It is completely understandable that national media took longer to warm up to the Suns' recent hot streak than the locals did. The Suns, riding a home-heavy schedule for the past month, have won 11 of 14 games and now sit only a half-game out of a playoff spot in the West.
Perfect time for some national love, right? Just as the Suns are rising up the standings, and just before a long road swing that might curb everyone's enthusiasm before April even hits.
Let's enjoy it while we can!
First, the "kick off" story on how the Suns have earned some attention:
National Attention On The Way - ProBasketballTalk.nbcsports.com - Brett Polakoff
Sarver was in good spirits and wanted to joke around a little, and with the way his team has played over the past month or so, his mood was completely understandable.
Just a month ago, a climb back into the race for a spot in the postseason — especially this quickly — seemed like an impossibility. Back on Feb. 17, Phoenix was a dismal 12-19, had lost four straight and five out of six, and looked more like a team planning a trip to the draft lottery than one interested in making a run to the playoffs.
(continue reading for great recount of a moment with the Suns' ellubient owner)
And then there was this from a noted national writer predicting the Suns' imminent demise for going on 5 years now:
Don't Count Out The Suns Just Yet - ESPN/Per Diem - John Hollinger
Lately, the cavalry has come riding in, and you can see it in the results; over their past 15 games the Suns averaged 107.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranked third in the league in that span. (The defense, in contrast, is 13th.)
Gentry got the Suns scorching hot (sorry) in the spring of 2009 and again in 2010, and Phoenix doesn't even need to get that hot to make the postseason. A 12-9 finish should all but cement a playoff spot, and even 11-10 may get 'er done based on my projected 34-win cut line for the eighth spot.
Plenty of work remains to be done given the daunting schedule ahead, but let's take a moment to step back and appreciate that we're even here. The mere fact we're talking about the Suns right now is fairly miraculous given how bad they looked a month ago. Rising from the ashes, indeed.
Let's bask in the glow while we can get it. National writers are taking notice!
And another one...
Suns Turning the Corner on Making NBA Playoffs - USA Today - Michael Falgoust
The Suns have gone from giving up 107.5 points per game in 2008-09 (27th in the NBA) to 105.3 in 2009-10 (26th) to 105.9 last season (29th). This season, they are allowing 97.2 (19th entering Monday).
"It's hard to change a culture that's so used to not playing defense, especially implementing new schemes in a shortened season. We're starting to get it slowly but surely," says Hill, who has defended point guard Chris Paul to 7-foot, long-range shooter Dirk Nowitzki to brute-strong Blake Griffin in the post.
"Alvin put in some new concepts this year. He has made a concerted effort making (defense) a priority. With things like that it takes time. ... Usually you have a chance to work on that in the month of October, training camp, preseason and all of that.
"We were kind of thrown into the fire" because of the lockout, Hill says. "I think we're getting it. It's getting better. It's one of the reasons we're playing well as of late."
Not a bad result for the Phoenix Suns. It was somewhat expected given the Rockets injury situation (missing two starters) and their tired legs after playing the night before in L.A. Sometimes the schedule is your friend and sometimes it's your enemy (see also, this week's back-to-back in Miami and Orlando and six games in nine nights for the Suns).
Here's what the guys had to say after the game. Note our first appearance in Bright Side of the Sun TV (subscribe here) of East Bay Ray. You can also see less important people like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Michael Redd. You won't want to miss Nash's comment on Jared Dudley's "dunk".
Interviews and game highlights after the jump.
One of the advantages the Suns figured to have going into the season was team cohesion and chemistry. They returned the same starting five from the close of last year, and their teams in the Nash era have been known for their camaraderie. In a compressed season that would allow for little practice time, having players who were familiar with each other figured to give the Suns an edge.
After a slow start this season made the attempts at chemistry appear fruitless, the Suns stayed the course. No trades were made, there were no rash moves such as bringing in D-Leaguers. The one move the team did make was the low risk addition of former All-Star Michael Redd, a move that paid major dividends for the Suns against the Rockets as Redd scored a season-high 25 points.
Now, with the team having won 11 of 14 games, finally peaking over .500 and climbing the standings in the Western Conference, that dedication to building a real team as opposed to a collection of individuals is due some credit. The list of those who would have made major changes, both in the media and the fan community, is long but the Suns stuck through the rocky beginning of the season and have now turned the corner.
It can be debated whether chemistry leads to wins or the other way around, but the Suns have made a concerted effort to foster an environment in which players support each other and enjoy spending time together off the court as well as helping each other succeed on the court. Redd mentioned this in his postgame interview last night.
Said Redd of the Suns team chemistry: "It's phenomenal. Everybody genuinely likes each other. In fact, we got together last night at my house and had a team gathering and, you know, it's just been fun...everybody's been great. Steve and Grant obviously set the tone. It's been a great locker room."
Redd continued, "I think staying together is key, through good times, through bad times, and the team has stayed together. Off the court more importantly, we still go out to dinner; we hang out, we support each other. We genuinely want to see everybody succeed, so that's big."
Grant Hil echoed this sentiment in saying, "different guys step up different nights. It's not just one guy, it's sort of a complete effort."
Wanting to see others succeed is the key to a team, and the Suns have that. Sticking with each other through the bad times the Suns had earlier in the season leads to the good times they're experiencing now.
Last night, Redd delivered while Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown struggled through a combined 3-16 performance. Channing Frye scored 19 as Markieff Morris shot only 2-6. Last week, the bench came up big as Nash and Hill sat in the second game of a back to back to back, leading the Suns to a surprising win over the Clippers in LA.
In a shortened, condensed season like this one, it's unlikely players can bring it every game, so this type of balance will be key to success. A teammate's down, you pick him up. You're down, a teammate picks you up. That's the way it works, and it's working for the Suns now.