Back to the Future – Behind the scenes of the Suns' 40th anniversary broadcast

The Suns rolled back the clock when they hosted the Sonics on Jan. 3.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

The game was chosen in large part because the Suns’ first-ever game was a 116-107 win over Seattle back in October of 1968. If you watched the game on MY 45, you might have been wondering what happened to your television.

Although the idea of a “retro” broadcast is hardly new (we did one against Milwaukee five years ago in celebration of our 35th anniversary season), this was the first one done in the age of high definition. Viewers got to experience a history lesson of sorts through a few distinct eras of sports television. By the time halftime rolled around and you had been watching the first quarter in grainy black and white and the second quarter with not-so-sharp color images and obnoxiously big graphics, your new HD set looked even better. Here is how the broadcast played out from behind the scenes, era by era.

Game open / First Quarter– There was a short “tease” segment in which Tom Leander’s voice explained the course the broadcast would be taking over some great old highlights from the Madhouse on McDowell. David Hughes, who produced the broadcast with me, did a fantastic job of putting together this piece. The shots of Dick Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins, Alvan Adams and Cotton Fitzsimmons brought back a flood of memories. [Read more...]

Gut-Check Time For Suns

Nash and the Suns will try to right the ship when they play the Lakers in L.A. on Thursday night.
(NBAE Photos)

The Suns aren’t in trouble or destined for failure this season, but it is a “gut-check” time for them. The loss to the Clippers Tuesday night gives the Suns the dubious distinction of losing to three teams in last place in their respective divisions….Miami, Minnesota and the Clips. The good new is…Dallas and San Antonio are going through their own travails.

So what’s going on with the Suns? I once was told by a very respected coach that players don’t deal with reality. Quite frankly they don’t always look at the “big picture”. They don’t suffer the short term consequences like coaches do. Players assume that the window of opportunity always remains open, when in fact a team may never find themselves positioned as well as the previous season to make a run for the title.

This is still, at times, the most exciting team in the NBA, and there is enough talent to win it all. But…the players need to know you can’t just throw on a switch in April and expect to go to a different level. The switch the Suns need to throw right now is the one marked intensity or energy.

How important is the regular season? Most players will tell that how they play in April, counts. But. it looks like the Suns could in effect lose a seeding spot or home court advantage the way they’re going now!

Some questions:

    • How long will it take Grant Hill to recover from surgery?
    • Why can’t Boris Diaw play like he did last week against Milwaukee?
    • Why does Shawn Marion disappear at times?
    • Can Raja Bell ever get healthy?
    • Will Amare Stoudemire stop worrying about his playing out of position at center?
    • Can Steve Nash continue at his remarkable pace?

Selfishly, we as broadcasters want the Suns to play well, because we “sound better” when they do! A struggling team brings criticism to all associated with it, including Tom, Eddie, Dan and yours truly. We are all spoiled, as the Suns Success these many seasons has been remarkable. Sometimes, we the media, are criticized for creating a crisis, a story for all to react.

This blog isn’t suggesting a crisis is at hand, but just a concern about where the Suns are as we approach the halfway-point of the season.

The True Chemical Imbalance

Amare Stoudemire and the Suns are working towards the championship in June, not in January. (NBAE Photos)

Well, as the bartender asked the horses in his pub, why all the long faces?

It seems the Suns are winning, but not by enough, not by as much as they used to. They’re winning, but not always easily, not as easily as they used to. Clearly, there must be something deeply, desperately, horribly, painfully wrong, for a team to have fallen this far.

Is it the defense? Well, the Suns are never going to remind anyone of the great shut-down clubs of all time, and their interior defense is very much a work in progress, but they’re scoring five points more than their opponents, so that means, by definition, they’re playing better defense than the guys they’re playing against, right? Suns opponents have lower field goal, free throw and three-point percentages than Phoenix, and the Suns dish out a whopping seven assists more than the teams they play.

No, say all the experts on all the websites and all the networks who’ve watched the Suns play on television a few times, the problem is chemistry. Player X thinks Player Y is a meanie. Player Z thinks no one loves him and is going to sulk in the corner. All this is a recipe for doom, proof that the system doesn’t work, that the window of opportunity has slammed, and that major, major changes are needed.

Well, for the record, I think there are chemistry problems around the Suns. But I think it’s the fans and critics that have them.

I think, because of the Suns’ spectacular, revolutionary success these past few years, people have come to expect certain things from the Suns. They expect high-flying, belief-defying runs of offensive brilliance, triple-digit victory margins, wins, wins, wins, and steady forward progress towards the franchise’s first NBA championship. And not all of that is unreasonable. With several years of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system in place, the Suns should have it pretty much perfected, and they should continue to improve. With the Suns’ essential core (Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Steve Nash) having played together for several years, they should be moving further towards ultimate success.

But I also think that, having seen the miracles the Suns have accomplished in the desert now for those several years, other teams have either adopted much of the Suns’ system, or learned how better to defense it. In short, the rest of the league has caught up a little bit to the Suns…who nevertheless still have the best record in their conference.

Winning breeds expectations and impatience to see those expectations fulfilled. But it’s made us, the fans, a little chemically imbalanced. Let’s temper those expectations with a little bit of reality. The NBA season, as the saying goes, is a marathon, not a sprint. The Suns happen to be very good sprinters, however, and we sure like watching them blaze by opponents. But no NBA championship was ever won in January. Teams grow, develop and find themselves over the course of a season. The Suns remain a team that lost a starter in the off-season (Kurt Thomas) and gained another who plays a very different style (Grant Hill). These Suns are still growing an learning.

Let’s look, for a second, at a Suns team that should have had, by all rights, zero chemistry. They started the season with an underaged rookie center at a time when the position held more talent that at any time in the league’s history. Their forwards were a journeyman who’d been unceremoniously dumped by a championship team, and a skinny shooter past his prime. Their guards were a newcomer who’d never started before, and another creaky vet starting to break down physically. They got off to a decent start, then completely fell apart. Picked to finish dead last in the division, they appeared ready to fulfill everyone’s expectations. At the All-Star break, they traded the highest-profile player they’d ever drafted, who was just coming into his own, for another undistinguished journeyman rebounder. Then, the most reliable player in the franchise’s history, the backcourt veteran, broke his wrist, forcing the team to start yet another rookie and place in him the primary ballhandling responsibilities and charging him with guarding the opponents’ best scorer.

They barely knew each other to begin with, traded guys who’d been in the locker room for a couple years, and jumbled their starting lineup twice during the regular season. It’s a wonder these guys even knew each other’s names. So what happened?

They finished in a rush of success, made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, won two playoff series in which they did not have the home court advantage, one against the defending world champions and everyone’s pick to win it again, then made in into the NBA Finals against the league’s most historic franchise, against whom they played the greatest game in basketball history before finally succumbing in six hard-fought games. The year was 1976. Alvan Adams was the rookie center, Paul Westphal the newcomer guard, Curtis Perry and Gar Heard the unheralded forwards, and Ricky Sobers the midseason replacement at point guard.

My point is, talent didn’t get them to the Finals. Chemistry did. And that chemistry wasn’t there from the start of the season. It developed over 82 games. That’s the thing about chemicals – It can take time for them to react properly. The good scientists allow it to happen in its own time. They don’t hover over the Petri dish and worry…or boo the chemicals.

Come off the ledge, Suns fans. Take solace in the fact that the Suns are where they are, and they haven’t played their best basketball yet. It’s how you finish, not where you stand with less than half the season played.

P.S. After thirty-seven games in 1975-76, the Suns were 16-21.

Suns Offense Leads to a Great Bottom Line

Just exactly HOW good is this Suns’ offense we hear and read so much about?

So good that it can overcome any defense, including their own, that’s how good. Only Memphis and Golden State give up more points in the NBA, but NOBODY scores more points.

Shawn Marion dunks against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.

(NBAE Photos)

All of which made this latest victory pretty much a typical night at the office for your Pacific Division/Western Conference leaders.

In other words, the Suns gave up 68 points in the first half, but stayed close enough with 61 themselves, then simply wore down the Bucks in the third period to register their 20th consecutive home court victory over them in a streak that began back in 1988.

It is an article of faith among NBA old timers that there are only two great plays — South Pacific and pick and roll. But the Suns defended in that first half like they’d only seen one, and alas it was the one starring Mary Martin, not the one starring John Stockton and Karl Malone.

It was almost as though the Bucks won the toss and elected to receive, and the Suns chose to defend neither goal.

But since this is a victory celebration, not a wake, one hastens to add the Suns held the Bucks to just 17 points in the third period and 46 for the half, and the natural inclination is to say they tightened their defense considerably after intermission. But Coach Mike said, “not so fast there.”

“Basically,” he grinned, “we just wore ‘em out by scoring. That’s what we do. There were no technical adjustments at half time. We just played with a lot more energy, and the big thing to me is that proves we CAN play some decent defense.”

Score the Suns certainly did. Steve Nash, bouncing back from the bug that sidelined him the last game and a half, scored 35 points – 26 in the second half – while hitting 13 of 17 from the field and five of his seven tries from Arc City.

And even as Nash led the second half charge Amare kept the team in the game with 21 of his 31 points in the first half.

But you sort of expect nights like that from Amare and Steve, and the difference maker in this one was actually the new guy from France.

I know everybody else claims this is not a new guy, and that in fact he’s been here all along. But there is no way this was the same Boris Diaw that’s been frustrating Suns’ coaches and fans much of the last two years. The only basket that Diaw went to was one at Safeway, whereas this one was an aggressive tiger who stormed the hoop for 21 points and 11 rebounds.

And what with Grant Hill recovering from an appendectomy that’s expected to sideline him for two to three weeks, the emergence of the tiger in Boris’s tank could hardly have come at a more opportune time.

But enough about Boris. Raja Bell deserves at least one paragraph of his own for eight of his 13 points, including two treys, in that turnaround third period, plus some outstanding defense against Milwaukee star Michael Redd, four blocked shots and three steals.

The bottom line: The bottom line in hoops is still the final score, and defense or no defense, nobody in the West has a better one than the Suns. (A bottom line, that is).

Suns Win Despite Adversity

But given that Grant Hill was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, and Shawn Marion were battling a bug which eventually forced Nash out of action in the third period, Amare Stoudemire was in early foul trouble, and the Suns had to dig out of a hole that reached a depth of 16 points late in the third period, “remarkable” is le mot juste.

Oh, and did I mention that for three and a half periods the Pacers shot les lumieres out?

Stoudemire tied the game with a short jumper with 26 seconds left in the fourth period and he and Raja Bell combined for 15 of the team’s 17 points in overtime. But the man who turned the game around was Barbosa, who led a 12-2 surge with eight of those points in the closing minutes of the third period to cut the deficit to four. He added five more in the first 90 seconds of the fourth period to cut it to one.

Barbosa finished with 27 points, as did Bell. And despite his discomfort, Marion toughed it out for 47-plus minutes and delivered 23 points and 12 boards.

Coach Mike delicately sidestepped a description of the exact location of the damage done by bug problem. But in reply to a question about whether the players in question would be ready for the Jazz in Salt Lake City tomorrow night, he did say, “We’ll be okay. We’ve got plenty of corks.”

You could say the Suns were saved by threes and frees. They hit 14 of the big shots, many of them that kept the Pacers within at least shouting distance, and attempted 42 free throws to only 17 for the visitors.

But while this might lead some conspiracy buffs to the conclusion that the Pacers were “homered” by the refs, the fact of the matter is the discrepancy was due almost entirely to the fact the Pacers had nobody big enough to cover Amare or fast enough to cover Barbosa, who between them accounted for 26 of those frees.

Of course, another explanation is that the Pacers paid the price for at least trying to play defense, whereas the Suns shrewdly kept the Pacers off the line by staying out of their way. But personally I think that’s a bit far fetched (not to mention smart-alecky).

One thing that helped the Suns escape with a “W” after being outplayed most of the way was that the Pacers finally started missing some shots, managing only one field goal over the last 5.5 minutes.

Coach Mike was generally pleased with his team’s effort, especially considering the circumstances, and noted the defense got better as the game went along, although he conceded it had no way to go but up after those first 12 minutes.

The victory improved the Suns’ record to a Western Conference best 25-10 and kept them a game and a half ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific Division.

The bottom line: Sweet are the uses of adversity.

Runnin' and Shootin' Rebels

The cover of the Suns’ game-night program on Monday featured a cartoon of Shawn Marion rising over a couple of frog-like aliens for one of his patented Matrix throwdowns.

Shawn Marion is known for his dunks but showed a prowess for 3-point shots on Monday night.

(NBAE Photos)

Fan artist Erik Van Buren titled his unique creation “Planet Dunk-On-Ya,” but might have drawn Marion launching missiles instead had he known what the All-Star forward was going to drop on the Denver Nuggets.

Coming off a disappointing six-point outing in Saturday’s loss to New Orleans, Marion came out on fire in this one, draining 5-of-7 three-pointers as the Suns ran out to a sizzling 78-point first half. His inspired effort resulted in a well-rounded 27-point, 14-board, six-block, five-fist-pump stat line at night’s end, not to mention a half dozen jokes “just messin’” with reporters in the locker room after the 137-115 blowout.

But Marion was not the most surprising UNLV alum on the hardwood at US Airways Center on Monday, believe it or not. Way-back-up guard Marcus Banks kept his 2008 streak intact, playing in his third straight game after checking in just three times in December, and had his best showing since signing with Phoenix in 2006.

“He was crackin’!” said Marion of his fellow Runnin’ Rebel. In addition to playing some aggressive D on Nuggets scorer Allen Iverson, Banks buried 7-of-8 deep balls for 23 points in 19 impressive minutes.

“I guess Shawn handed me the hot hand,” laughed Banks, who was all smiles surrounded by reporters for the first time this season. “He came out and hit about five of them, and I was like ‘Man, that looks pretty fun!’”

Banks realizes, of course, that minutes will continue to be hard to come by on a team featuring four All-Stars (Marion, Nash, Stoudemire, Hill), a Sixth Man of the Year (Barbosa) and an All-Defensive First Teamer (Bell). But his recent run has given him confidence that the next time he plays he will be ready.

“It’s definitely contagious,” he said. “I hope to build from this game, not so much scoring wise, but in other areas on the floor, just helping my team and doing whatever it takes to win.”

DJ DEVELOPING IN ALBUQUERQUE

Suns guard Alando Tucker, who will be our featured guest on this week’s edition of Nothin’ But Net (plug, plug), was happy to hear that fellow rookie DJ Strawberry was named D-League Performer of the Week today.

Strawberry, on assignment to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, won the award a month after Tucker took the honors.

“I was excited,” Alando said of DJ’s recognition. “I told him he had to do it, since I did it. That’s one of the things we talked about when he went down there. I told him to focus and make sure you play hard. When I went down there I didn’t really know what to expect, so I tried to fill him in and make him comfortable before he went down there.”

The Suns are expected to call Strawberry back up to Phoenix and send Tucker back down to Albuquerque at some point, taking full advantage of the NBA, D-League affiliation system, now in its third season.

“I think it helps keep them in game shape more than anything,” said Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who has been keeping an eye on Strawberry’s stats in the DL. “In past years they would have just sat all year and done nothing. They need to play some.

“Hopefully it will help him. I’m looking forward to him coming back, practicing some and seeing where he is. I think it’s been very beneficial for him.”

HILL PULLING FOR COWBOYS

If anybody in the Suns’ locker room could break down the NFL Playoffs it would be Grant Hill, son of former Pro Bowl running back, Calvin Hill. Or so I thought. The Suns’ forward admitted during a little pre-game small talk that he doesn’t actually follow the NFL all that closely.

“I was forbidden to play football growing up, so as a result I’m not a big football fan,” he explained. “My dad didn’t play until he was in high school, so he didn’t want me to play until high school. And by then, I didn’t want to play.

“But I do root for the Cowboys. That is my team and it’s good to see that they’re playing well. I’ll be watching them next Sunday. I’m hoping they can make it here to Glendale (for Super Bowl XLII).”

Okay, so Hill may not have had the inside scoop on the NFL I was hoping for, as I scout for my fantasy football playoffs. But he probably would have an interesting take on Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s relationship with Jessica Simpson, I figured, as an athlete who married a pop star himself.

“I really don’t know what’s going on there,” he laughed. “I’m out of the loop on that. But I know things in Dallas with that team and that franchise get blown out of proportion. Apparently T.O. was just joking around (about Simpson being a diversion) and it became big news. But I think the guys will be ready and there will be no distractions. They’ll be ready to play.”

Finally, in other celebrity news, our own Steve Nash and his wife Alejandra were pictured in the latest issue of US Magazine (my wife pointed out it out), strolling the streets of Beverly Hills on the day after Christmas with actress Jessica Alba and her new fiancée Warren Cash.

Suns' Win a Big Pick-Me-Up

They needed that!

What with all the internal second guessing and finger pointing, to say nothing of several ominous-sounding meetings following Saturday’s loss to New Orleans, the Suns were badly in need of a pick-me-up.

Marcus Banks helped lead the Suns to victory against the Denver Nuggets.

(NBAE Photos)

And what could put more spring back in your step, more zing back in your strings, more gleam back in your eye, and more swash back in your buckle than burying a very good team under a near-record barrage of threes in a wire-to-wire walloping that made you look like your old selves instead of just old?

Like I said, the Suns needed that.

And when you hit 20 threes (in just 31 tries), shoot 54 per cent from the field, and spread the wealth around enough to keep everyone happy while not only out-gunning but out-hustling the Northwest Division leading Nuggets, questions about chemistry and heart tend to seem irrelevant and immaterial, at least for the moment.

Did this one game cure all of the team’s ills, real, alleged, and/or imagined? Of course not. But it should go at least a little ways toward soothing the team’s jangled nerves. The view here has always been that success causes chemistry rather than vice versa, and there was enough success last night to soothe the most ruffled feelings.

You definitely don’t want the grumbling in the locker room about who’s getting what shots and who’s getting what minutes to gather any momentum. Same goes for confidence-sapping, self-admitted under-achieving.

Confidence, high energy, and devastating long-range shooting have been the cornerstones of this team’s success the last few years, and all three have been in somewhat short supply much of this season despite a 24-10 record, a game and a half lead in the Pacific Division, and at least as many wins as any other team in the loaded Western Conference. But all three were very much in evidence last night.

Granted the Nuggets do not represent the ultimate challenge to any offense. In fact, I found myself wondering at times if my old friend Doug Moe has added defensive coordinator to his bench duties as a Nugget assistant. (When people would complain his high-scoring Denver teams had the worst defense in the league he would say, “Not so. Our opponents do”).

But still, it’s doubtful if any team could have stopped the Suns this night.

Ironically, the three-point onslaught (one shy of Toronto’s league record for the season) was fueled largely by perhaps the two unlikeliest players on the Suns’ roster — Shawn Marion, who has been struggling with his three-point shot much of the year, and Marcus Banks, who seldom gets to play long enough to break anything but a sweat.

But Shawn hit five of his first six from arc city and Banks hit seven of his eight tries. In fact, Marcus didn’t even bother to try a measly two-point shot.

“The Suns got happy and then they got cocky and rubbed our faces in it a little bit,” said George Karl. And then the Denver coach added pointedly, “It will be fun the next time we play them.” (Karl apparently was less than ecstatic with the four treys the Suns dropped on him in the last four minutes, including two in the last 40 seconds).

Banks’ contribution was particularly significant because it may lead to more playing time. Where Coach Mike has been reluctant to use him the last couple of years, he now allows that he’s “beginning to trust” the physically gifted but inconsistent guard.

Bottom line: The MCGB (Most Coveted Game Ball) is for the first time ever being given to an anonymous player (because I’m not sure who made the best motivational speech in the above mentioned meetings).

Suns Play Hard but Can't Pull Out Win

This is not good.

Leandro Barbosa came off the bench to try and spark the Suns to victory.

(NBAE Photos)

It’s not terrible, you understand. Losing to a very good New Orleans team is not even necessarily bad. I mean, you knew going in the team from the Big Easy was going to be anything but easy.

But whereas when the Suns lose it is often because they played poorly for long stretches, this night they played very well for long stretches, and still lost. And this is not good for a team’s machismo.

The tendency is to say this one was lost when New Orleans made all the big plays at both ends of the court in the final three minutes to close out the game with an 11-6 run, but I put it to you that it actually went down the tubes in the third period when the Suns not only failed to build on an 11-point halftime lead but lost all but three points of it.

The team’s well-documented (ad nauseam, in fact) defensive deficiencies were at the root of the third period flame out, but it also didn’t help that the team’s even more well-documented high octane offense sputtered down the stretch.

But enough nitpicking. The fact is this was a fun game to watch if you didn’t care who won (or if you were a Hornets fan), what with two of the game’s best point guards putting on quite a show, and the league’s hardest-to-guard guard doing likewise and then some.

Reading from left to right, that would be Chris Paul of the Hornets (28 points, 10 assists), You-Know-Who of the Suns (23 and 11), and Leandro Barbosa of the Suns (4 of 6 threes and 28 points).

The Suns lost Raja Bell, who was sent home with the flu less than three minutes into the game, and early on it seemed like the Hornets were going to catch pneumonia from his bug because this brought Barbosa off the bench earlier than usual and also forced Coach Mike to use Marcus Banks earlier and longer than usual.

Barbosa scored 14 of his points in that first quarter and Banks went three for three on 3-point shots in the first half and finished with 11 points. But in the end the Suns did miss Bell, of course, just as the Hornets missed David West (bruised hip), arguably their best player.

The Suns are also faulted for not having depth, but on this night their bench outscored the Hornets’ bench 50-7. (Okay, so those numbers were skewed a bit by the Bell illness, but even so …). Incidentally, in case you’re wondering how the Hornets offset this lopsided balance, they did it with every one of their starters scoring at least 19 points.

Good as Steve Nash and Barbosa were for the home side, I am breaking precedent by giving MCGB (Most Coveted Game Ball) award to one of the guys on the other side for the first time ever, namely the aforementioned Chris Paul, who not only put up big numbers but went the full 48 minutes.

The bottom line: Although I continue to insist the Suns are still very much in the title hunt, I will admit they are missing a certain je ne cest quoi, and I don’t know exactly what it is. (In fact, I’m not even sure I can even spell it).

A Day at the Track

Me, Allan Greene and my favorite Gorilla of all time hanging out at Turf Paradise. 

(NBAE Photos)

Being too young to go myself, I stayed at home, most likely playing Tomb Raider and picking fights with my younger sister. When my parents got back, they said they had a little surprise and handed me a betting stub. Always the polite son, I pretended to be happy about the lackluster gift and it wasn’t until turning it over I saw what all the hype was about. The souvenir featured the autograph of Cotton Fitzsimmons, who at the time was serving as the Suns’ chief color analyst on KTAR and KUTP-TV broadcasts alongside Al McCoy. The item went up on my wall and needless to say, has been an important keepsake ever since.

When I first moved to the Valley back in 1994, the only thing about Arizona I was familiar with was Phoenix Suns basketball. I had never heard of a swamp cooler, thought roadrunners only existed in cartoons and soda to me was soda, not “pop”. New to the area, Suns broadcasts quickly became my best friend and the one-two punch of McCoy and Fitzsimmons was a gigantic reason for that. [Read more...]

A Comeback Win for the Suns

Robert Sarver and The Gorilla participated in Retro Night at Thursday’s game.

(NBAE Photos)

It was also Retro Night, and that may have been part of the cause of the schizophrenia.

The idea was to sort of celebrate the team’s 40th birthday with fans wearing clothing from the late 60s, the players wearing 1968-9 uniforms, and the first period being televised in grainy black and white.

The Suns went a step further in paying respects to their forbears by playing like them. But while this was a nice touch, the problem is those first Suns are now in their 60s, so it wasn’t surprising that the score at the end of the first period was 33-13 in favor of the promising but by no means ready for prime time Sonics.

The Suns managed only four field goals in the period, three of them by Steve Nash, whose teammates went 1-for-15 from the field and tied a 22-year-old franchise record with zero assists.

These guys didn’t just miss shots they normally make. That would have been bad enough. But they also missed shots The Gorilla normally makes.

But not to worry.

They righted the ship, especially defensively, by holding the Sonics to 12 points in the second period, and went on to do what 22-9 teams are supposed to do to 9-22 teams, going from 20 down at the end of that first period to 15 up early in the fourth period and coming up with big defensive plays to seal the deal after the Sonics had crept back within 4 and had the ball with 1:25 to play.

Amare Stoudemire, plagued by foul problems early, scored 14 of his 34 points in the final 12 minutes, and Leandro Barbosa scored 8 of his 16, but the defense gets this department’s CVG (Coveted Game Ball) and Shawn Marion gets to accept it.

“I don’t know whether it was the orange head bands, or the black and white TV, or too much New Year’s Eve, or what,” sighed Coach Mike in trying to pinpoint the cause of what started as malfunction and fell off to total non function.

I opt for “or what”, with the further note that the Suns seldom look their best, or even their pretty good against bad teams until they absolutely have to. And frankly, not always even then.

Although squeezing past the Sonics at home is hardly calculated to send shivers down the spines of folks in the NBA’s version of the Bermuda Triangle (i.e., Texas), Coach Mike saw some positive things out there – most notably the energy and defense after the team emerged from its retro funk.

And while this and a dime will get you two nickels, come May and June the victory was the fourth straight for the Suns and moved them past the Spurs atop the Western Conference.

The bottom line: Let’s start the New Year off with another rousing chorus of “A Win Is A Win Is A Win.”