Suns making up for lack of talent with heart
The 2012 draft set to be one of the more loaded classes in recent history. The Thunder are leading the West, and they are showing no signs of falling apart. And, should a team miraculously get past the Durantula, chances are the Bulls or Heat will be waiting for them.
So an NBA Championship is out the window.
And, when the Suns' loss to the Lakers on February 17 dropped their record to 12-19, it seemed like I (and many others) would get their wish.
Eleven wins in 14 games later, and the Suns find themselves on the playoff bubble, playing as well as anyone but the aforementioned Bulls since the All-Star break.
While I won't ask anyone to get excited about the team's ascension to playoff contention (mediocrity is nothing to cheer for), the fact that the team is even at this point is a testament to a coaching staff that gets the most out of its players and a group of players who just won't quit.
After all, this is the same team Steve Nash has repeatedly said was short on talent.
Sure, the Suns have five players averaging double figures in scoring, with Marcin Gortat's 16 points per night leading the team, but that's good enough for just 37th- best in the league. Gortat is also the team's leading rebounder, but his 10 per game place him ninth in the NBA - hardly great.
In fact, only Nash, who is averaging a league-best 11.3 assists per game, would be confused with an elite player. The team's only All-Star, the 38-year-old who wasn't traded is putting together yet another excellent season.
But, even Nash can't carry the Suns to the playoffs - not on his own - which is what makes the team's recent spurt all the more remarkable.
Of course, in typical Nash fashion, the point guard attributed the good basketball to chemistry.
"I think people are understanding and feeling more comfortable with their roles, I think we're more cohesive, chemistry has improved," he said. "It's definitely another reason why we're playing better."
Other reasons include Channing Frye remembering how to shoot, Grant Hill stepping his game up and Jared Dudley, who's avereging 17.2 points per game since the All-Star break, emerging as a consistent scoring threat.
The bench has played well - or, at least, well enough - to allow coach Alvin Gentry to rest his starters without fear. Hell, Gentry was even able to rest both Nash and Hill last week in Los Angeles against the Clippers, and his team responded by pulling out one of the more gutsy wins you'll ever see.
Gentry shares Nash's view on where the improvement has come from.
"I think that the chemistry has just come together," Gentry said, agreeing with his point guard. "I don't know how that happens but I think our guys feel pretty good about themselves. Our bench is starting to play better. Because of that I think guys are starting to feel more comfortable in their roles."
This could be the reason, because there's no other way to explain the way Gentry is getting solid production from the likes of Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd, Robin Lopez and Shannon Brown, while still finding minutes for rookie Markieff Morris.
That's not exactly a second unit dreams are made of.
But I digress.
That the players did not quit on the season or on their coach is a sign that, if the front office has done one thing right, it's assemble a group of men who will continue to fight.
President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby has, many times, told Arizona Sports 620 that the goal is to create a certain culture around the organization, which is why they wouldn't trade Nash or tank the season in the hopes of landing a better draft pick.
Though the team is not likely to return to elite status without acquiring a superstar or two - and that generally happens via the draft - it's tough to fault the players and coaches for doing everything they can to win basketball games, a process that gets more difficult as 13 of the team's final 21 games will be on the road, starting Tuesday in Miami against the Heat.
Should the Suns win enough games the rest of the way to sneak into the playoffs they will have done themselves a disservice, sacrificing a better future for the opportunity to lose in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
But they will also have done themselves proud, showing the type of character and heart you want in a team.
Even if it's lacking the requisite talent to really compete.