Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty

The word for tonight was “good”. Coach Alvin used it five times in the first two minutes of his post game press conference.

It was, he said, a “good” start, a “good” win, a “good” effort overall, a “good” job defensively, and Amare had a really “good” game.

I couldn’t have put it any better myself. But while there was nothing remarkable about beating the talent-challenged Sixers, the surge that has carried the Suns to 10 victories in the last 12 games, lifted them 13 games over .500, and propelled them within striking distance of a two or three seed in the West is QUITE a story.

After all, it seems like only yesterday the team was mired in a 12-16 slump and there was serious talk of breaking it up and starting over, beginning with shipping Amar’e Stoudemire out of town (actually riding him out on a rail). And while most of the fire was aimed at Amare, everybody from the owner on down also suffered collateral damage.

So what happened to turn the season back around in the right direction so dramatically?

Well, the best thing that happened is Amare stayed put, thereby confirming the wisdom of the ancient adage that often the best deals are the ones you don’t make. From a strictly basketball sense, trading Amare never made any sense, nor did all the blog bashing he’s been getting (and is still getting) both here and around the league.

In this 10-2 run he’s averaged some 24 points and 10 rebounds, and even before that his numbers deserved more respect that he was getting. Granted he hit some rough spots, along with team, but the thing to remember is that it was agreed he would need quite a bit of time to get back into top form after missing much of last year with a serious eye problem.

In fact, he when he was putting up some decent numbers in October, Coach Alvin was saying it would be a month or two before Amare really hit his stride. And it appears that now he has.

Maybe the second best thing that happened was the rapid improvement of Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic, two youngsters the Suns were raked over the coals for signing after invisible rookie seasons. They are now significant contributors who have not only added depth but given Coach Alvin more flexibility in mixing and matching.

And perhaps the best thing of all is how Coach Alvin kept the ship from capsizing during the 12-26 storm and all the Amar’e trade distraction,  and just how adept he’s become at mixing and matching. This team wasn’t that far from going over a cliff at one point, and his steadying influence was a large plus.

Moving right along, there has been major improvement in the team’s weaknesses, namely rebounding, defensive consistency, and turnovers. Without making significant changes in personnel the only way to improve in any of these areas is just plain hard work and determination. Again, kudos to Coach Alvin and his staff, and to the players themselves.

And while kudos may be bit premature, given the real and alleged misjudgments in recent years, at least a few kind words would seem to be in order for management. Say what you will about the ones that got away the fact is that the pieces of this team’s puzzle all fit, and that doesn’t happen by accident.

I’m not suggesting this is a great team by any means, but to borrow Coach Alvin’s word for the day, it’s a “good” team with a “good” coach, and as “good” a chance as any team not names Lakers to win the West. And you can’t reasonably as for “better” than that.

There’s been altogether too much focus around the NBA this year on the next class of free agents and potential serious labor problems, but the future being even more uncertain than usual it makes more sense to focus on the present.

And speaking of the future, it looks fairly promising schedule-wise. Not only are 14 of the last 24 Games at home, but there’s only one multiple-game trip left, there’s an 8-1 stretch at home, and nice restful one-game-in-six-days spell.

And yes, I know I haven’t mentioned Steve Nash as a factor in the team’s great improvement. But that’s because he hasn’t improved. He’s great now, but he was great then too.

The bottom line: You can’t count the Suns IN the title picture, but you can’t count them OUT either. Or am I the only one who’s noticed the Lakers have had to rely on buzzer-beaters by Kobe for at least six of their victories.

  • Cathy

    AGREE! lakers are done!

  • Demond Wiltshire

    Somebody PLEASE explain coach Gentry’s rotation pattern. Having STAT, J Rich, and Nash on the bench TOGETHER for extended periods of time just doesn’t make sense to me. Its the biggest reason we lose leads in my opinion and is the only thing that can stop us. Can’t he somehow rotate these guys where at least one or two of them is on the court????

  • JOHN SERPE

    We (Suns) are a good team Joe, some time, will that be enough? Yes the team looks good over the past 12 games and with Barbosa coming back (how long with the rehab!!)) you can’t count us out. Okay, with all that out in the open, it’s still going to be tough. Is Nash’s back going to hold up? He looked great against Philly, but it’s only a spasm from trouble. Suns seem to have found the intensity that they started the season with, can we maintain it or do we fade again? This Suns team is really hard to figure, it’s just the kind you hate to play in the opening round.

  • Ryanimal

    As a Suns fan for about 5 years now, and we have all seen far too many good Suns teams disappoint. Will this one follow suit? Who the hell knows, but all I know is that I have seen a fire in the eyes of a few players (Nash, Amare and Channing Frye) that I have never seen before. We seem to have new found determination in this late season run which hopefully leads to a playoff run. HOPEFULLY. I still find it extremely hard to get excited about Suns success because of our consistent inconsistency and our playoff disappointment, but who the hell am I to be a skeptic? GO SUNS!

  • http://yahoo terrylm

    I THINK THAT THE SUNS ARE DOING BETTER THAN MOST PEOPLE THOUGHT THEY WOULD. THE WORDS GOOD & GOOD COACH & GOOD TEAM ARE GREAT FROM COACH G. D-REBOUND DEPTH ARE GREAT. THE SUNS JUST NEED TO PLAY THE WAY THEY HAVE BEEN. THEN WE WILL BE TALKING WINS. MOVE UP IN THE WEST. YES THEY CAN BEAT WHOEVER THEY PLAY COME PLAY-OFF TIME. STAY HEALTHY & THE SUNS WILL BEAT SOME TEAMS THAT MOST THINK THEY WOULD NOT. LETS SEE THEY HAVE BEAT LAL-DENVER-ALL OF THE WEST TEAMS. SUNS HAVE BEAT THE EAST BEST TEAMS BOSTON TWICE-MAGIC NOT SURE ABOUT CAVES HEAT BULLS WHO ELSE BRING IT. GO SUNS!!!

  • http://rudy.com Rudy Stevens

    Alvin Gentry is a great man and coach. We hope to keep him here for a long time. Rudy

  • JOHN SERPE

    Once again the Suns look really good, this time against a Clipper team that still has some fire left. Lopez is beginning to feel comfortable, what a boost his stepping to the next level is right now. He and Frye are making it work and their wearing out the defenses, first inside and then out. Djuric can cut Nash’s minutes down now and pick up the defensive effort when he’s in without a big loss of firepower. If the Suns continue to play with the intensity, chemistry and new found toughness they have shown over the past month we make the playoffs, dodge the Lakers, stun in the second round and meet Kobe in the finals.