This was a Must game, although assuredly not the conventional sense. This was Must as in “must not come remotely close to losing”. And given the circumstances it is not surprising that Coach Alvin sounded almost as relieved as pleased.
Coming off a four-game road bagel, losing to the lowly Nets would have turned the “sky is falling” whispers around town up to a loud roar and triggered demands to trade and/or fire just about everybody from the owner on down..
By way of driving the point home about the peculiar pressure on the Suns in this one Coach Alvin’s opening post-game remark was, “We needed this win in the worst way.” I mean, that’s like sweating out a three-inch tap-in to win a Major. And the 3-38 Nets are about as minor as it ever gets in a major sport.
So “Phew! is almost as appropriate as “Wow!” for this 24-point blowout. And indeed, the more determined gloom-and-doomers are probably grumbling in their half-empty glasses that it was a bit slow in developing.
But actually this is more about good news than avoiding the bad.
And the best of the good was the continued emergence of Robin Lopez as a positive force in the pivot. Lopez, beginning to shake free of the obscurity and rust that has been his lot since he was over-drafted two years ago, scored a career high 20 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and did a better job on his more celebrated brother, Brook than the box score might indicate. Brook did score 26 points, but needed 22 shots to do it.
The Suns, who have fought chronic softness in the middle much of their franchise history, needs to get this kind of production from the 7-foot, 265-pound Stanford product. Granted, he’s still got a long way to go, but he’s come a lot further than many thought he would just in the last few weeks.
Drafting him so high caused people to expect too much too soon from him, and eventually he all but disappeared— which in turn caused people to expect too little from him. The position here has been from the start that he could be a productive NBA player. And it still is.
Another encouraging development last night was Jason Richardson returning to form with 26 points and 10 of 14 shooting by way of celebrating his 29th birthday. Also, Steve Nash had another MVP night with 15 assists in just 28 minutes, and Amare Stoudemire, who will be starting for the West in the All-Star Game in Dallas next month, led all scorers with 27 points.
If you wish to asterisk these accomplishments, as in: *it was against the NETS for cryin’ out loud, be my guest. But I’ll tell you this: This is not a bad team that had a good month early but a good team that had a bad week.
The bottom line: This not a great team, or even a championship contender, but it’s not a terrible team either. And it is most certainly not a dull one. It is a good team, that, flaws and all, still figures to win in the neighborhood of 47-48 games and will be causing some grief in the playoffs.