Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Suns 107, Nuggets 105

by John Marshall / Associated Press, from Foxsports.com
With that kind of effort, it's no wonder the Phoenix Suns are off to the best start in franchise history.

Stoudemire had 32 points and nine rebounds, and Richardson tipped in a putback attempt at the buzzer to help the Suns extend their winning streak to nine games with a 107-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

"The game was like 'Hamlet.' It was a suspense-thriller and I killed them," Richardson said.

It's no surprise. Phoenix has been doing it all season.

One of the NBA's worst teams a year ago, the Suns have become one of the best this season with balanced scoring and a never-give-up attitude.

Richardson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, Steve Nash added 15 points and 10 assists and Phoenix shot 53 percent for its second nine-game winning streak this season. The Suns have won 18 of 19 and eight straight on the road, one short of the team record.

And at 22-3, the Suns are off to the NBA's best start since Dallas had the same record with Nash at the point in 2002. Not bad for a team that didn't get its 22nd win until March 15 last year.

"Phoenix is 22-3 for a reason," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "They are a very good team."

The Nuggets played without starters Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, though it didn't appear to affect them offensively.

Andre Miller was aggressive from the start, finishing with 23 points and 11 assists, and Kenyon Martin bulled his way to 22 points and 11 rebounds. Nene did his part in place of Camby with 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Bryon Russell had 14 points for Denver, which shot 51 percent.

Where the Nuggets had trouble was on defense.

Without Camby there to erase shots, Denver gave the Suns plenty of free runs down the lane and allowed 56 points in the paint in losing for the fifth time in six games.

"The effort was good," Bzdelik said. "Short-handed, they battled the hottest team in the league and came up short. We just ran out of time, plain and simple."

The game was a shootout from the start, with little defense and plenty of scoring.

Phoenix went up 103-101 on Nash's left-handed runner with 49 seconds left, but Denver quickly answered with Martin's running hook to tie it. The Suns went back up with 22 seconds left when the Nuggets doubled Nash and left Stoudemire wide open for a two-handed dunk down the lane.

Denver tied it with Martin's hard drive, but couldn't keep the Suns off the boards on the other end. Nene blocked Richardson's first shot along the baseline, then Stoudemire was long on a two-handed tip. Richardson bounced back into the play between two Nuggets defenders and got his left hand on the ball, tipping it in just before the buzzer sounded.

"I knew it was good, because when I came back down, the light was still off," said Richardson, who was mobbed by teammates after the shot. "That's why I went so crazy."

Anthony missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle, then Camby was a last-minute scratch because of bronchitis.

Denver is at its best when it works the ball around for open shots, and the Nuggets had it going in the first half, using crisp passes for open jumpers and cuts down the lane. The Nuggets shot 12-of-20 in the first quarter and only cooled slightly in the second, shooting 50 percent in the first half to lead 54-53.

But Camby's absence was clearly noticeable on the other end.

Phoenix had no trouble getting to the rim without Denver's best defensive player in the paint, getting three of its first four baskets on open drives and scoring 30 of its first-half points in the lane to shoot 23-of-39.

"We took advantage of the situation that they were out," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. "Lucky for us, bad for them." the post. "That is a travel. Even in the holiday season that's a travel," Outlaw said. ... Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle attended the game. ... Denver has allowed 100 points in seven of its past nine games and 56 points in the lane in five of six.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Can Suns Win 60 Games This Year?

By Mike Tulumello, East Valley Tribune, from NBA.com
Good NBA teams win 50 games, according to the league's age-old conventional wisdom.

Great teams win 60.

The Suns (14-3) have established they're awfully good, in particular by running up an 8-1 road record.

But can they be great? Can they win 60?

Since 1980, an average of 1.5 teams per season have won 60 games. They range from a high of four teams in 1997-98 to zero in 2000-01.

As a franchise, in 36 seasons, the Suns have accomplished this only once: They went 62-20 in 1992-93 as the prelude to their dramatic run to the NBA Finals.

A couple of present-day Suns approached this question as if giving a real answer would result in the club having to absorb some sort of hex or curse.

Said Shawn Marion, "I don't want to jump ahead like that and put expectations on us. "It's hard enough to win 50 games."

Said Quentin Richardson, "I don't want to put a number on it. But when we play our game, we can beat every team." Coach Mike D'Antoni seemed cautious about such a suggestion, saying, "That's a scary thought.

"We're definitely going to shoot for it . . . We have a legitimate chance to win every game we play.

"But 60 is a lot of games."

But Casey Jacobsen took a different tack, saying, "Why not?”

"We've shown we're a dangerous team that can score a lot of points and play solid defense at times. "What's impressive is how we've played on the road. Last year, we were absolutely miserable on the road. "That's the difference between really good teams and teams that win 45 games. Those extra 10 or 15 games on the road are the challenges."

Said Jacobsen, "To play with so much confidence that you expect to win that many games . . . There's nothing wrong with that."

Thinking along the same lines is Jake Voskuhl, who compared the Suns to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

"They may not be a perfect team, but not many teams can score 50 points." In the NBA, Voskuhl said, "Not every team can score 120 points (which the Suns have done three times) . . . but when you put four scorers around Steve Nash. . . ."

Nash termed 60 wins "a long shot," and said that, "no matter what it looks like now," somewhere along the way the Suns are bound to hit rough spots.

"We're a young team, a new group," he pointed out. To win 60, the Suns must continue to make hay out of a soft portion of their schedule this month.

Two exceptions are Wednesday, when the Suns visit the Los Angeles Lakers, and then on Dec. 28 at San Antonio.

The Suns and Spurs could own the league's best records by that point, which would give them a fair shot at winning 60.