It was a crystal-clear, 70-degree day here in Los Angeles (this would actually be a pretty great place to live, if the Lakers weren’t here). I took a long walk by the beach with a beautiful woman. And then I came home and watched the Suns kick the absolute stuffing out of the Dallas Mavericks.


Amaré Stoudemire thows down two of his 24 points in Sunday’s win over the Mavericks.
(NBAE Photos)

Do Sundays get any better?

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I recorded the game on TiVo (I hope you understand, Suns fans – not many things take priority over a nationally televised game between my team and the top team in the league, but I’m a sucker for a good romantic walk by the beach), and avoided score reports on the radio on my way home. Arriving at my apartment, I checked my phone messages, which included one from my father in Chicago. He said, “Go Suns,” which meant either, a) he was being sarcastic and the Suns got killed or they lost a heartbreaker or b) the Suns won. My dad knows how seriously I take the Suns and generally knows better than to needle me about hoops, so I had a pretty good feeling as I sat down to watch the game.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

What a welcome return to sharpness! The Suns looked like everything they hadn’t in the previous eight or so games. Their passes were crisp, their spacing precise, their defense tenacious, and their resolve solid. Yes, the Mavericks were missing their center, Erick Dampier, but you can’t tell me the difference between the Suns and the Mavericks comes down to Erick Dampier. The Suns simply turned on the jets in the fourth quarter and blew the best team in the NBA out of the building. When they play that well, there isn’t a team in the league today that can hang with them.

Now the question is, can they bottle the performance and use it as a spark the rest of the way?�

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If Amaré Stoudemire perfects his mid-range jump shot (and from the looks of it Sunday, he’s pretty close to doing so), the NBA may as well close down for the next ten years.

If power forwards or centers lay off of him, he’ll knock down ten of those jumpers in an evening. If they come out to guard STAT, he’ll blow by them and posterize the weak side help that comes over to stop him. He’ll become as much of a force, if not more of a force, than Karl Malone.�

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A few columns back, I said Dallas had no marquee superstars outside of Dirk Nowitzki. I was wrong. Josh Howard may not be quite in Nowitzki’s league, but he’s definitely a superstar – just one you don’t hear anything about. He hits the three, runs as well as anyone in the league, plays amazing defense against any of four positions, and absolutely cleans up around the rim on garbage buckets and tough rebounds. There’s a lot of Scottie Pippen in him.

Shawn Marion has long held the title of “most underrated star” in the NBA, but now that title has been so over-used as pertains to Trix that it doesn’t really apply anymore. How can you be underrated if everyone’s talking about how underrated you are? Shawn is a bona fide superstar – true followers of the league and the team certainly know that now. The Suns aren’t the Suns without him playing at his best, and their troubles during his recent recovery from a hand injury reflect that fact. Howard is genuinely underrated…and he’s just as important to the Mavericks as Trix is to the Suns.�

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Around this time every year, columns start appearing about which NBA assistant coaches are next in line for head coaching jobs, and Marc Iavaroni’s name always seems to top the list. It’s inevitable he’ll get a top slot, he’s too good not to, and of course I wish only the best for him, but it’ll be quite a loss the day he leaves the Suns’ bench. In addition to being a quality coach who has made the Suns immeasurably better, he’s been a key part of the chemistry of the coaching staff, which can be as important as the chemistry of a team.

Speaking of underrated, the Suns’ assistant coaches in general don’t get nearly enough credit. Alvin Gentry, Phil Weber, Dan D’Antoni and Iavaroni…each brings something critical to the Suns’ success to the table and has left an imprint on the team’s accomplishments in recent years. Mike D’Antoni and the Suns’ front office deserve a round of applause for assembling not just a great team on the court, but a great team in the coaches’ seats.�

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That’s a lot of compliments to pass around in a single blog, but I guess I’m just feeling filled with the milk of human kindness. I had a pretty good Sunday, and so did the Suns.

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