No longer do the Phoenix Suns have a rabid fan base that fills the arena every night. Even now that the team is playing well, the fans still have not turned back to face the sun.

Just three years removed from nearly fifteen straight years of capacity crowds, the Phoenix Suns no longer come close to selling out any of their games.

In fact, the Suns are seeing fewer fans - just 14,203 per game per ESPN - than at any time since 1988-89 season (more on this later). Never has this stadium been so empty.

Think about this: The Suns are selling 1,200 fewer tickets per game than LAST SEASON - otherwise commonly referred to as the worst Suns season since the 80s drug scandals.

"It's an inevitable cycle that you go through in this business," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said before last night's game. "And it's hard to do it without enduring some pain."

The Suns are paying for that pain this season.

It's quite the study in social behavior, and seems to indicate that human nature is a little bit lagging in turning inaction to action. While the level of play dipped from 2011-2013, attendance declined at a slower rate than the team's record. When the team was worst last year, attendance barely dropped from the year before. But now, a year later, the fans seem to be getting back at the team by turning their heads just when the team is worth watching again.

But the true answer to the lagging attendance is in the business model.

First of all, games are played nearly every other day and can occur on any day of the week. It's not like the NFL, where there are only 8 games to choose from and nearly all of them occur on a Sunday. This is the NBA, with 41 games to choose from various nights over a six month span.

Second, fans are generally lazy. With so many games to choose from, they are most to attend a game for which they already have tickets. That's why teams in all sports sell up to 90% of their seats as season tickets, asking fans to prepay for the entire season (or a portion) before it even starts. If you leave it up to fans to get off their couch for a 4-hour commitment on a weeknight on a whim, versus just watching the game on their TV, you'll be sorely disappointed with the results.

And finally, season tickets are sold before the season starts. So, the level of tickets you sell is more a product of expectations than actual results. Fans came into this season expecting poor results. National pundits and Vegas oddsmakers tabbed this team as one of the worst in the NBA.

It could be that higher attendance is a full year away. Back when Hornacek and KJ began the Suns' revival after the drug scandal in the 80s, fans didn't start coming to games in droves until the 1989-90 season. The exciting 88-89 team finished 55-27 but saw only 12,465 fans a night (about 3,000 below capacity), barely 1,000 more than the low water mark in seasons prior. But that was the year after the scandal, and fans needed time to re-acclimate and buy new season tickets.

These 2013-14 Suns are in a similar boat to the 1988-89 Suns team. Just like then, this younger, faster team is now 16-10, producing a season's worth of exciting highlights - timely threes, thunderous dunks, skyscraper blocks, speedy fast breaks - in every fun-filled game.

"We play at a faster pace," Babby said, comparing this team to last year's team. "And we're dramatically more athletic. I think it's fair to say it's a more enjoyable product to watch."

And here is the Phoenix Suns' current conundrum. Even with an exciting team on the floor, too few season tickets were already sold to guarantee solid attendance every night. And as a result, this exciting young team is playing in front of at least 5,000 empty seats a night.

I asked Lon Babby when they thought fans would start showing up again in droves.

"I hope soon," Babby said. "The fans that have come out have been very enthusiastic. I've noticed TV ratings are up. I would imagine after the holidays, attendance will pick up. I know if people come out here and watch us, it's a very entertaining product. If you like NBA basketball, you're going to like the Phoenix Suns."

The problem is the lack of season tickets sold. Lon's right that attendance picks up every spring. Even during last year's horrible second half, attendance rose a great deal after the holidays, enough to increase the overall season average by more than 800 fans night by the end of the year.

"When the fans are ready to give us that, we will definitely embrace it," Babby said. "All I can do in my job is say we are putting out a product that is worthy of that support. We're through a dark tunnel. And we're out the other end of it. I'd say that the Sun is shining now. I would hope the fans would embrace that as we begin that journey."

Right now, the Suns are competing with the NFL, the local Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils (both football and basketball), and hockey Coyotes for attention. All of them are winners this year, so it's difficult to get the attention of a jilted fan base.

But the signs are there, if not in ticket sales quite yet.

"As I walk around town, I feel much more enthusiasm, much more supported. People think somehow over the summer I got smarter," he quipped, with a chuckle. "I like that. At my age, it's good if you can get smarter over a summer."

Now it's time to support the team on the court. It's time to come down to the arena and watch the team grow right in front of you.

"That's a good team," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said last night. "To come back from 21 down to beat Denver in Denver, you have to be good."

These Suns are winning. They're now 9-4 at home, so you're very likely to watch a great game and come away charged up with their performance. A young team loves the support from the fans in the stands, too.

"To be honest with you, we need that fan support to buoy our performance," Babby said. "We need a genuine home court advantage. You run into that on the road, whether you're in Golden State or Utah or Portland, you're walking into the lion's den. We need to have that environment here."

Get down to the game, folks! The Suns host the Lakers on Monday, and then the Philadelphia 76ers (who actually ARE tanking the season) on Thursday.

PHOENIX — Dallas could have been the last place the NBA heard of Gerald Green. The former pick of the Boston Celtics that included front office underling and future Suns general manager Ryan...

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PHOENIX – Prior to Saturday night’s game in Phoenix, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said about everything he could to note his team was prepared for the upstart Suns. “They’re...

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Both teams were on a back to back, so defense was not at a premium. The Phoenix Suns made 15-30 three point shots to beat the Mavericks without needing any of that missing defense.

Both teams left most of their defense at home on this night. The Dallas Mavericks defended the rim but not the jump shooters after rotations, while the Phoenix Suns didn't defend much of anything at all.

But the Suns made a lot more jumpers than the Mavericks, and that's the tale of the game of this high-scoring yet kinda boring game.

It was kinda like an All-Star game - lots of nice shots and moves on offense, good ball movement, and not a lick of defense to stop anyone. In other words, boring. Only mildly entertaining.

Maybe, probably, it's that both teams were on a back-to-back. Maybe it's the profile of both teams to win with offense. Maybe it's all that and more.

But the Suns won it and nothing else matters.

Suns 123, Mavericks 108

Marcus Morris (2-3), Gerald Green (4-8), Eric Bledsoe (3-4), Channing Frye (4-6) and P.J. Tucker (2-3) all made at least half of their 3-pt attempts on the night.

Bledsoe had 25 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal while Gerald Green poured in 22 points off the bench.

Otherwise, the Suns outrebounded the Mavericks by 8 (mostly on their umpteen missed shots), and survived 18 turnovers and 8 blocked shots thanks to their shooting.

The Suns started the game with two turnovers, not a good start after the big win in Denver the other night. Luckily, the Mavericks were just as sketchy and the game stayed close until the Suns made a few threes and suddenly it was a 15-6 Suns lead before we knew what happened.

It was then that Mavericks coach Rick Carlysle did what Gregg Popovich did two games ago: he pulled his lumbering big after getting embarrassed by Channing Frye's three pointers. On Wednesday, Pop waited for 12 Frye points before pulling Tiago Splitter. In this game, Carlysle pulled DeJuan Blair after only six Frye points (two threes). Both times, it's the Suns forcing the other team to adapt.

(Side note: at one point, Jose Calderon fell over like he was shot. Bledsoe was called for the foul, but I think Calderon pulled a butt muscle. He stayed in the game, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses.)

The Mavericks then went really small - with Shawn Marion and Brandon Wright their bigs - to try to match the Suns speed and space the defense effectively, but it did not help much. After playing the last 20 minutes of the overtime loss on Friday night, Mavericks coach vowed to pull Dirk Nowitzki early and often tonight. Nowitzki sat after just 6 minutes in the first without having made a field goal yet (he was 4-4 on FTs).

Both teams went deep into their bench early on, after having played tough games the night before. By the three minute mark of the first quarter, with the Suns up 27-14, the Mavericks had three bench players out there (with Marion and Ellis) against the Suns' four bench players (and Bledsoe).

Gerald Green stayed hot from the night before, making his first three three-pointers, and the Suns ended the first quarter with a huge 38-25 lead.

The second quarter began worse for the Suns - allowing a 11-4 Mavericks start by committing multiple turnovers and taking bad shots. Only a Goodwin drive and nice post up turnaround by Markieff Morris resulted in points during the Mavericks' run.

By late in the second quarter, the Mavericks had pulled within three (47-44) despite making six fewer three-pointers to that point. They had taken 9 more shots than the Suns overall, plus three more FTs, thanks to the Suns turnovers (10) and their own offensive rebounding (7).

Gerald Green was such a force on three pointers after making his first three, he was fouled on two attempts to add 6 more points to his total the freebie way.

The game was basically a snooze-fest in that second quarter as the Suns sleepwalked to a 63-58 halftime score. That was the most boring 121-point first half I may have ever seen.

First half highlights:

  • Gerald Green had 15 of his 19 points on threes (3 made, plus 6 more free throws on fouls drawn)
  • Eric Bledsoe had 14 points, but he and Dragic had more turnovers (5) than assists (3) between them in the half
  • Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Wright had 34 of the Mavericks' 58 points

As it was on Wednesday night against the Spurs, the first team that plays consistent defense in the second half will win the game. Last time, it was the Spurs. This time, will it be the Suns?

Start of the second half.

The combination of Shawn Marion and Brandon Wright were really making it hard on the Suns to score in the paint, at one point forcing four consecutive putback misses by the Suns from point blank range and only allowing 16 first-half points in the paint.

But the Suns were making enough outside shots to make up for that deficit, and built the lead to 11 points (73-62) in just the first 2.5 minutes of the second half.

The Mavericks made another mini-run to cut the lead to 4, but then the Suns built it back up to 12 quickly.

Despite the Suns lead, the Mavericks were feasting on Suns drives, either knocking the ball away on the drive or swatting it at the rim.

But the Suns held strong, and took a 9 point lead into the 4th (91-82).

After Marcus Morris opened the 4th with a 3 to build the lead to 12, Vince Carter made a three, drew an offensive foul,  and dropped a sweet shot to keep the Mavericks in the game.

It's like Vince has something in for the Suns? Maybe it's bad memories of the Coalition to Light Vince Carter On Fire (fire-club president Scott Howard)? Carter had only a few months in Phoenix, but since then he appears he really relish in playing well against the Suns.

Both the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are off to surprisingly good starts to the season, which makes a clash between the teams very exciting indeed. Former Suns Shawn Marion and Vince Carter return to the scene, usually bringing their A-games.

Phoenix Suns fans are no doubt still reveling in the 21-point comeback win last night IN DENVER to beat the 14-10 (now 14-11) Nuggets. But there's no rest for the weary. After an emotional win, the Suns will face the surging Dallas Mavericks in Phoenix tonight in another early-season clash of playoff contenders.

The opponent

The Dallas Mavericks are off to a big start mainly thanks to an 11-4 home record (vs. 4-8 road record). They have feasted on Eastern competition: 7-3 vs the East, 8-8 vs. the West. On back-to-backs, like tonight's game, the older Mavericks are a solid 4-3 so don't count on them dragging butt.

Their lineup and overall rotation is a collection of players very well known to Suns fans. From former MVP Dirk Nowitzki to to former Suns Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, they also boast a collection of players Suns fans wanted in trade in past years (Brandon Wright, DeJuan Blair) and long time NBA starters (Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon).

The Mavericks lineup is old. Five of their regular rotation players are 32 or older (Calderon, Dalembert, Nowitzki, Marion, Carter) while the Suns don't have a single active player (not counting Okafor) over 30.

Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki have been a great 1-2 punch for the Mavs, with Brandon Wright helping solidify the front line after returning this week from injury.

In a surprising note, the Mavericks have actually gone 5-2 on Saturday nights already this year.

The Suns

In looking at the Suns splits, it sure looks like they won't play well tonight: 0-1 on Saturdays (vs. Mavs 5-2 record), 1-4 on the second night of back-to-backs (vs. Mavs 4-3 record).

Where the Suns fair well is at home overall (8-4 vs. Mavs 4-8 road record) and against the West so far this year (Suns are 12-8 against the West, while the Mavs are 8-8).

The stats

Screen_shot_2013-12-21_at_7

The Mavs assist and steal at a better rate than the Suns, but otherwise their stats are very similar.

The lineups

Screen_shot_2013-12-21_at_7

DeJuan Blair took over several games ago in the starting lineup in place of Sam Dalembert, but otherwise both lineups are predictable.

The key matchup

As always for the Suns, a key matchup will be the guard play. The Suns Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have had a couple of bad nights in the shooting department, but overall they drive the success of the Suns with both averaging better than 18 and 6.

But really, the biggest matchup is anyone trying to cover the unguardable Dirk Nowitzki. That dude is so talented and talented, you might as well call him STAT. Can Channing Frye or Markieff Morris effectively keep Dirk off his game? Or will the extra attention to Dirk leave the lanes open for Ellis drives (leads the league with 10 drives a night) and Marion/Wright/Dalembert/etc feasting on the boards at each end?

The prediction

I want the Suns to win this game but I think it's really a toss up. The Suns are not good on the back end of back-to-backs, yet they are pretty good at home overall.

Suns by 4.

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