Needless to say, it’s been an up-and-down week on Planet Orange. Beginning with a plethora of questions about the state of a Suns team just over .500 heading into an All-Star Weekend at home (not to mention the somewhat-expected fixation with Thursday’s trading deadline), the second half of the season got off to a fresh coaching start with the promotion of Alvin Gentry and subsequent three-straight wins.
The word “run” has been used many times in the past when associated with this team, but for the first time in a long while, the mention of it in Gentry’s introductory press conference carried an optimistic feel to it – an optimism that’s been validated with back-to-back-to-back 140-point efforts after Friday’s 140-118 win over the visiting Thunder. Jason Richardson scored a season-high 34 points, while Leandro Barbosa tallied a game- and career-high 41 points to go along with seven boards, seven assists and six steals.
With word of Amar’e Stoudemire possibly missing the next eight weeks after successful surgery to correct a partially detached retina earlier in the day, a strong showing by the short-staffed Suns was crucial – especially against a Thunder squad that’s had its own issues this season. And for the second time this week, LB has come up big in a starting role. Filling in for a suspended J-Rich Tuesday to the tune of 24 points, he went 16-of-21 from the field Friday, including 5-of-7 from long range, to pace the Suns.
“This is my fifth year with LB,” said Gentry, who joined Scott Skiles as the only Suns coaches to win their first three games, “and when you get into an open court game like we played tonight he is as good as anyone in the league from a standpoint of making steals. And when he gets on a roll shooting the ball, he really feels good about the way he is playing and real confident – so he shot the ball extremely well.”
Sinking the Suns’ final basket with a 21-foot jumper with just over 20 seconds left in the ballgame, Barbosa enabled Phoenix to become the first team since the 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers to score 140 or more points in three-straight games (Nov. 13-17, 1990).
“I didn’t know what was happening on the court at the end of the game,” Barbosa said. “We were winning and coach said for me to keep going to the basket. After we finished the game, I found out I had 41 points. I was very happy, but I was happier that we did it together and knew what we needed to do and was doing our work as a team. We’re getting there.”
Steve Nash added, “I think this proves if we really push the ball and make good decisions, we can score no matter who is in the lineup. Obviously, over an extended period of games, we’re going to miss Amar’e, but we have guys who can fill in the gaps for short periods of time. We just have to keep working together and make up for his absence.”
Conceding the lack of any STAT highlight reels anytime in the foreseeable future, Gentry was optimistic when it came to the rest of the team picking up the slack, including productive minutes from new starter LB, as well as the rest of the bench.
“Whether it’s a dunk or a lay-up, it still counts as two points,” the head coach said.
Regardless of their three-game winning and 140-point scoring streaks, the Suns know their newfound mettle will be tested in their next 11 games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .649, beginning with the defending champion Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon.
And for the first time in an arguably long time, they sound like they’re up to the challenge.
“We feel sorry for Amar’e, because he was playing great,” said Gentry about the loss of his All-Star forward, “but as a team, we don’t feel sorry for ourselves.”