For the Suns, it’s all a matter of returning to what worked early.
It’s a little more defense, a little more rebounding, a little more chasing down loose balls as if they’re made out of $100 bills. And the Suns have been doing it all without surrendering their strengths, things such as sharing the ball and then burying the shot.
Add it all together and what do you get?
The answer is a four-game winning streak. And not just any winning streak. As you know, the previous three wins came on the road against teams with winning records. Two came against teams battling for a playoff spot, the other against a team expected to finish within the top two or three sports in the West.
But the Denver Nuggets had better not get too comfortable, because the Suns proved they have the firepower to make it happen on any given night.
Yes, I know. The Nuggets were playing without injured All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Still, they had won nine straight at home before the Suns rolled into town, so let’s not read to much into Anthony‘s absence. Either way, the Nuggets are pretty good. Today, it’s easy to believe the Suns are, too.
Would you believe the Suns are playing as well right now as at any other time this season, maybe better? That’s hard to imagine when you consider their fast break of a start, in which they became the first team this season to win 10 games. They also won thrillers in Boston and Philadelphia on that first road trip. This one has taken place against some of the better teams in their own conference.
As Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, “As far as the class of the team and the quality of the team, it’s probably the best we’ve played on a stretch of road this year.”
Meanwhile, All-Star guard Steve Nash said the Suns have simply been a little grittier, displaying “the same characteristics I think you saw when we played well in November.”
It’s all just a matter of being a little tougher. “We’re coming up with a few more hustle plays, a few more loose balls, making a few more baskets with just determination,” Nash added.
Nash speaks the truth, as the Suns have outrebounded their opponents by a 174-157 count during the streak. Leading the charge has been none other than center Amar’e Stoudemire. All he’s done is average 27 points and 13.3 rebounds in the past three games.
“When he rebounds, we’re a much better team,” Nash said. “We know he can score the ball. When he gets on the glass and does some other things, we become a little more dynamic.”
Stoudemire described the Suns’ play as of late as “scrappy.” It’s not often a word that’s been associated with a team that’s usually known for its high-octane offense and finesse style. But right now it works, and right now, these Suns are proving they can adapt.
We all knew earlier this season that there would be a few valleys. That’s just the way things go in an NBA season. Considering the Suns spent the offseason getting younger, there are likely to be a few more.
But the Suns seem to have learned from their struggles, finding a new rhythm and adding a new wrinkle to their game that is likely to benefit them in the long run.
“We were in a funk for a while,” Stoudemire said. “We’re kind of uniting now through difficult times and it’s helping. It’s helping all of us.”
* The Suns snapped a 10-game streak against the Nuggets in which the home team had won every time. The teams play twice more (March 1 and April 13). Both games are in Phoenix.
* There’s still plenty of business to be handled on the road, as the Suns play three of the next four in a city other than Phoenix. All of this will change in early March, as the Suns begin the month by playing eight of nine at home.
* Finally, before you think the Suns may be relinquishing a little offense these days, consider that they have scored 100 or more points in 22 of their previous 23 games, including 10 in a row. The last time they failed to reach 100 was Jan. 16, when they scored 99 against Charlotte. In other words, if there’s one thing this team knows, it’s how to run and be tons of fun.