PHOENIX — People notice when the two-time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat come to town. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen — all likely future Hall of Famers, make their one and only visit of the season Tuesday.
And despite their location two time zones and more than 2,300 miles away, not to mention not even being in the same conference, they have noticed the Phoenix Suns.
“Probably one of the best, surprising teams of the year so far,” James said. “Coach (Jeff) Hornacek has done a great job with those guys, motivating those guys every night. They’ve got a mix between young guys and veteran guys. They’ve been playing some extreme basketball.”
Preseason predictions had the Suns pegged for anywhere between 17-21 wins, yet here they are with 30 wins in the season’s first 50 games.
“At this point they’re not a surprise. I mean, come on. We’re in the last third of the season. They’re for real,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said following his team’s practice Monday at US Airways Center. “And the type of style that they’re playing — it’s always interesting, it’s consistent for what, 20 years that that’s the type of style that they play here in Phoenix, and they’ve done a great job with that. From a personnel standpoint, building this team of a lot of young, youthful, energetic players, but also Jeff has done a very good job of playing to the team’s strengths.”
Currently, the Suns sit sixth in the Western Conference and own one of the top eight records in the league. So, yes, it’s nice that people are noticing, but no, this team has not yet according to Hornacek.
“We’re out there to try to prove we belong. Miami has obviously proved it. They’re a great team, champions. I think our guys still think of ourselves as the new guys trying to prove themselves,” he said.
Another chance to prove themselves comes Tuesday night against the reigning champs. The Heat (35-14) had won three straight and six of seven before being dealt a surprising setback in Utah on Saturday, 94-89.
This will be the last time the Suns — barring a dramatic playoff run, of course — share the court with the Heat.
In the first meeting in Miami, James scored 35 points, a Suns’ opponent high, in a 107-92 win. The Suns trailed by only three points at halftime and tied the game three different times in the third quarter; however, the Heat went on a 15-2 run spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter to take control of the game.
“We played good, I would say, for three quarters then the fourth quarter they made that separation, but now we are playing at home,” Goran Dragic said. “It’s going to be a fun game.”
The Suns are 14-9 against teams with records above .500. Nine of those victories (Indiana, Portland and Golden State twice plus Dallas, Houston and the Clippers) have come against the upper third of the league.
“We can beat anybody if we play unselfish and if we play the right way, the way we’re supposed to; help on defense, try to play our style of game then I think we can beat anybody,” Dragic said.
No need to inform the Heat; they’ve noticed.
“We know what they’ve been doing here at home and against very good competition. They play at a great pace here; lot of energy, lot of speed, lot of quickness and three-point shooting,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going to have to bring a great basketball game.”