Since I haven't written an NBA column in five weeks, thousands of frustrated basketball fans have been flooding me with e-mails and demanding their hoops fix. All right, maybe it hasn't been thousands, more like hundreds. Or maybe it was just six readers, my buddy House and Marc Stein. But still, it FELT like thousands of readers. That's the important thing.
The Sports Guy is forced to watch the college game if he wants to root for the Celtics.Just know that I haven't been ignoring the NBA. I'm just a little depressed because the Celtics stink again. Fortunately, we stink to the point that we're now the leading contenders for the Kevin Durant-Greg Oden Sweepstakes. (Yeah, I know I put Durant first even though Oden is the consensus No. 1. Just know that I factored in the upcoming March Madness tournament when Durant averages a 35-13 for two straight weeks and nearly wins the national title by himself, followed by three straight months of, "Wait, this guy is a rich man's KG, he might be better than Oden!" stories and features. If you don't believe me, watch Durant for a few games. He's going to be very, VERY famous some day. You can say you knew him when.) Now I'm openly rooting against the Celtics and TiVo-ing every game involving everyone on Chad Ford's top 350.
Anyway, since I'm trapped in Celtics Hell, I needed something to carry me through the dregs of the NBA regular season. And you know what's kept me going?
The Phoenix Suns.
I watch all of their games. I rewind plays to see what they're doing and how they're doing it. I learn about basketball from them. I revel in their splendidry, and I don't even think splendidry is a word. They're the most consistently entertaining basketball team in 20 years. They have a chance to be historically good. You could be bouncing your grandkids on your lap someday and telling them that you watched the 2007 Suns.
Naturally, nobody's talking about them. Everyone's tired of hearing about Nash at this point, and since they don't have the best record in the league, there isn't any urgency to make a fuss about them. But if you care about basketball at all, if the sport has ever meant anything to you, if you remember the Magic-Bird Era fondly in any way, if you're remotely interested in watching a professional sports team peak ... then you need to follow the Suns. They're sniffing at true greatness. I'm not saying it will happen, just that it could. You never imagined that an NBA team could score 111 points a game, shoot 51 percent from the field, shoot 81 percent from the line, make 40 percent of its 3s, double as the best transition team since the Showtime Lakers and still manage to be half-decent defensively, right?
Well, it's happening. And it's an exceedingly relevant development for two reasons:
1. We're in a weird time in sports right now. There isn't a dominant football, baseball, basketball or hockey player. There isn't a dominant boxer. Our two transcendent athletes are a tennis player (Roger Federer) and a golfer (Tiger Woods). We haven't seen a dominant team since the Patriots rolled off 31 of 33 victories during their last two Super Bowl seasons ... and as much I loved that team, there was never a point where you could have definitively said, "That team is playing on a higher plane than everyone else." Ever since MJ retired (the second time) and the Yankees got old, there's been a greatness drought with team sports.
2. The last great basketball teams were the Lakers and Celtics from the mid-'80s. Both were blessed with selfless superduperstars (Bird and Magic), genuine Hall of Famers (McHale and Parish for Boston; Worthy and Kareem for the Lakers) and valuable role players (DJ, Ainge and Walton for Boston; Cooper, Scott and Green for the Lakers). And both teams reached heights that haven't been approached since. They were the last two teams that dominated in a competitive league and routinely submitted those occasional "not only are we winning this game by 25 points, just send the tape to Springfield after it's over" games.
In a related story, the Suns are 26-2 in their last 28 games. Here were their two losses:
Dec. 22: They lose to the Wizards in OT (144-139) in a game that Arenas tied with a 3-point play in regulation, then Nash missed a wide-open 3 that could have ended it.
Dec. 28: They lose in Dallas by two (101-99) when Nowitzki made a jumper with 0.1 seconds left.
With two reasonable breaks (Nash making the 3-pointer, Nowitzki missing the jumper), the Suns could be working on a 28-game winning streak right now. I've mentioned that to three people over the last 48 hours and all of them said the same thing: "Wait a second ... whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat??????"
It's true. You can look it up.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Balancing the psyche of Shawn Marion is just one of the tricks up Steve Nash's sleeve.I didn't see this one coming. When the Suns were limping along to a 1-5 mark in early November, I wrote that Amare Stoudemire's up-and-down comeback was screwing them up. Seeing them in person against the Clippers that week, they looked about as happy as the family from "Little Miss Sunshine." How can you not have fun when you're playing with Steve Nash???? It's almost un-American. Umm, un-North American.