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.