Leandro Barbosa, a Name You Can Trust

If you are fan of Leandro Barbosa, don’t expect to spot him at a posh night club or hidden behind the tinted glass of a lux car cruising the streets of downtown. You have a better chance finding him on the side of the road helping someone change a flat tire.

Leandro Barbosa signs his autograph for a fan at the Celebrity Waiters charity event. 

(NBAE Photos)

Or helping a bewildered soccer mom find a paint brush in the dizzying isles of Home Depot. Or he’s helping the frightened lady next door kill a scorpion with his size 12 shoe. He’s just that kind.

I know this because my wife and I attended the annual Celebrity Waiters charity event at Barcelona restaurant in Scottsdale. The main attraction, of course, was the chance for fans to interact with their favorite Suns players. Boris Diaw dealt cards at the poker table, Brian skinner mixed drinks as a bartender, and rumor has it that Amare played one-on-one with some lucky fans.

I don’t know what Leandro was supposed to do, but I know he never got to his post because the fans wouldn’t let him get through. I stood back and watched the commotion. Everyone was happy and frantic, waiving their camera phones at his face, yelling his name, giving him basketballs to sign. His handlers were given the job of bringing him from Point A to B, but Leandro was reluctant to leave the room. He was patient and kind, making time for everyone. This went on for over twenty minutes.

Finally his handlers pulled him towards the exit. Leandro stepped out, then turned back to the fans that still wanted to meet him. He looked each person in the eyes and, with his Brazilian accent, comforted everyone by saying. “Don’ woorry, I will be righ’ back.” Then he put his hands forward as if to remind people not to move and said again, “I will be righ’ back.” He hesitated, then turned to back towards the door. The fans smiled and waved goodbye as Leandro disappeared out the door and into another crowd. It was like they were saying goodbye to their best friend.

Leandro is the fastest man in the NBA, and he’s quickly becoming one of our top scorers (not bad for a man who rarely starts the game.) He is a threat to each team that encounters our Suns on the court. He’s just that good. In every post-game interview (he’s been getting a lot of them lately), Leandro always defers praise to his team. It’s not the predictable false humility you hear all day in ordinary life, but authentic humility matched with gratitude. It was a special moment for me to witness Leandro’s character in greater intensity off the court. He’s just that kind.

I guess this is what was special about the Celebrity Waiters event, and why I’ll come back every year–you get a chance to see the personalities of the players come to life. You get closer to the magic that’s made Phoenix such a fun city.

If all goes well, Barbosa will retire after many years in the NBA and run for mayor of Phoenix. When he does, I’ll be right there with him as his campaign manager. I’ll be handing out campaign buttons that read: Leandro Barbosa: A Name You Can Trust.

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Matt Smith moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some re-runs of The Real World and Road Rules Challenge. Check out his website: www.supafly.com

Suns Show Versatility in Win Against Chicago

This one showed just how versatile the Suns are. First they built a 15-point lead playing Chicago’s game, and when that evaporated, they proceeded to win going away in the fourth quarter by playing their game during a 20-4 burst brilliantly orchestrated by Steve Nash.

Shawn Marion led the Suns’ charge against the Bulls in the second half. 

(NBAE Photos)

Granted, there were a few times in between when they played nobody’s game, but even considering those few lapses you’d have to say both the team and the crowd responded to Coach Mike’s scolding after the win over the Knicks.

Nash, a little bit like a maestro who had misplaced his favorite baton early on, more than made up for it with seven fourth-period assists and some other great floor play that didn’t find its way into the assist column but set up some easy hoops nonetheless.

And beating the Bulls any way you can is nothing to sniff at. Granted they are only 1-6, but they are the best 1-6 aggregation I’ve seen in these parts in quite a while. This is a tough, tenacious, talented team that seems to have temporarily lost its way. (At least I think it’s temporary.)

Nash didn’t do it alone in the fourth period. Shawn Marion scored 11 of his 21 points in those final 12 minutes, and Boris Diaw, who really struggled in the first three periods, had 7 of his 10 points, including some of the most pivotal ones, plus two assists. And isn’t it amazing how when Nash cranks up his A game players around him starts looking great?

The Suns hit 71 percent from the field in that fourth period and in the process improvedto 7-2, which put them in a four-way tie for the best record in the West.

While they hang their hat on their scorched net offense, their notorious M-M (as in much-maligned) defense deserves a goodly portion of the credit this night. And Amare Stoudemire, who many believe his helping “D” may be the key to the team’s title hopes, led the way with 6 of the Suns’ 10 blocks in just 26 minutes.

Coach Mike, who grudgingly allowed his team played “okay” against the Knicks, and said the crowd wasn’t even that good, upgraded the team’s play to “pretty well”, and the crowd’s effort to “really great”.

But he also kept the pedal to the metal on the fans. “This is a community effort,” he said. “If we’re going to win the title it’s not just going to be the 12 guys on the team. It’s going to be everybody.”

In other words, if title aspirations fall short, it’s going to be on your head too.

Season is Flying By for Tucker

We’re a couple of weeks into the season now and everything’s moving pretty fast. It feels like it was just preseason for us. It might be because I’m a young guy trying to get adjusted to everything, but it just seems like everything is flying by.

Alando Tucker is learning from some of the best in his rookie year on the Suns. 

(NBAE Photos)

I love it though. The last road trip we had, going four games in five days, it was nice and I got to visit some arenas for the first time.

I’m really just soaking everything up and taking in everything the guys around me are doing. Especially on the road trip, I made sure to study how guys go about their day-to-day business. Everything – before, during and after the game, especially on nights where we have back-to-back contests. It’s all about getting to learn.

I do have to explain to people that it’s okay not to be thrown right into the mix and that this is an experience which is better for me in the long run. Not everyone can say they came into the league to play for a championship-caliber team. I understand the goal of this team isn’t to qualify for the playoffs or reach the Western Conference Finals – it’s to win an NBA Championship. It is a privilege to be with a team you know is going to be successful and its great playing with these players and working with Mike D’Antoni and the coaching staff. I didn’t come to this team because they needed a guy to score points and I definitely understand that. Once I explain that to people, they seem to understand too.

When Kobe Bryant first came into the league he also came to a team fighting for a championship. He didn’t get the opportunity to play early but you can see now how much he learned from that experience. He used that time as a young player to learn from the veterans on his team and it’s paid off.

I’m definitely taking my time and not rushing into anything as far as getting on the court. I’m learning and that’s something which is going to be important for me. I’ve got guys like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Raja Bell around me and I’m going to take advantage of that. They’ve been doing this for years now and I just want to soak up as much as possible so I can execute when my name is called. I’ve also been watching Amaré Stoudemire a lot and it’s been great seeing him get back to the court and throw down some monster jams.

Last night was the Celebrity Waiters event for me and the guys and that was big for me. This team gets a lot of support from this city and last night was a reminder of that. I had a smile on my face the whole night and it was great interacting with people that were happy to see us. Talking with fans and knowing it’s going to a good cause like Suns Nite Hoops – that’s what I’m all about. It was great traveling to China with Steve Nash for his charity game over the summer and last night was another great chance to help give to those less fortunate.

It’s time for me to hit the court for warm-ups and get ready for a late contest against the Chicago Bulls. Thanks again for all the great comments and I’ll be sure to check back in again soon.

Searching for Starbury

I couldn’t find Stephon Marbury. I looked at Madison Square Garden. I went to the top of the Empire State Building and surveyed the city. I strolled through Central Park. I took the subway up and down Manhattan, and a ferry over to Liberty Island.

Stephon Marbury was eventually found and made up with his coach, Isiah Thomas. 

(NBAE Photos)

I even went to Tom’s Restuarant (aka “Tom’s Diner” from the Suzanne Vega song; aka “Monk’s” from Seinfeld Fame) in search of the Knicks guard this past Wednesday after he went AWOL, leaving his team in Phoenix Tuesday to return home to the Big Apple. But, like the local media here that staked out his driveway, I had no luck.

Okay, I wasn’t really looking for “Starbury,” but with a long ride back to JFK this morning, I thought I’d share some thoughts while blogging from the backseat of my taxi.

I may not have run into Marbury, a former Suns guard I’m sure you recall, during my trip to NYC for a Sports Media & Technology conference, he was all over the place. There he was on the front (and back) page of the Daily News with articles titled “Warbury” and “Bizarrebury.” There went his name across one of the giant scrolling news tickers on Broadway, with the headline “Knicks Fine Marbury $180,000.” And there he was screaming on one of the enormous digital screens high above Times Square. I couldn’t hear him over all the honks and sirens, of course, but I could read his lips and he was not happy.

Ironically, when I first hit the Square on Monday night on a mission to find “7 shirts for $10,” I noticed a two-sided billboard advertising Knicks tix with photos of Zach Randolph, Eddie Curry, David Lee and someone else I can’t recall at 7 am (5 am Phx time), but someone who was most definitely not Marbury. I was surprised at the time that the pride of Coney Island wasn’t featured front and center, but now maybe we know why.

The rumor going around here is that the Knicks are going to try to buy out his contract, and that Isiah Thomas’ decision to bench Marbury was the first step. It was also apparently the last straw for Marbury, whose alleged outburst on the team charter to Phoenix Monday night after learning of his benching, included threats to dish dirt on his coach.

I have to admit, I actually felt sorry for Stephon. At least a little. Not to try and justify his bolting on his team, of course. And it’s hard to feel too sorry for any athlete making $20-plus million a year. But just having known him for a short time while he was with the Suns, I know that his childhood dream was to play for the Knicks. When he found out that the Suns had traded him in January 2004, he was crushed. For a few seconds anyway, until he learned that the trade would send him back to his hometown to play in the Garden.

I also remember interviewing him in his Paradise Valley home just a few months before that for a cover story I was penning for HOOP, and how he talked all about Thomas, his basketball idol growing up.

Marbury’s homecoming hasn’t quite been the storybook that he imagined, and from the sounds of the big city media, could end up just another chapter in his career. A chapter that may be within pages of being over [Ed's Note: Marbury rejoined his team and was photographed shaking hands with Thomas on Wednesday night].

Meanwhile, as I return home to rejoin my Suns.com teammates, I can’t help but wonder what condition the Suns would be in today had they not made the trade with New York. A trade that I was shocked and disappointed by at the time. Of course, I’m not the only one who doubted the move, but little did I or anyone else know that it would lead to the signing of Steve Nash and the elevation of the Suns to instant title contenders.

One more random Starbury thought before I move on: I just had a mental flashback of the day Marbury arrived in Phoenix. I had followed and photographed him throughout the day, from his hotel to the arena to his introductory press conference. Although it doesn’t feel like all that long ago that he played in Phx, that specific day feels like ages ago; especially when I think about how he walked into the Suns’ locker room for the first time to meet and shake hands with then-Suns coach… Scott Skiles.

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

I’ve arrived safely at the airport and still have more than an hour to burn, so thought I’d blog a bit more…

>> I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for Suns jerseys, Tshirts and hats in the crowd when I’m on the road. When I was at Disneyland earlier this year, I saw an assortment of purple and orange gear. But I didn’t see a single Stoudemire, Marion or Nash jersey in New York this week! C’mon people, the Suns are the hottest team in the NBA! Although, New York is in the 40s at night right now, so maybe the jerseys are hiding below the overcoats and sweaters.

>> I couldn’t help but think about Nash as I toured the city. Anyone seen his new Nike spot that’s rolling on YouTube? It’s truly an awesome commercial, showing the two-time MVP at work, playing soccer, tennis, pick-up hoops and even skateboarding through New York WHILE dribbling a ball off the concrete and sides of buildings. I think if I had his bank, I’d want to spend my summers here, too.

>> Passing Chambers Street on the #1 train yesterday brought back memories of Tom Chambers’ monster throwdown over the Knicks’ Mark Jackson, who is now a broadcaster for the Knicks’ YES! network. If you’ve never seen it, TC used Jackson like the Gorilla uses his trampoline.

>> Checking out Madison Square Garden reminded me of Charles Barkley hurdling the scorer’s table to chase after a referree during a Suns visit to NY in ’92-93. Speaking of Chuck, there was a photo of his smiling roundness above my table at Carnegie’s Deli, a famous spot which has framed autographed photos of hundreds of celebrities wallpapering the entire joint. My question is, do the stars bring photos of themselves when they come to eat? I can’t imagine them mailing them to the restaurant afterwards, and you know the place doesn’t have blank photos lying around just in case someone famous walks in. I would have asked my waitress, but I could barely get her to take my order, let along answer any questions. I never did get my iced tea, but the pastrami was good.

>> One final Suns-related story for you… I met up with an old high school friend of mine, who happened to be in New York at the same time, and we went in search of well-known Seinfeld spots around town one day (we’re both big fans). One of the locations we looked up was the “Royal Bakery,” where Jerry and Elaine went to pick up a chocolate Bobka on their way to a dinner party, but ended up settling for a cinnamon Bobka. “Cinnamon takes a back seat to no Bobka.”

So my friend and I were going to go in and order a Bobka and a couple of black & white cookies. “Two races of flavor living side by side.” But after crossing town and Central Park (which, if you’ve never been there, is one HUGE park!) to find the actual bakery used in the classic sitcom, what did we discover? It had been replaced by a new Jenny Craig’s location!

What’s the Suns’ connection, you’re asking? Well, Jenny Craig herself is a minority owner in the Suns’ franchise. If only Jenny had a Bobka in her Menu Planner!

A Message To The Skeptics

The Suns are coming off a wire-to-wire wipeout of the New York Knicks, are riding a three-game winning streak, and rolling along at a brisk 6-2 pace.

Grant Hill is excited about where this team is headed. 

(NBAE Photos)

But don’t let any of that fool you.

Despite the impressive record, the Suns have to get better. Coach Mike says so, the players say so, and fans are fretting that they jolly well better improve…or else.

I will grant you that beating the Knicks (even at full strength) is nothing to blog home about. This night they were without Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, defense, and with Isiah Thomas. However, there is too much angst in the local basketball-speaking community – especially this early in the season.

Some of it is probably a hangover from that shellacking they took from the Lakers in the home opener. And while the team is winning, they are not dominating quite as awesomely as many had expected. Even Coach Mike said that last night’s romp was just “okay”.

In response I offer one word: “Chill.”

The Suns are exactly who you thought they were back in training camp when visions of 72 wins were dancing in your heads. They are still a top contender for the NBA championship.

In fact, when you consider Amare Stoudemire missed most of training camp with a knee problem and several other players have been nicked up here and there, plus the fact it takes time to work new players into the system, your Phoenix Suns are actually overachieving.

Make no mistake. They will get better…much better!

They still have all the weapons that have made them the most feared scoring machine in the NBA… PLUS Grant Hill and a better bench… PLUS the extra motivation of feeling they were robbed of the title last year.
While they do need to getter better, isn’t it nice that they’re not all that bad right now? Think about how good they’re going to be when Amare gets into game shape and the new players are fully absorbed into the system. In fact, just think about Amare. While rounding into game shape he had 22 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes last night. Oh, and he also blocked four shots. Steve Nash is the driver of this team, but Amare is the engine.

No matter how well they do in the next few months, they still can’t prove anything or convince skeptics until the playoffs. Even going 72-10 wouldn’t do it. So it’s understandable if they aren’t trying to change minds every night between now and “proving” time.

Trust me, when that time comes around, they will be pumped.

And while last night’s performance was “okay,” it was nice to witness Grant Hill make progress adding the three-point shot to his repertoire. He was reluctant and struggling early on, but hit three of four from Arc City last night.

The bottom line: You should be feeling very good about this team. There is indeed a lot of work to be done, but the tools are there to do it.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks

The Suns have now won three in a row and six out of eight. They are in first place in their division, tied for second best record in their conference and tied for the third best record in the league. Not too shabby for a team that was 3-5 at this point last year.

Amaré Stoudemire had season highs in both points and rebounds against the Knicks. 

(NBAE Photos)

Phoenix didn’t get 40 rebounds last night but still won the game. It is only the second time this season that they didn’t reach 40 rebounds and the team is now 1-1 when that happens. However, on a good note, they did get more rebounds than the Knicks did – the first time this year that they’ve won the rebounding match. So I guess you can say the Suns are 1-0 when they get more rebounds than their opponent.

They also have won every game this season where they’ve scored 100 or more points. When allowing their opponent to get 102 points or less, Phoenix is also 6-0.

The team shot 56.2% on Tuesday – the highest shooting percentage of the season. They have only allowed 1 of their opponents to shoot more than 50% in a game – the LA Lakers.

Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill all had season high’s in points while Steve Nash had a season low in points (5) and a season high of assists (12).

Nine players have played in at least half of the Suns games this season. Shawn Marion is averaging the most minutes per game at 37.1. He is followed by Raja Bell, Grant Hill and Steve Nash. It may sound scary to have Grant Hill and Steve Nash in the top 4 of minutes on the team but when you look at the average minutes per game for the entire league, Shawn Marion ranks #26, Raja Bell is #45, Grant Hill comes in at #55 and Steve Nash doesn’t show up until #70. That’s right behind Jason Richardson and right ahead of Francisco Garcia.

I’m finishing up my first mailbag so if you have any questions you want to be added, feel free to ask the in the comments below or e-mail me directly at blog@suns.com.

Where Amazing Happens

The NBA has a new marketing campaign this season (in case you’ve missed one of the many commercials that air during game broadcasts) – “where amazing happens.” The whole idea of an ad campaign like this is to get you to notice.

Shawn Marion outrebounded both O’Neal and Mourning in Miami on Friday. 

(NBAE Photos)

Maybe even give you a fresh perspective on something that you’ve been acquainted with for some time. As the Suns return home from a successful 3-1 Eastern Conference road trip, here are a few reminders that this team you’ve come to love, and probably take for granted sometimes, is truly amazing:

  • Steve Nash scoring 11 straight points down the stretch in Miami on Friday night, turning a 5-point deficit into a 6-point lead the Suns would never give back. If it’s possible to be a 2-time MVP and be underrated, Nash is just that. After all the huge shots he’s hit in the past few years (last season’s amazing double OT win in New Jersey when Steve hit the tying 3 pointer when everyone in the Tri-State area KNEW he was going to take the shot and while heavily guarded by one of the best defensive players of the last 20 years comes to mind), how can the Heat not guard him? They went under screens and left him with open jumpers twice in that stretch. Who’s scouting report are they reading? He’s shooting 50% from behind the ARC!
  • Shawn Marion’s performance that same night. He shared the floor with 2 first-ballot Hall-of-Fame centers in Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning and outrebounded them 24 to 14. Matrix is 6’7” in shoes and weighs about as much as Shaq’s left leg, but continues to prove that rebounding is all about desire – which he has in abundance. Did I mention he added 17 points and 5 steals against the Heat?
  • Leandro Barbosa’s career-high 39-point effort Saturday night at Orlando. A last-minute starter due to Raja Bell’s ankle injury (thanks, Shaq), LB showed off a Magic touch from the outside. When that shot is falling, guarding him is like being in one of those gruesome predicaments in SAW. Give him space to get off the shot or take away the shot and watch him blur by you for a layup. It’s your choice, but either way, you’re dead.
  • Grant Hill’s comeback. I know it’s early and he’s had some struggles with his shot (Eddie Johnson assures me that the shot will come as Grant gets more accustomed to playing at this pace), but this is a guy who missed almost 400 games and has had countless ankle surgeries. He played – and played well if not spectacularly – 4 games in 5 nights and looked as good Saturday in Orlando as he did on game one of the trip. He’s so smart on both ends of the floor and there is nothing he CAN’T do.
  • Amare’s ability to foul both Shaq and Dwight Howard with his face – now that IS amazing.


And we know Where Amazing Happens – right here on Planet Orange.

Two sidenotes:

The flight home was pretty subdued. The usual card game, a few movie watchers (LB is hooked on 80s movies – I’m bringing Trading Places for him to Houston next weekend) and a lot of sleepers (4 hour, 20 minute trip.) People always ask about the mood of the plane and are usually surprised to hear me say it’s hard to tell if we won or lost just by the body language on the plane. This group of professionals doesn’t get too high or too low – just a group of guys on a business trip. Not to say there wasn’t a little excitement after that game in Jersey!

I promise not to use the word “happens” in any more blog titles this year. I swear.

By The Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic

Welcome to the weekend edition of By the Numbers. I hope everyone was able to enjoy the past two Phoenix Suns wins. They made it an exciting game against the winless Miami Heat and decided to make it a little less nerve-wracking against the Orlando Magic. Now on to the numbers:

Leandro Barbosa scored a career-high 39 points against the Orlando Magic on Saturday. 

(NBAE Photos)

The Suns are 5-0 when they do the following:

  • Score 103 points or more
  • Allow 101 points or less
  • Shoot 43% or more
  • Allow 53 rebounds or less

They are 5-1 when the following happens:

  • The team get 40 rebounds or more

Other points of note:

  • The Suns have scored 106 points 3 times in the past 7 games. They are averaging 104.2 points per game while allowing 99.2 points per game
  • Leandro Barbosa scored a career-high 39 points against Orlando on Saturday night

The reason I pointed out the 40 rebounds or more number above is because I did a lot of analysis on last season’s rebounds over the past week. Here are some interesting points to note about last season:

  • When getting 40 or more rebounds, the Suns are 37-5
  • When getting out-rebounded by 12 or more, the team is 7-5
  • When out-rebounding their opponent, the Suns are 28-1
  • When getting out-rebounded by their opponent, Phoenix is 32-21
  • When getting out-rebounded by their opponent but still getting more than 40 rebounds themselves, the Suns are 13-4
  • When getting 39 or less rebounds, the team is 24-16
  • When getting 40 rebounds or more, the Suns out-rebounded their opponents 25 out of 42 times
  • When getting 39 rebounds or less, the Suns out-rebounded their opponents only 5 out of 40 times

So what does all of this mean? Well, first of all, it seems fairly obvious that we should be rooting for our team to get 40 or more rebounds. When they do that, they have an 88% win percentage. That’s not too shabby.

Second, if the Suns can possibly out-rebound their opponent, it almost guarantees a victory. They had a 96.5% winning percentage last season when that happened.

Finally, if Phoenix can’t outrebound their opponent, they should still try to get to that 40 rebound mark. The team still won 76% of their games last season.

I think there are a couple of reason for this. First, when the Suns rebound the ball, it is probably a little easier for them to run. I haven’t been able to find the numbers to back this up but I would think that the Suns have a higher shooting percentage after a rebound than after an opponent’s made shot.

Second, the more rebounds Phoenix gets, the less that are available for their opponents. If they get an offensive rebound, it gives them another chance at making a basket. If they get a defensive rebound, it takes away a chance to score for the team they are playing against. Even if the Suns get an extra 5 defensive rebounds per game, that means 5 less scoring chances for their opponent.

What do you think about all of this? Noticed anything else that gives the Suns a good chance of winning? Email me at blog@suns.com. Several of you have e-mailed me and I appreciate your comments and questions. I’m hoping to answer those questions in a mailbag post sometime in the next couple of weeks so keep the questions coming!

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs Atlanta Hawks

There are definitely some trends that are popping up in the numbers but so far the things I’m pointing out are probably fairly obvious to anyone who is looking at the box scores. The Suns lost their second game of the season on Wednesday and again it is on the second of a back-to-back series.

Shawn Marion dunks in a losing effort to the Atlanta Hawks. 

(NBAE Photos)

It doesn’t take a lot of high level analysis to see that the team is more tired on that second game. The Suns have only played two back-to-back series so far this season but the following trends happened in the second game:

  • The team scored less than 100 points
  • They allowed more than 100 points
  • The Suns shot less than 45%
  • They allowed a shooting percentage of more than 45%
  • The team had 30 defensive rebounds or less
  • The Suns allowed more than 54 total rebounds
  • Their opponent is +15 or more in rebounds

The only two games the team has lost are those 2nd games of a back-to-back series.� It certainly seems obvious that the team just doesn’t have as much energy in that game. For instance, in the 12 quarters of the three wins this season, the Suns only had one quarter where they scored under 20 points. In the 2 losses (8 quarters), the Suns had 4 quarters where they scored under 20 points. Put a different way, if the Suns score less than 20 points in more than 2 quarters during a game, they’ll most likely lose that game. If they score 20 or more points per quarter for the entire game, they have a good chance of winning the game.

All of this seems fairly obvious. But what also seems fairly obvious is that the Suns will eventually get their legs under them in that second game. In the 2005-2006 and the 2006-202007 seasons, the Suns needed nine games before they went on a long win streak. In 05-06, after the ninth game the Suns went on a nine game winning streak. In 06-2007, the team went on a 15 game win streak after the ninth game. No matter how much a player works out during the off-season, there is nothing like playing in a real game with your teammates. It seems like the team needs nine games to both get into shape and gel with their teammates.

So while the loss to the Hawks is definitely disappointing there seems to be some cause for optimism as the season goes on. What do you think? Do you have any other numbers you think make a difference? Do you have any questions about the numbers above? If so, e-mail me at blog@suns.com or leave a comment below.

Stoudemire Soon

Greetings from Miami where the boys have a day off after a tough loss to the Hawks last night in Atlanta. Amare played some 3 on 3 at a light workout today. He moved well and says each day he is feeling better.

But Stat will wait and see how that right knee responds tomorrow morning before deciding whether or not to suit-up against Shaq and the winless Heat. But keep your expectations in check because Amare will have to work his way back into “game shape” before we see the eye-popping numbers on a consistent basis.

When he reaches that level, he has now provided a new term to use when he begins to heat-up on the floor. Last night on the plane flight here to Miami, he was referring to the “Stoude-fire” we will witness when he regains form. You just have to love his confidence and bravado!

Miami, by the way, has now lost 17 straight games if you include the end of last regular season, the playoffs when they were swept by the Bulls, the preseason, and now into the ’2007-’08 campaign. They obviously were built around Dwayne Wade and Shaq, but Wade is still recovering from his shoulder and knee surgeries and is not expected to return for a while. Right now it’s the knee that is holding him back.

I am really looking forward to seeing Penny Hardaway in a Heat uniform tomorrow night. Though his time in Phoenix was filled with disappointment and injuries, he was always a wonderful guy to be around. Always accomodating to the media and just one of the friendliest superstars you will meet. In fact, I still remind Penny to this day of his greatest assist. It was the eve of the deal that sent himself and Stephon to New York. The Suns team had been stuck on the runway in Toronto for 5 hours because of a nasty storm in Chicago–our next destination. Finally we took off but would have to be re-routed to Milwaukee. The turbulence was fierce and the players were hanging onto their armrests for dear life. Knowing we were close to finally touching down, an anxious Stephon Marbury asked Penny to open his window shade to find out if he could see the ground. Penny leaned over right in front of me and opened his shade. We could both see nothing but ominous, milky clouds outside and we were very near the ground at this point! But Penny eased all tension when he lied through his teeth: “No problem, guys. I see the buildings and the downtown area. It’s clear.” Moments later with the players now breathing easier, the roller-coaster ride ended with the plane slamming down on the runway.

Penny now is trying to rewrite the final chapter to his career. He has been working out over the past year and a half, playing in semi-pro leagues and hoping to walk off into the sunset as a productive player on a team that won it all two years ago. He and Shaq both want to prove that they still have some magic left after beginning their careers with the Magic and making it to the Finals in ’95. We will get our first glimpse of their “curtain call” tomorrow. See you then on MY 45.