Quirky Suns Muscle Way to Win

One thing everybody agrees on about the Suns is that they are different. And most of the time almost everybody says Vive�la Difference! But there’s one “difference” that’s really not all that much to “vive” about.


Shawn Marion registered a double double with 26 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday night’s series-clinching win over the Lakers.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

I refer, of course, to the fact that unlike almost any other team in any other sport, these guys seem to have the darndest time coming from way AHEAD to win. They usually manage to, of course, as witness their 61 regular-season victories, their 4-1 disposal of the Lakers in the first round, and the growing consensus that, while the way to The Prize still runs through the Southwest, it’s through Arizona, not Texas.


Last night offered a perfect illustration of this maddening “la Difference.” At 10:25 in the third period the Suns had opened a 15-point lead and seemed well on the way to the blowout a lot of people expected and, no matter what they say publicly, the Suns really wanted.


But at 1:30 in the third period the lead was cut all the way down to two, and the palpable perspiration in the stands wasn’t due to a sudden breakdown in the US Airways air conditioning system.


But not to worry!


Remember, it’s only when they are way AHEAD that the basketball version of the Ferrari that is their high-speed offense suddenly starts sounding like a 1946 Hudson and their defense starts leaking points. So thus it was no surprise that by 5:52 in the fourth period the lead was all the way back to 16.




With three minutes to play that lead was back down to five, Kobe Bryant had finally located the basket, and the Suns suddenly found themselves fighting a guerrilla war on the boards to survive. Fortunately, they were winning that war, thanks to some great inside work by Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and finally managed to put the Lakers in their rear view mirror for good.


Incidentally, in their lone loss in the series, the Suns got off to an 11-0 start and eventually built a 17-point lead, and then pfft!


Leading hoopologists are unsure what causes this strange quirk, but suspect it may be built into the very pedal-to-the-metal, fire when ready (or not) modus operandi that makes them the most entertaining team in the NBA, not to mention one of the most successful.


“La Difference” aside, usually the Suns win in style, but in the end this win was as much or maybe more about hustle and muscle than run and fun. The Suns won partly because Amare was able to foul out two thirds of the Lakers’ starting front line while scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, and Shawn Marion had a brilliant all-around game at both ends of the court. In fact, Marion, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, gets our coveted game ball for this one. And you have to believe that if the Suns can somehow find ways to get NBA voters and/or the league office to snub him two or three more times there will be no stopping them.


Shawn, easily the most versatile defender in the league, was dumped on by both the coaches and the media in Defensive Player and All-Defensive balloting. And as he often does when he feels slighted, he takes his frustrations out on the opposition.


While the Suns were clearly pleased to be moving into the second round, they had really hoped to finish off the series with a bit more of a flourish. After all, they not only are much better than the Lakers but also much healthier.

In the pre-game notes they have a listing of injuries for both teams. For the Suns it was, “INJURIES: None.” For the Lakers it was, “INJURIES: Kobe Bryant (sprained left ankle) will play. Kwame Brown (sprained left ankle), Lamar Odom (torn labrum, left shoulder; hyper-extended left elbow) and Luke Walton (sprained right ankle; dislocated right pinky finger) are probable. Chris Mihn (right ankle surgery) out for season.”

The main reason I cite this is not to try to drum up a little sympathy for the Lakers, but rather to underscore the biggest reason I like the Suns chances of finally winning their first championship much better than in any of the previous Nash Years, namely, health.

The early bottom line on Round Two: I like the Suns because of their home-court advantage vs. the Spurs, and because of Amare (though, not necessarily in that order). Remember, that’s my EARLY line.

Day-Long Blog and I Want To Go Home

It probably wasn’t the wisest decision to wait until 2:30 in the morning to write the intro to my day-long blog. The right words are difficult to come by at this time (as is a decent meal), but what a day it was. Here it is from start to finish:

It’s a new baby and a new playoff series for Raja Bell.
(NBAE Photos)

8:00 a.m. -�The day begins. My iPOD – one of the greatest inventions, not to mention Christmas presents ever – awakens me as it usually does to the glorious sounds of Frank Sinatra, the Supremes and Jay-Z. It only takes me three songs to get out of bed on this glorious morning, two below the average.

9:30 a.m. -�Stop for gas. It’ll be a late night and the last thing I’ll want to do is stop at Circle K to refuel at three o’clock in the morning. I pat myself on the back for thinking ahead and treat myself to an energy bar and Rockstar drink which I will save for this evening. While I’m at it, I think I’ll even drive through the car wash. My car is silver, not brown, it’s about time I reminded people of that.

9:50 a.m. – Stop at another Circle K as fellow blogger and VP of Interactive Services Jeramie McPeek has requested a couple of Socko drinks. The location does not have Socko so he’ll have to settle for Rockstar. The beverage is sugar free and contains zero carbohydrates. I’m confident he’ll be quite pleased.

10:00 a.m. -�I have arrived at the US Aiways Center. An e-mail is sent to employees stating the Lakers will be holding their practice on the main court beginning at 10:30. The e-mail reminds employees that they are not to watch the practice from the higher levels of the arena. I guess the team is real secretive about their top secret mission to get the ball in Kobe Bryant’s hands for tonight’s Game 5.

10:15 a.m. -�I’m waiting for the Phoenix Suns to finish their shootaround so I can find out what the status is of guard Raja Bell. With his wife Cindy is the hospital preparing to give birth to their first child, his status for tonight is uncertain. As I wait outside the practice court, I read the e-mail my friend Alex sent me. He’s finished the next two issues of the comic book we’re working on and wants to know if I can review them. The timing is perfect.

10:20 a.m. -�Arizona Republic writer Paul Coro approaches and informs me he found the answer to the trivia question I was asking at practice the previous day. With Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors, I couldn’t help but wonder who the last MVP was not to participate in the semifinal round of the playoffs. Coro informs me it was Moses Malone who in 1982 captured the honor just to fall in the Opening Round to the Seattle SuperSonics. I mention that after picking the Warriors to win their series over the Mavericks prior to Game 1, I have now switched my pick to the Mavericks. I am informed that sort of thing doesn’t fly.

10:35 a.m. -�Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni is unsure of Bell’s status. Should the defensive specialist not be able to go, Leandro Barbosa would start in his place. Members of the media question what this means in terms of Kobe Bryant enjoying a little bit more offensive freedom. My mind wanders to another scenario: Forward Shawn Marion, snubbed from the NBA All-Defensive Teams is given the assignment of guarding Kobe Bryant. To show the world how wrong it was to exclude him from the team, Marion gives us a defensive display like we’ve never seen. Bryant shoots a mediocre 2-for-16 as the Lakers fall, 119-97. I like my scenario but realize I’ve been so caught up in it, I’ve failed to get reaction from both Amaré Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Luckily, the “Brazilian Blur” has just become available.

10:37 a.m. -�As he always is, Barbosa is accommodating in letting me speak to him about tonight’s game. A group of reporter’s spot us and we are quickly surrounded. I feel guilty that what went from an early leave for LB has now turned into a game of 21 Questions. As always, Barbosa says all the right things. He discusses that the important thing for Raja right now is to be with his family and regardless whether he comes off the bench or starts tonight, he’ll be ready for Game 5 against the Lakers. Caught in the huddle with tons of Los Angeles press, I can’t help but think about how nice a win would be tonight so the circus can finally leave town.

11:00 a.m. -�Back at my desk, it is time to take care of something very important – checking the status of tomorrow evening’s Spiderman 3 premier. There’s nothing better than waiting on line with a bunch of grown men in Spiderman costumes at 11:30 pm, but I decide to get my tickets off the internet instead. To my surprise, a number of shows have already sold out, including the IMAX presentation at Deer Valley 30 I had so hoped to be a part of. I instead op for the standard screen and hope it still does Venom justice.

11:30 a.m. -�I put my finishing touches on the article I wrote about Mike D’Antoni’s appearance in “Phoenix Metropolitan.” The magazine discusses who will be the future face of Phoenix, listing candidates which include Mayor Phil Gordon and Dean of ASU’s School of Design Wellington Reiter. I can’t help but appreciate the fact it is D’Antoni who is chosen as the cover boy for the publication.

12:00 p.m. -�Community Relations Coordinator Chris Mallory and I enjoy lunch at Cooperstown. The Mets game is being televised and the team is currently enjoying the lead over the Florida Marlins. We are both Mets fans. Life is good.

3:40 p.m. – We’ve just received word – Cindy Bell has just given birth to a baby boy. Congrats to the Bells, it is indeed an accomplishment worthy of exclamation points!!! Hopefully Raja will get here and score 50 tonight so he can brag to his son about the night he scored 50 and eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs the day he was born.

4:03 p.m. -�I check to make sure the Mets were able to hang on in their contest against Florida (their bullpen really appeared to be struggling). They did hang on and my dream of watching the Colts, Mets, Suns and New York Rangers capture Championships in the same year is one step closer to being realized. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll have the chance to watch the Mets up close and personal over at Chase Field. At this point, that seems like a long way away.

4:10 p.m. -�Word is that Suns guard Raja Bell is on his way to the arena. I am off to capture video with my trusted Panasonic DVX100B and will check back when possible.

4:30 p.m. -�Hanging out in the player’s parking lot waiting for guys to start showing up. With stuff like this you could sometimes find yourself waiting a really long time but luckily they’ve got the ESPN Braves-Phillies game on.

4:32 p.m. -�I’ve just seen one of the worst cases of base running at the expense of Philadelphia. Today just keeps getting better and better.

4:50 p.m. -�Guys are showing up. What are the odds that Raja is the first guy I get on tape? He’s brought his mother to the game which is great. I’m sure it’s always nice having an extra fan out there cheering for you.

5:15 p.m. -�I’m supposed to go capture Phil Jackson’s pregame media session and get the health status of Kobe Bryant. I’m hoping one of the other reporter’s asks because I would hate to be the recipient of one of those patented Phil Jackson stare downs. I heard there’s a reporter from 1996 who’s still trying to recover from one of those.

6:00 p.m. -�Well my Spidey-sense was tingling and with very good reason. I was waiting around for Phil Jackson just outside the Lakers locker room located just next to the Suns practice court. I thought about how Raja was unable to practice with the team today and how he was one of the most dedicated players in the NBA. I check out the practice court and there he is shooting by himself, didn’t even have anybody rebounding for him. I start shooting video, hoping the stress of what he’s gone through today doesn’t kick in and he gives me the boot. Always the professional, he just kept on shooting and I was able to capture some great stuff.

6:10 p.m. -�I rush out of the practice court just in time to get Phil Jackson. He talks about something, I’m not really sure what, I’m too busy thinking about the great video I just captured.

7:30 p.m. -�The game is finally underway and Raja Bell starts off the contest on fire! He hits his first three shots from the field and a headline pops into my head. For a guy who has a reputation of not handing in headlines with his work, this is big. I’m getting a vision of a Raja Bell pic, maybe him holding up his Suns jersey with pride for the camera. The headline: “Who’s Your Daddy?” In the words of Kenny Bania, “It’s gold Jerry, it’s gold.”

8:00 p.m. -�Mmmm “Negozio del Formaggio.” I have no idea what it means, but they make the best chicken Caesar pizzan ever!

8:25 p.m. -�I’m told to interview Jeremy Piven of “Entourage.” I’m instantly reminded of how uncool I am because I have no clue who that is. Jeramie informs me he’s the guy who played George on the pilot episode of “Seinfeld.” All is well.

9:13 p.m. -�Just about 12 hours after purchasing it, that Rockstar sure is sounding good. Sugar free and zero carbohydrates…. I’ll be right back. Mmmm tastes like gummy worms.

9:21 p.m. -�I was just informed that photos are beginning to make their way in from the game. It’s time to organize them and add some captions for our gallery.

9:42 p.m. -�The Suns are looking to pull away as things have gotten fairly tight. My Shawn Marion philosophy hasn’t taken to form as I’d hoped. Bryant has 26 points but the Suns have the lead 100-91 so I’ll take the trade off (not to mention the free tacos).

9:54 p.m.�-�Gary Bender just mentioned that Bryant is now 2-of-11 in the second half. My 2-for-16 philosophy could somewhat hold true. Great success!

10:05 p.m. -�Suns win! Suns win! Suns win!

10:20�p.m. -�Just got reaction from the Lakers locker room and while I bleed Suns orange, it’s always a downer seeing a team is disarray – yes, even the Lakers. My post-game responsibility for this series primarily had me in the Lakers locker room and the guys were usually accommodating despite coming up short. Guard Jordan Farmar particularly, which is cool because I’m a big UCLA fan.

10:35�p.m. -�I’ve chronicled the adventures of Raja Bell all day and am pleased to report I’ll get to close out his story with a happy ending. On his way out, I made sure to grab him to wish him congratulations on the new son. He let me know he appreciated it before stopping himself and asking, “Were you the one that wrote the article about me being on the All-Defensive Team for Suns.com?” When I informed him I was, the guard responded, “Good looking out man, that was a great article.” Perhaps it means I need to get my priorities in order, but getting the vote of confidence in my writing from Raja Bell was better than getting it from Shakespeare himself. While he didn’t score 50, Bell no doubt set the tone early with his hot shooting and was a big part of tonight’s win.

10:59 p.m. -�Just got back to my desk and our television has already been tuned into “Seinfeld.” It’s not the Keith Hernandez episode but it’s “Seinfeld.” ‘Nuff said.

11:10 p.m. -�Will now work on posting the notes and quotes from tonight’s game.

11:47 p.m. -�Two notes that jump out at me, one from each side:

• Phoenix improved to 5-1 (.833) under current Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni when it has had an opportunity to close out a playoff series.

• For only the second time in the post-Shaq era, two Lakers scored 30 or more points.

12:00 a.m. -�It’s Midnight on the dot. Seinfeld is over meaning it will either be MASH or really bad science fiction movies the rest of the night. Twenty-four hours from now, however, I will be seated comfortably at Deer Valley 30 ready to watch my favorite web-slinger in action.

12:15 a.m. -�I’m starting to wish I’d been a bit more conservative with that Rockstar. Will probably be making a coffee grab here shortly, we’ve got a nice selection in our break room.

12:35 a.m. -�Just got an e-mail stating 38 more images are ready to be added to the photo gallery for tonight’s game. The night is just beginning. Thank goodness for iTunes and coffee.

1:01 a.m. -�Captain’s Log: Currently working on the photo gallery. We’ve got the Sopranos on. My dad enjoys the show, but I never really got into it. To make sure I’m understanding this correctly, this man is a gangster but he’s receiving psychiatric help? Don Corleone would be ashamed.

1:30 a.m.�-�Still going through photos and haven’t had the strength to grab that coffee I alluded to earlier. There’s a great shot in here of Bell and Bryant following the contest. While it definitely added intensity to the rivalry when these guys were perceived as enemies, it’s nice to see them having buried the hatchet. There’s a mutual respect between these two which is well deserved on both ends. Love him or hate him, Bryant is the most prolific scorer this game has seen since Michael Jordan. Bell’s being appointed to the NBA All-Defensive First Team meanwhile, serves as proof he has gained the respect of not only those in Phoenix, but everywhere throughout the league.

1:33 a.m. -�How fitting that “Hotel California” would play at random via my iTunes. Barring a Western Conference Finals matchup against the Warriors, the Hotel California is a hotel Suns.com will not be visiting again this postseason. Nevertheless (or none-of-the-less as some like to say), it’s a lovely place… Wow, after that tidbit, I’m thinking I should really go grab that coffee.

2:03 a.m. -�Finally grabbed that coffee. I went with the French Vanilla in fear that the French Mocha would be too much for me to handle at this point. With the exception of the Suns.com crew, the US Airways Center is fairly quiet. We’re looking to finalize our responsibilities – Steven Koek editing video, Josh Greene stories and Jeramie working on the Flash intro among other things. Having learned Flash in school this past semester I don’t envy him.

3:05 a.m. -�Well I’m packing it in. No, we’re not quite ready to leave yet, but I need to get this blog to Steve if it’s to be posted (not to mention he’ll have my head if I had any more to it). We probably will be heading out shortly and again I’ll end by patting myself on the back for the gasoline stop from 9:30. The day started with me needing only three songs from my iPOD to get me out of bed. I don’t see that being the case tomorrow.

Emotional Day Ends with Win for New Father Bell

Raja Bell could hardly contain himself. Although he was going on “three or four” hours of sleep, having spent the night at the hospital with his expectant wife Cindy, the Suns’ guard was bouncing off the walls prior to Game 5.



Raja and Cindy Bell welcomed their first child, Dia, on Wednesday afternoon.
(Jeramie McPeek/Suns Photos)

Beaming with pride as he entered the Suns’ locker room at US Airways Center on Wednesday evening, Bell was met with a series of “congratulations” from teammates, coaches and media. The first-time father was happy to report that his wife was doing well after a prolonged labor and C-Section, and so was their 8-pound, 2-ounce baby boy, Dia, which is also Raja’s middle name.


“Cin’s good,” Ra Ra (or is it Da Da now?) told me prior to the game. “She’s in the hospital, but she’s doing really good. And the baby is awesome, so I’m pretty excited.


“It was kind of like an out-of-body experience, man. I was there, but it was happening so fast that I didn’t really get to take it all in. I tried my best, but it was an unbelievable experience. It was once in a lifetime. Hopefully I have more kids but that first time was unreal.”


Having been there in Raja’s Nikes twice myself, I was just one of a number of reporters/fathers who were anxious to shake the new dad’s hand and hear about the new addition to his family.


Although STAT led the way for the Suns’ in their series-clinching victory over the Lakers, dropping 27 points and 16 boards on L.A., the largest throng of local media was gathered around Bell’s cherry-wood cubicle after the game.


“There was a whole lot of emotion today,” said No. 19, who wore his hospital ID wristband during the game. “I got to see my wife go through something that I don’t know that I had a full appreciation for before I saw it, and God bless her for that. It was amazing. So from that to seeing my son born and getting to hang out with him for a little while, and then coming here to close out the Lakers, and having my in-laws and mother in town, it’s been a great day.


“I don’t think that I can fully put it into words, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in for me yet. It’s crazy to think that now I’m responsible for a life. That’s really cool. We tried for a little while and weren’t successful, so I’m very blessed, very grateful and just ready to enjoy it.”

Two days after being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team, Bell showed off his offense in Game 5, scoring eight points and knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes.

The Suns were unsure whether or not they would even have their starting two-guard for the game, after he made just a brief cameo appearance during the team’s morning shoot-around, before heading to the airport to pick up family.

Bell had a much better Game 5 tonight than he did a year ago. It was in Game 5 of the 2006 playoffs that the competitive guard clotheslined Lakers’ All-Star Kobe Bryant when their war of words and physical play boiled over.

The feud between the two has cooled in recent months, and Bryant even offered his congratulations to Bell on Wednesday morning, and gave him a hug at center court after the game.

“That’s always a special time,” Bryant told Sports 620 KTAR. “You know, my daughter’s birthday was yesterday, so we celebrated it yesterday, they flew out here and, you know, family is extremely important and my thoughts and prayers are with (Bell) and his family.”



I was browsing a sidewalk newsstand in L.A. over the weekend when I noticed the latest issue of HOOP magazine with Kobe Bryant on the cover.


As a lifelong Suns fan and the Suns’ VP of Interactive Services, my first reaction would normally have been to sigh and think, “Too bad they put Kobe on the cover. He’s going to be on summer vacation by next weekend.”


Only I wrote this particular story. Actually it wasn’t a story, but an in-depth interview with the Lakers’ star that I conducted a month or so back on behalf of HOOP.


You see, I’ve served as the “editor-at-large” for the NBA’s official publications for the last six or seven years now. Now with a very hectic (but fun) full-time job with the Suns, not to mention a beautiful and understanding wife, and two fun-loving kids at home, I don’t have the spare time to take on freelance gigs as often as I used to. But I do still manage to squeeze out a few late-night hours each month for an article or two.


When my editor e-mailed me back in March to ask if I could interview Kobe for the magazine’s May cover story, though, I cringed. I’ve never been a big Bryant fan. I’ve always been impressed with him as a player, but added him to my list of “most hated opponents” when his Lakers beat my Suns in the 2000 playoffs and went on to win their first of three-straight NBA Championships.


Even if they hadn’t beaten the Suns that year I would have disliked him, though. After all, Phoenix fans aren’t allowed to like Lakers players, right? And since I originally became a Suns fan watching them challenge the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1989 Western Conference Finals, those negative vibes towards L.A. are deeply rooted.


Then, of course, there was the whole feud with Raja last season, which I loved. Growing up playing with Star Wars toys, reading Marvel comics and watching pro wrestling for years, I’ve always enjoyed the battles of good vs. evil. Bell, in my book, was the superhero last year and Bryant, the classic villain. It was Luke vs. Darth, if you will. Or Spider-Man vs. Venom, to make a more current analogy.


But after the arch rivals made amends, and even a few jokes, during the Suns-Lakers meeting on March 4, I decided I could put the past aside myself, and conduct an unbiased interview like any good sports reporter should.


I have to admit, I even found Bryant to be quite friendly to talk to. He was thoughtful in his answers, although perhaps a bit PC at times, and patient enough to answer every question I asked. And I asked a lot.


That’s not to say I went easy on him. I asked him if he ever misses Shaq, now that the Lakers are no longer the contenders they were a few years ago. I asked him how he felt when Diesel won a championship with the Heat last year. I asked him about his relationship with Phil Jackson. I asked him how it feels when people call him selfish, and if he cares what fans think about him. I even asked him about Raja. I couldn’t resist.


I can’t divulge his answers here, of course. You’ve got to go out and pick up the issue, which I might add also includes a one-page story I wrote on Bell and another short piece on the baby tigers named after Raja and Steve Nash out at the Wildlife World Zoo.


But after our 32-minute phone interview was over, I told Kobe how Raja had just appeared on our web show, Nothin’ But Net, and said that he didn’t think he and Cindy would ever go out to dinner with him and his wife, Vanessa, but that he wouldn’t mind playing a round of golf with Bryant sometime.


Kobe just laughed. “Man, I suck at golf.”




We weren’t in Beverly Hills an hour before our first celebrity sighting last week. After checking into our rooms at the Beverly Wilshire (the hotel from Pretty Woman, I’m told) on Wednesday evening, a few of us decided to hit Rodeo Drive in search of some dinner.


As we exited the glass hotel doors, we practically walked right into Sean Penn, standing there in a suit and smoking a cigarette. We locked eyes for a moment or two, and I wondered if he was waiting around to get the Suns’ autographs, or if he was a Hollywood spy on a mission from Lakers coach Phil Jackson.


Suns.com reporter Josh Greene suggested we go back and ask him for a refund on the tickets we bought to see The Interpreter while in Memphis during the 2005 playoffs.




We ran into several of the Suns at Jamba Juice on Friday morning, which wasn’t all that exciting or out of the ordinary for us. But it was interesting to watch a businessman’s eyes light up when he recognized Steve Nash next to him in line.


Lunging for a fruity flyer on the counter and hitting one of the Jamba juicers up for a pen, he quickly asked the league’s MVP for an autograph. Nash smiled and obliged, and just as quickly, the fan was on his cell phone calling up a friend… “You’re never going to believe who I just ran into…”




Whenever we travel with the team, we usually pay a visit to the local tourist attraction or two. In Memphis it was Graceland. In San Antonio, the Alamo. And both of the last couple years in Dallas we toured the Book Depository and grassy knoll.


This year we decided to spend a few hours on Hollywood Blvd. We visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, had our pictures taken with street performers dressed as Yoda and Elmo (for my kids, of course), and stopped into a few too many tacky souvenir shops.


The best part of the afternoon, though, was our tour of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. I always wanted to go in as a kid, and although I probably would have liked it more then, I still enjoyed it more than I expected to as an adult.


There were a few disturbing exhibits, like the baby skeleton with two skulls and the photography exhibit of people how had lived after being impaled (I’ll spare you the details). But I was particularly intrigued by the old black-and-white film of the world’s tallest man of modern times. Looking up at the 8-foot, 11-inch wax figure, I had to wonder how he would do in the NBA. Probably not too well in Coach D’s high-speed system.