The word on the street was that this was beginning of a character test stretch for the Suns, and while I’m not at all sure this is the case, one thing I AM sure of is that if it was they flat out aced the sucker.


Boris Diaw helped turn the tide for the Suns in the 4th quarter against the Jazz.
(NBAE Photos)

“Character” in hoops is supposed to be defined by defense and the Suns showed plenty of it last night to snap a two-game skid (trust me, for Suns fans even one loss qualifies as a “skid”.)

With the offense still struggling to find its rhythm and the team’s deadly three-point shooting looking more sickly than deadly (4-for-17), the Suns delivered one of their finer defensive efforts in recent memory — holding the league’s fifth highest scoring team to 98 points.

Although the Suns didn’t always defend the floor that well they defended the basket fiercely. Led by their two-man “Swat Squad” of Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, the Suns – who rank second only to Denver in this category – blocked 13 shots and their hustling defense set up 25 points off turnovers.

Amare had six of those blocks and Marion added another 5. Marion also had 26 points and 15 rebounds, and in Coach Mike’s words, defended Jazz star Carlos Boozer “about as well as he can be defended.”

And while Steve Nash lost a tooth via an inadvertent elbow from Boozer, he found his shooting touch, going 10 for 12 from the field and hitting three of his four 3-point attempts. In fact, take Nash out of the mix, and the Suns were 1-for-13 from downtown.

“We’re not flowing yet offensively,” said Coach Mike, “but we’re playing well enough to win.”

Well enough, indeed! The Suns are tied for the league lead in wins with 17, lead the league in scoring, and are a league-best 10-1 against teams with winning records.

Although the Big Three accounted for 73 of the team’s 103 points, the Suns also got significant contributions from several other players, most notably (and perhaps most encouragingly) from Boris Diaw.

Diaw, who has been semi-maligned for not living up to his promise he showed in a spectacular first year with the Suns, came through with a pair of tide-turning three-point plays in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, the first of which he set up with a couple of fierce offensive rebounds. And Grant Hill, who was only 2-for-10 from the field through the first three periods, also had a three-point play early in the last period and hit a jump shot with 1:36 to play to give the Suns a three-point lead.

This was the fifth straight loss for the Jazz, but don’t let that fool you. This is a much better team than that skid indicates and they just happen to have fallen into one of those funks that even the very best NBA teams fall into at least once during the long, long season. (Suns fans please note the previous sentence.) It also didn’t help that this was a back-to-back game for them and they were without 6-11 center Mehmet Okur, who had a strained a left trapezius (I don’t know what it is either, but it must smart).

This game kicked off a stretch in which the Suns visit New Orleans, San Antonio, and Dallas, play Toronto at home, and the Lakers in Los Angeles – but not to worry.

Off this outing against the Jazz, the Suns’ defense, energy, and work ethic are ready for the test.

The bottom line: I’ve never been among those who thought the sky was falling, or even thought it was cloudy for that matter. Although there have been a few funky moments here and there, this is, and has been from Day One, a very good team with a decent chance to win it all.

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