Not only is Amare Stoudemire doing it all at both ends of the court these days, but a couple of his swoops en route to an eye-popping 24-point performance in less than 28 minutes evoked memories of some of the moves Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins used to dazzle the local basketball populace with.

Amare Stoudemire has been improving all year and the scary part is he can still improve even more.

(NBAE Photos)

Of course, Amare doesn’t quite have The Hawk’s panache, but then Hawk is a member of the NBA’s All Time Panache team. However, Amare is just as big a load for defenses and he is plenty dazzling in his own right thank you very much.

In fact, there are nights when I find myself wondering why he isn’t even more appreciated than he is by Phoenix fans, and even at times by the management. This is a kid who came into the league with a ton of raw talent and has developed it into one of the most devastating packages in the NBA.

His improvement, even on the defensive end, has been remarkable. Maybe that should read ESPECIALLY on defense, since that is the area the critics have been saying all along that he must improve if the Suns are to take the next big step.

I’m not saying they’re wrong. Just that they don’t seem to have noticed he has improved, and in fact is one of the big reasons the Suns have held opponents under 100 points in six of the last nine games.

One of the truly impressive things is how he has worked at developing various offensive skills and blended them into Coach Mike’s team concept. This is a guy who could well be sulking that he doesn’t get the ball enough, or that the offense should in fact be built around him. After all, players with not nearly as much talent as he has have been known to do just that.

But so far Amare has proved he’s more about winning games than whining about stats, and has totally bought into the team’s championship goals. And what’s even more exciting (or scary if you’re the rest of the West) is that he’s only a little more than halfway down the road of improvement.

Last night he was 10 of 11 from the field (although admittedly he turned it into a very short field), had 7 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots. Oh, and he also had an assist and 2 steals.

He wasn’t the only Sun who shone this night, of course. Perhaps most noteworthy was the continued resurgence of Boris Diaw. The target of much flack earlier in the season, he has been coming on stronger and stronger of late, and had 16 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds against the Hawks in just 31 minutes. And he seems to be developing a better understanding of when to help his teammates and when to go to the hoop.

One of the most pleasant surprises was how hard to the Suns jumped on the hapless Hawks right from the opening tip. They have been know to give up points in mega bunches in first and second periods, but Atlanta managed only 17 points and shot a woeful 21 percent from the field in the first period. They followed that with only 16 points in the second period. The Suns also blocked eight shots in that opening period and went on to reject a franchise record 19.

Ironically, although the Suns built a lead that stretched as high as 37 points and seldom dipped below 25, if you didn’t see the game and somebody told you Atlanta had 26 offensive rebounds and a 50-36 over all edge on the boards you might have leaped to the conclusion the team’s glaring (real and alleged) weaknesses inside had been exploited yet again in another loss.

But of course the main reason the Hawks got all those offensive rebounds was that they missed all those shots (67 to be precise). In fact, they got 6 of those offensive boards in one wild (and scoreless) trip down the floor in the first period. Indeed, the Suns took only 14 more shots than the Hawks missed.

In the interest of full disclosure it should be duly noted this was the fourth stop on a five-game swing for Atlanta, but judging from its lack of energy, the team must be traveling by mule train. “We just didn’t show up”, grumbled Coach Mike Woodson. Outside of Marvin Williams nobody competed across the board.”

But he shouldn’t be too hard on his lads. The fact is they caught the Suns at a time when they are healthier and closer to hitting their full stride than they were the last time these teams met. Much of the fretting about the Suns in the early months of the season overlooked the fact the team was banged up in various ways and still adjusting to the addition of some key new players.

This was the team’s sixth straight home win and seventh in the last eight games, and was an auspicious beginning to a six-game home stand. It was also great preparation for a Thursday meeting with the World Champion Spurs (also known in these parts as The REAL Evil Empire) that has generated buckets of buzz.

The bottom line: If nothing else, games like this should get the Suns off the couch analysts have had them on much of the year.

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