Welcome, Matt!

Josh Greene / Suns.com Photos

 

When last season ended with that loss to San Antonio, and Mike D’Antoni departed for Gotham, it was hard to be optimistic.

All the talk was about the Suns’ aging core, the “failure” of the trade for Shaquille O’Neal, and the futility of the run-and-gun system in the playoffs. Sourpusses (like me) predicted a downturn in fortune and some years of rebuilding. After all, how much could the team change?

Well.

Step One, hire Terry Porter as Head Coach. A pro’s pro as a player, he’s got the respect of everyone on the team. Heck, after all the times he tortured the Suns in the playoffs as a member of the Portland Trailblazers, I certainly respect him. He knows defense, he knows offense. He can teach. And he’s committed to playing a deep rotation. [Read more...]

Suns Eclipsed by Knicks

Daniel Banks/Suns.com

Daniel Banks/Suns.com

In a surreal matinee affair, a Igor Kokoskov-coached Phoenix squad took on a Phil Weber-led New York team that saw the Suns come up short in an 85-80 defeat.

 

So while former Suns assistant coach Weber and former Suns assistant Dan D’Antoni exchanged pleasantries with Suns assistants Dan Majerle and Kokoscov before the game, the game proved to be a battle. The contest was tight all along, heading all the way into the final seconds before the victor was decided.

Guard DJ Strawberry had an opportunity to tie the game with less than 10 seconds remaining, but his 3-point attempt was blocked by Knicks guard Mardy Collins. New York grabbed the loose ball before icing the game on two free throws by Wilson Chandler. The Knicks’ swingman finished the contest with 31 points.

However, the bright side of the story for the Suns was the play of “Big Three.” [Read more...]

First Impresssions

Daniel Banks/Suns.com

Daniel Banks/Suns.com

As I sat perched behind the Suns’ NBA Summer League Head Coach Igor Kokoscov at the scorer’s table, I realized that while this may seem like a working for vacation for myself, there are a lot of people with the Suns whose work-year is well underway.

 

Tell the young players attempting to make the Suns’ roster that the summer is the time for relaxing. Or tell the new coaching staff, who is trying to piece together their first team in the Valley of the Sun. Or how about second-year men DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker? Both are looking to build upon their rookie seasons and crack a rotation filled with veteran stars.

The same could be said for rookie Robin Lopez, who along with the two veterans, led Phoenix to 98-74 victory over the Spurs on Thursday. After catching the Suns’ first game on TV and watching Lopez in tonight’s contest against San Antonio, it’s already fair to say that the young center has made his presence felt. [Read more...]

Summer in Phoenix Great for Tucker So Far

Noah Graham / Getty Images

DJ and I were at the US Airways Center again today, working on a few things with new assistant coach “Thunder” Dan Majerle. Dan will be our summer league coach in Vegas later this month and has been great to work with. He busts our chops a little bit, but he’s making sure we’re ready and we’ve all just been having a lot of fun on the court together.

I’ve talked to pretty much all the guys on the team, most of who are away doing things with their wives and kids. DJ and I are the youngest so we’ve just stayed here in Phoenix for the most part working on our games. Everybody’s excited though and looking forward to working with new head coach Terry Porter and his staff. I wish the best for Mike D’Antoni in New York, but believe change provides opportunity and that’s what I’m preparing myself for right now. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that this coaching staff has set the bar very high for us and expect nothing but the best results. [Read more...]

The Big What If

Will Tim Duncan’s three-point shot be another “what if” in Suns history?
(NBAE Photos)

What if Cedric Ceballos hadn’t been hurt during the ’93 Finals? What if Phoenix hadn’t blown successive 2-0 leads on Houston during the Rockets back-to-back championship runs in ’94 & ’95? What if Joe Johnson hadn’t had his face rearranged by Jerry Stackhouse in ’05? What if Raja Bell hadn’t had a freak calf tear against the Mavs in ’06? What if the Suns would have had a full roster for Game 5 vs the Spurs last postseason?

Although most Suns fans refer to these examples as statements rather than questions, Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss is another example of how history repeats itself – another emotionally gripping game full of big What Ifs. Watching Tim Duncan hit that 3-pointer (did I really just write that?) to send Game 1 into double-OT was beyond surreal. I guess the Shooting Stars competition during All-Star weekend paid off. Duncan practiced the 3-point shot enough to carry his San Antonio team to victory in that event . . . and it carried over. We can add his to the litany of 3-point playoff daggers the Suns have endured (Mario Elie in ’95, Bowen in game 5 last year . . . .)

Cubs fans are generally seen as the most tortured in sports, now celebrating (is that the right term?) their 100th season since they last hoisted a championship trophy on the north side. But that franchise has been a mess from a baseball standpoint most of the last century. How often over the course of their dry spell have they put a team on the field that has fans saying, “this team is a legitimate contender?” Maybe, MAYBE 10 of those 100 seasons. As a Chicago native who spent his share of afternoons at Wrigley Field, I can tell you this: that’s not a suffering fan base, just a bunch of lemmings that love to have a good time at the ballpark. [Read more...]

Suns Win But Still No Closer to Knowing First Round Opponent

The guest list for the Big Dance, NBA version, is finally complete. But exactly who will dance with whom and where in the West is still as undecided with only two days to go in the season as it was two months ago.

Shaquille O’Neal grabs a rebound against the Warriors on Monday night.
(NBAE Photos)
 

 

 

The Suns’ victory over the Warriors did lock idle Denver into the eighth spot, but NONE of the positions of the other seven are written in stone. Not One!

With the Big Picture so fuzzy, the plan here is to focus on the small picture — namely last night’s game. Mind you, it’s a little snowy too, but compared to the playoff picture it’s High Definition TV.

Early on in this game the Suns looked very much like a team that was ready for the playoffs, and the Warriors looked like a team that was already on vacation — showing little interest in passing and none in defense, and about as much emotion as a box of doorknobs.

It’s one thing to mail a game in, but it’s bad form to not even bother to put a stamp on it. And although they were still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt the Warriors played like they knew they were dead men walking.

But the Suns had another one of their patented 12-minute lapses of concentration in the third period and dragged the Warriors back into the game by the seat of their disinterested pants.

With their main man, Baron Davis benched, either because of lack of interest, 2 for 13 shooting in the first half, or fatigue, the Warriors went on a 38-19 run that propelled them into a lead that would grow to 11 points..

Fortunately, they still had nobody who could cover Amare, even a less than 100 percent Amare. The best they could do was foul him and he hit 7 of 9 free throws and scored 11 his 28 points to lead the charge. Leandro Barbosa sealed the deal with a three-point shot and then another basket, plus a key offensive rebound in the last two minutes.

“Well, we won,” said Coach Mike. “And I thought we looked really sharp at the end.”

That about sums up the good news. The potential bad news concerns Grant Hill, who left in the second period with a groin injury. It was not, for now at least, believed to be serious, but Coach Mike indicated Hill might be held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday’s game here against Portland, adding he expects him to ready for Game One of the playoffs this weekend.

The other area for concern has to be turnovers. The Suns have broken out in a rash of ugly ones in recent games, and that Golden State outburst in the third period was fueled in no small part by seven of them.

But the bottom line: Not to worry. I have no idea who or where the Suns will play in the first round, but I like their chances going in as good as anybody’s. Maybe even just a tiny, tiny bit better. (The operative word there being “maybe”).

One reason for this confidence is that while the midcourse correction that brought Shaq here probably cost them top seed, it without question made them more playoff-worthy. The other reason is there is no 900-pound gorilla out there in the West. Just four or five 400-pound ones.

Memphis Mania and Why I Hate the Spurs

In case you can’t tell from my previous blogs (or the career path I’ve chosen), I am a huge sports fan. My love of sports is what got me into television.

There are many reasons Bob doesn’t like the Spurs – their record against the Suns being the biggest.
(NBAE Photos)

The summer between 7th and 8th grade I was watching one of many Cubs games on WGN and the thought occurred to me that someone, somewhere was getting paid to watch the game I was watching. At that time I had no idea what the role of a producer or director was, but I knew that it would be a pretty good gig to be paid for doing what I already liked to do.

Monday night I got to experience the wildly entertaining NCAA championship game with a sports bar full of hard-core Memphis fans. Every Tigers basket was followed with thunderous applause, each near miss with “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. As their team stretched the lead to 9 with just over 2 minutes remaining, the noise was deafening. The crowd cheered through entire timeouts, passing around high fives and hugs – their team was so close to the ultimate prize they could taste it. You know what happened next. Kansas hit a few shots, the rim shrunk on the Memphis end (just ask Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts) and the rest was history. As the CBS broadcast went to commercial break at the end of regulation after the miracle 3-point field goal from Kansas, I could hear Jim Nantz’s voice for the first time since I’d joined this crowd. The previously raucous bar was as quiet as an oncologist’s waiting room. After the game, the crowd filed out as if leaving a funeral. [Read more...]

Suns Hitting Their Stride

What do you get on a night when a very good home team that can’t do anything wrong meets a very bad road team that can’t do anything?

Very deceiving results. I mean, there’s no way this one was as close as that 117-88 score indicates.

Now I realize that beating the T-Wolves any place beyond the Minneapolis city limits is not exactly like beating a leopard in a tree, but even when you get past that disclaimer you have to be very impressed with how many levels the Suns have raised their game in the last few weeks (or even raised themselves from the dead if you listened to the way some folks were talking during the period of adjustment)..

Offense, defense, rebounding, chemistry, body language, you name it. And bear in mind the Suns weren’t exactly chopped liver BEFORE The Trade transformed this into the strongest playoff-type team in the Mike D’Antoni era.

Even those of us who climbed out on a limb (actually more like a strong branch) and proclaimed the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal was a great one never dared suggest The Big Difference would make THIS much difference.

It’s not all Shaq by any means, of course. It’s also a matter of Raja Bell getting healthy, Boris Diaw taking fewer naps during games, Amare going from All World to Other Worldly, Steve Nash playing back to his MVP form, and even the overlooked signing of Gordon Giricek giving Coach Mike another useful piece of the puzzle.

But No. 32 has clearly been the catalyst. And you don’t have to look any further than the four games against the T-Wolves this year to pinpoint statistically what a difference a Shaq makes.

In the three games without him the Wolves beat the Suns half to death on the boards, 153-99, with a lot of that damage being done on the offensive end. But last night the Suns had a 52-39 edge that could have been even greater if Coach Mike hadn’t emptied his bench. (And speaking of that, by the way, the seldom seen back of the bench delivered 15 points).

And it wasn’t just a one-night phenomenon. Since The Trade the Suns have clearly corrected what had been one of their most glaring weaknesses, namely frailty off the glass.

And as I mentioned earlier, they have managed to shore up their weakness, including alleged softness and defense, without sacrificing any of their offense.

And where all teams talk about hitting their stride at the right time (i.e., now), the Suns are walking that talk with a vengeance.

The bottom line: There is every indication the next few weeks will be among the most exciting in franchise history.

Final Analysis

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of things. Sunday’s big win over the Evil Empire was a reminder that the Suns didn’t, in fact, forget how to play like a championship caliber team.

 

Eddie Johnson is able to give expert analysis during games because of his skill in shooting when he played. (NBAE Photos)

And perhaps a reminder that we all should have listened to Mike D’Antoni, Steve Kerr – even Shaq himself – when they said there would be some adjustments necessary to fully incorporate the Big Cactus.

I had another reminder a few nights ago as we began the 4th quarter of a home game against the 76ers. During the preceding timeout the Gorilla squad had inadvertently ripped the net off one of the hoops. There was a short delay as U.S. Airways Center engineers quickly replaced the net. Eddie Johnson immediately told Gary Bender and all the viewers watching FSN Arizona that he hated when a net had to be replaced during a game. Since the net would take a little while to get stretched out to its usual size, EJ said that the rim always looked smaller and it became a psychological detriment to any shooters on the floor. Phoenix went scoreless for the first 3 minutes and made a total of 3 FGs over the first 9 minutes of the quarter. Who else but a shooter (and were there any better?) would offer that nugget of insight? It was another example of the expert analysis Suns fans receive every night from the duo of Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle.

Having worked in sports television for over 18 years, I’ve crossed paths with countless announcers. One thing I’ve noticed over that time is that you can learn a lot about someone by how their peers react toward them. I call it the RQ – Respect Quotient. Wherever Dan and EJ go with the Suns, they are universally respected for their knowledge of the game, the tenacious style they both brought to the court and, yes, even the fact that they are really genuine human beings. The only analyst I’ve worked with that comes close to the RQ of Dan and EJ is former Chicago Bears defensive back Doug Plank. His goes beyond respect, though. I think guys that played against Doug still avoid him as if they think he might drop them in the lobby of a hotel or stadium press box. [Read more...]

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...]