, Amare and Marion so far. Good start. So is the 64.3% shooting for the Suns!

1st Qtr, 3:24 — Speaking of fans, there was a pretty big group of them awaiting our players outside the team hotel this afternoon. Both Kurt Thomas and STAT stopped to sign a number of autographs, which I asked Amare about.

“I always try to sign for kids,” he told me. “I don’t always sign for the adults, though. You can tell some of them are just there to get your autograph to sell.”

There were definitely a few of those. There were a number of “fans” who seemed bored by the Suns, even though they had large stacks of color pictures and balls to get signed. A couple of them even had on Spurs T-shirts. They didn’t get any auotgraphs.

1st Qtr, 4:15 — Oh boy! Raja is jawing with some fan sitting in the first row. I couldn’t tell what happened from way up here, but it looked like Raja kind of lost his balance and fell towards the fans sitting in the corner. Not sure if the fan grabbed him or just said something derrogatory, but I could definitely tell Raja didn’t appreciate it.

1st Qtr, 5:46 — Big steal by Amare, and another jumper for Nash. Suns 18, Spurs 10. Boy the Suns looke active so far here tonight. They’ve got to keep up this energy level for a full 48!

Quick reply to Andrew — yes, that Andrew — good to hear (read) from you, man! You inspired us with your game-night blogs in Sac-town this year. Thought I’d give it a shot myself tonight. Not easy to do while watching the game, though.

1st Qtr, 6:50 — Amare’s got his first foul. He really needs to keep that in check tonight. But he just answered with a nice little jumper.

1st Qtr, 8:35 — Steve Nash drains a three! Suns jump out to a very early lead, 9-3. Nice to see Steve hit his first two shots after starting out so cold last game. Spurs timeout.

Real quick, in reply to Justin and Lyle’s comments (see below), I’m not actually surprised that Bowen didn’t get suspended. Again, similar to the incident with Amare in Game 2, his “accidental” contact with Nash’s… uh… crotchal region?… could actually have been an accident. It’s impossible to know for sure whether or not he meant to drop Steve like a sack of potatoes. The league can’t really suspend players unless it’s obviously blatant.

Coach D’Antoni said he thought it was a good decision by the league to give Bowen a “Flagrant 1″ foul and send the message that they’re watching him closely.

1st Qtr, 10:01 –�I’m switching to the game clock for my time stamps. I’m thinking that will be easier than trying to figure out the time in Phoenix for each note, and hopefully easier for you to follow along, as well. Suns look pretty good so far, playing aggressive, rebounding, and there goes Amare into the lane, drawing a foul on the Spurs’ big guy, Olberto.

6:56 PM — I’ve got some replies! I was hoping some fans would be logged on during the game to interact with me. In reponse to “Suns r winnin,” I wouldn’t be concerned that the Suns aren’t taking this game seriously. Every player approaches the games differently. If anything, I felt good that the guys seemed loose and confident, not scared. As for Raja, I love his intensity. I’m expecting a big game out of him tonight. Speaking of the game, we’re underway!!!

6:52 PM – The introductions are underway. Interesting to me that they play WWE superstar The Undertaker’s theme music for the Suns’ intros. I guess they know the Grim Reaper is coming for the Spurs tonight.

6:48 PM –�Took a trip through the maze-like hallways of AT&T Center over to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich’s pre-game media session. He said that he expected to see a different Suns team tonight, much like the Phoenix�team that came out on fire in Game 2, noting that it’s natural for the team that loses to come out stronger than the team that wins in tightly contested series like this one. He also said that he felt like if these two teams played 15 games, one would win�eight of them, the other seven.

6:45 PM –�Not going to say who — and I wasn’t purposely looking — but I noticed that one of the Suns�wore orange briefs to the game tonight.

6:37 PM –�Everyone seemed to be in a pretty good tonight. Well, everyone except Raja Bell, who appeared to be in a zone as he sipped his pre-game coffee. A very intense zone at that.

Shawn Marion had a big smile and wide eyes as he watched the Shrek 3 trailer on the locker room TV. The Matrix, as you probably know, is a big fan of cartoons. Although, I can’t wait to�take the kids and see it�myself.

Speaking of movies, James�Jones went to see 28 Weeks Later today. Gave it a thumbs down. He also said he didn’t like Spider-Man 3, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed myself. I LOVED Spidey 2, but the third installment had too many holes and too many unrealistic parts. Unrealistic for a superhero movie, that is.

While Jr was at the movies, Sean Marks, Eric Piatkowski, Pat Burke and Tim Kempton went golfing, I hear. I don’t know who hit what, but from the sounds of things, Kempton’s team won.

6:32 PM –�And here come our Suns, to a chorus of boos , of course.

Not that I want you to leave Suns.com, but you might want to open a second internet window and visit Spurs.com. My counterparts have set up a live web cam to capture the pre-game warm-ups, intros, etc. They’re actually seated right behind me, so I thought about lifting up a Suns’ game program that I had in my laptop bag and putting it in front of their camera lense.

I wouldn’t do that, though, as the Spurs’ web guys are good peoples. They’ve got a pretty sharp looking playoff site, too. And besides, I’m going to steal their idea and see if we can’t hook up a live web cam next game. Watch for it.

6:28 PM (Phoenix time) –�The Spurs have just taken the court to some lively rap music. I’m not sure, but it might just be a little number off of Tony Parker’s rap album. Excuse me, Tony Fizzle’s rap album. Yes, it’s true.

Nash a Living Legend

Traveling with the Suns, I see a lot of funny things and overhear a lot of interesting conversations that die-hard Phoenix fans would love to read about. Usually, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to share those anecdotes, but I feel compelled to relay this particular one.

Now, as you can probably imagine, there were a lot of colorful comments and intriguing opinions expressed on the late-night flight back to Phoenix after the Suns’ dramatic Game 4 win in San Antonio last night. But the exchange that I couldn’t help but listen to intently was one that had nothing to do with the Robert Horry incident.

Sitting directly behind Al McCoy and I were Suns guards and good friends Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa. Nash, who is currently reading a book on Pistol Pete Maravich, was telling LB all about the late-great Jazz guard, who he said he wishes he could have met. It wasn’t long before Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo and assistant coach Dan D’Antoni were in on the conversation, as well.

D’Antoni, who said he actually played against him on the playgrounds of South Carolina, called him the original Magic Johnson. Colangelo told a story about the time he scored 50 against the Suns, after several of his temmates had gotten into a car accident earlier in the day and his team was short-handed. And Nash told Barbosa how Maravich once scored 82 points in a game at Rucker Park. How he averaged more than 40 points over his four years of college. How he was a wizard with the ball, and could do all of the “And 1″ moves in actual NBA games.

The history lesson on Pistol Pete went on for a good 20 minutes, at least, with Nash doing most of the teaching. It was very evident, and even a bit surprising to me, just how much respect and reverance the Suns’ playmaker has for Maravich.

All the while, I kept thinking that someday, 20, 30 years from now, there will be some NBA player telling a younger player about the greatness that was Steve Nash. How the diminutive unknown from Canada elevated his game to elite status and won back-to-back MVP awards.

How he once handed out 23 assists in a playoff game in Los Angeles, in front of Magic. How he once scored 48 against his former team in Dallas in the Conference Semis (’95) and followed that game up with a triple-double (34 points, 13 boards, 12 assists) against the Mavs.

How he had his nose busted open, took a knee to the grapefruits, and was sent flying into the scorer’s table in one particularly memorable playoff series against the Spurs in 202007, and never stopped fighting (in a basketball sense, of course.)

But most of all, I’m thinking that the next generation of NBA players and Phoenix fans will be telling stories about how the one-of-a-kind Nash guided and lifted the Suns to their first-ever NBA Championship.

The Biggest Game of the Year

Walking back to our hotel after the annual playoff media dinner this evening, I was saying how I wished that Suns broadcasters Tom Leander or Gary Bender were along for the trip so they could file a blog for Suns.com.

 

Steven J. Koek, Suns.com TV producer extraordinaire, then asked why I don’t write one.

 

Good question.

 

A can of Rockstar Juiced and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms later, and I’m at my keyboard ready to share my thoughts and stories from San Antonio.

 

Let’s start with the aforementioned dinner. For each of the last three years, Suns owner Robert Sarver has treated the traveling Phoenix media to a nice meal, as a thank you for the press coverage during the season. Coach D’Antoni has joined in the last couple years, but was noticeably absent tonight. Everyone understood, of course, that he’s got more important things on his mind than Tex-Mex.

 

The general consensus among the newspaper, radio and TV reporters I talked to was that tomorrow’s Game 4 is the most important game of the season, and – if the Suns are so fortunate to go on to win their first NBA Championship next month – could end up being one of the most pivotal games in franchise history.

 

Think about it. If the Suns lose a second straight here, they’ll find themselves in a deep and dark hole, trailing the Spurs 1-3. And while they’ve climbed out of similar holes before, most recently last season when they came back to defeat the Lakers in seven games, this Spurs team is not that Lakers team.

 

Amaré Stoudemire went so far as to call it a “must win” after his foul trouble led to the Suns’ Game 3 loss here on Saturday, and I can’t say I disagree.

 

Should the Suns bounce back, though, and take Game 4 – and no one I talked to doubted that they can do just that – then they have reclaimed the invaluable home court advantage with two of next three games to be played at US Airways Center.

 

Before the Conference Semifinals started, I told friends and co-workers that I thought the Suns would defeat the Spurs in seven games. In fact, as far back as April 5th – after the Suns lost in San Antonio in their last regular season meeting – I said that the Suns would win in seven IF they were able to hang on to the No. 2 seed to ensure the seventh game between the Western Conference rivals would be played in Phoenix.

 

I had my concerns over whether or not the Suns could win a Game 7 here, and I have those same concerns over a Game 6 next Friday. Especially if it’s a possible elimination game, where the experience and confidence of past NBA Championships could play a huge role for the home team.

 

But I’m sticking with my pre-series prediction. The Suns will win tomorrow night, again on Wednesday back in Phoenix and advance to the Conference Finals for the third straight year by winning a Game 7 next Sunday.

 

What do you guys think? Scroll down below to submit your replies, and watch for my new in-game blog from my upper level press seat at AT&T Center tomorrow night.

 

ODDS & ENDS & TEXAS GIFTS

 

 

  • I’m not going to suggest that the waiter at our restaurant on the Riverwalk was a “dirty” Spurs fan, but it was surprising when the table that Sarver and several reporters were sitting at suddenly broke, sending drinks and salads soaring.  

     

  • Channel 12’s sports reporter Bruce Cooper won the award for the most colorful dinner attire, arriving in a bright peach sportcoat straight out of Craig Saeger’s closet. Word was that Ricky Martin is staying in a nearby hotel – a couple of his dancers even passed through our party – but no one knew until Coop showed up that the Temptations were in town, too.  

     

  • We don’t have the video to show you (we slept through today’s practice after working on the web site until 5 a.m. this morning), but we hear that Leandro Barbosa was making some impressive passes to Eric Piatkowski. With his feet! Standing on the sidelines at halfcourt, LB was drop-kicking the Spalding up and over to the far corner behind the three-point line, where Pike would catch, shoot and drain shot after shot.
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  • Speaking of practice today, I hear that Raja Bell was still pretty short with reporters. If you watched our post-game coverage on Suns.com, you probably noticed that the Suns’ guard was not at all pleased after the Game 3 loss. Not that I blame him, of course. I get the feeling that the Suns were disappointed that they didn’t match the Spurs’ aggressiveness and were not amused by the Spurs’ enjoyment over the win.
  • I don’t know if you saw it, or if the Suns saw it for that matter, but if I was Coach D I think I would show them the video of Tim Duncan’s post-game comments, in which he laughed hard when asked if this was a physical series. “Did you see the last series?” he replied,�trying to hold back more laughter. “Those guys were a lot more physical than these guys.”

     

     

     

  • We took a walk down to the Alamo this afternoon – Steven J. wanted to visit Pee Wee’s basement – and then had lunch at a little mall on the Riverwalk. Stopping into a new and used video game store, I was startled when a teenager came racing in to yell at one of his friends working behind the counter. “HURRY, SHAWN MARION IS OUTSIDE!” Sure enough, Trix was looking at some jewelry when not posing for photos for fans with camera phones.
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  • I don’t know what Shawn bought, but I thought I’d pick up a souvenir for our new “Suns.com Skybox” – look up towards the rafters above section 203, if you’re at Wednesday’s Game 5. I debated between a stuffed Jackelope and stuffed Armadillo, who was dressed in leather chaps and a gunbelt, but they were $130 each. I then considered a giant orange foam cowboy hat, a “Hillbilly Suitcase,” which was a pair of tighty whities with wooden handles, and a “Lone Star Windchime” made of dangling beer cans. Yee haw!