Sights and Sounds from the Road

With the Knicks in the bag, we have now landed in Indianapolis. It was a sobering win in New York when we all heard on the bus about Stephon Marbury’s father passing away. His dad was at the game last night and then left for the hospital with chest pains.

Amaré Stoudemire and Grant Hill are working together to bring about a successful season. 

(NBAE Photos)

Steph was notified in the lockeroom after the game that a heart attack apparently took his father’s life. Another bizarre and tragic chapter to Marbury’s emotional ride with the Knicks. And though during his stay in Phoenix he didn’t endear himself to many within the Suns organization, I certainly hope he can find some peace and strength in his life. It certainly makes you stop and begin to appreciate what you have in life and even in a basketball team.

As the Suns continue to roll along with one of the best records in the league, they are doing so in workman-like fashion. There is not a lot of levity or collegiate enthusiasm with this squad. The veterans have been through the paces before and don’t get too high after wins, or too low after the few losses they’ve sustained. Mike D’Antoni has talked about the need for added enthusiasm and energy with this team, but right now their talent is carrying them through the early-season battles. Make no mistake, the chemistry is good on this team, but let’s face it: the fans, the broadcasters and even the players may be taking this successful run for granted at this time of the year. It’s human nature. And we saw it even in the mid ’90s after the first few years of the Barkley era. The team was rolling out 62, 56 and 59 wins a year, but even with the most charismatic, outspoken player ever to grace the NBA in Sir Charles, the team’s magnetism began to wane in the 4th season. They finished at .500, lost in the first round of the playoffs and began to lose that “buzz” which surrounded the Barkley Years.

So here we are in Year 4 of the Nash Years, but fortunately this team is not regressing. In fact, the Best Show on Sneakers still appears headed for another 55-60 win season. With the addition of Grant Hill and Brian Skinner, they should be better equipped for the rugged playoffs. But it’s the journey to that ultimate goal we ALL need to appreciate and savor. We all realize how “life comes at you quickly” and before you know it, we’ll be talking about the good ol’ times with Nash, Shawn and Amare kickin’ tail and taking names in a system designed by Mike D’Antoni that features freedom and a fast-pace brand of basketball that is now being replicated around the league. But while many will attempt to imitate, few will ever duplicate this wildly entertaining product. So enjoy each game, each pinpoint, left-handed Nash spin pass, each Marion steal and breakaway jam, each Amare crush and Boris kick-out to an open 3-point shooter (don’t groan, fans, his teammates love him for it!), each Raja big shot, each Leandro blur-by and sweet pull-up J by Grant.

Enjoy each step along the way. It’s a lot like reading a Pat Conroy novel, rich in text and imagery. You can’t skip the middle chapters if you are going to fully appreciate the dynamic ending.

B & B Help Lead Suns to Victory

Off their last two performances you got the impression that, even at this early stage of the season, the Suns were in need of little R & R. But it turns out all they really needed was a little B & B.

Barbosa broke out of his slump to help the Suns win against Orlando.
 

As in Bell and Barbosa.

These two key cogs in the team’s octane machine have been struggling with various nagging injuries lately, most notably in the loss to Houston Wednesday when they went a combined 5 for 18 from the field and 0-4 from Arc City while managing only 11 points.

But Friday night they combined for 15 of 30 from the field and 6 of 11 from three-point land and totaled 37 points. Raja was particularly impressive in a 35 minute tour, hitting his first four threes to help the Suns build a lead and went on to score 20 points. What’s even more encouraging was how well he moved, although he understandably appeared to tire a tad at the end.

“Raja’s a heckuva player,” said Coach Mike. “He makes a world of difference to our team, and he’ll just keep getting better.”

Leandro, who had cooled off and slowed down (for him) with an ankle problem, got back at least partly into his old groove with 7 for 14 shooting and 17 points.

Overall, this night was something of a mixed bag for the Suns.

They did a lot of things very well early, executing well at the offensive end and playing some solid defense at the other, and really seemed to be in control of the game most of the way.

But they seemed to hit a wall about halfway through the third period, and actually needed plenty of pluck and a bit of luck at the finish to escape with an important victory over a team that came in to town leading the NBA in victories, and that boasts one of the most impressive young players in the game in 6-10 Dwight Howard.

For Howard, “impressive” doesn’t even come close to getting describing his talents. “Awesome” is a lot closer. Friday night he made scoring 30 points and grabbing 23 rebounds as easy as peeling off his warm-ups. True, he also had 8 turnovers and missed 6 free throws, but trust me, those are minor flaws that experience will doubtless smooth out.

The Suns offset his effort with double figure scoring from all five starters plus Barbosa, and got 14 assists from Steve Nash, who took only eight shots and missed six of them, and missed his first free throw on the year after making his first 33.

As luck would have it, that miss was a significant one that left the door ajar for the Magic. But not to worry. He broke out of his slump a few seconds later by making two free throws to slam that door shut.

Coach Mike was half pleased with his team’s night work. Well, maybe three quarters.

“Obviously we won, but we’re still not totally sharp yet. We just don’t seem to have that killer instinct that puts people away. But there was some really good stuff for us out there, especially in the first half.”

The bottom line: The Suns showed enough early to indicate just how good they can be at something still only beginning to approach 100 percent in either the sync or game shape departments. And 12-4 is a fabulous record for the shape they are in.