DAN BICKLEY

Phoenix Suns’ impressive run must end with NBA championship

Mar 31, 2022, 3:48 PM
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton dunks against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half o...

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton dunks against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

The Suns are about to reset the bar in Phoenix. They are one victory removed from posting the greatest regular season in franchise history.

It will be a momentous occasion in these parts.

Granted, there are zero championship banners hanging from the rafters and the fanbase ranks among the most cursed in basketball. But in terms of sheer winning percentage, the Suns stand tall among the most decorated franchises in the sport.

It means something to be the best team in over a half-century of Suns basketball.

When Jerry Colangelo handed over the reins, the Suns had the fourth-best overall winning percentage in league history, before a decade of dysfunction under Robert Sarver took its toll. But thanks to Chris Paul, Monty Williams and Devin Booker, the Suns’ gaudy winning percentage over the past two seasons has pushed them back inside the top five.

Colangelo once predicted Sarver’s salvage-yard Suns would win back the collective heart of Arizona if it ever unveiled another championship-caliber team. He was right. It’s here and it’s happening. And with victory No. 63, it’s about to become official.

The 2021-22 Suns are cruising at high altitude. They could set an NBA record for best winning percentage on the road during a single season. They could become one of seven teams in NBA history to win 68 or more games. If they reach the 65-win plateau, they can lay a legitimate claim to greatness.

Locally, the current team has already surpassed the 1975-76 Suns, classic underdogs that helped put Phoenix on the map. Those Suns lost the NBA Finals to the mighty Celtics, but not before putting up a colossal fight, producing one of the NBA’s most iconic playoff moments: Gar Heard’s Shot Heard Round the World, which forced the first triple overtime game in Finals history.

That game also introduced a generation of Valley fans to the vagaries of NBA officiating. Nearing the end of regulation in Game 5, the Celtics’ Paul Silas tried to call a timeout that his team didn’t have. Official Richie Powers ignored the request, not wanting the Celtics to lose such a momentous game on a technicality. To be fair, he probably feared for his life inside an extremely hostile, abusive Boston Garden.

The eternal, incessant whining about in-game officiating on broadcasts and barstools remains one of my pet peeves in this title-starved market. But as Al McCoy will attest, that game was irrefutable proof that an NBA official might choose to ignore the rulebook at his discretion, even with a championship hanging in the balance.

The current team is also about to pass the 1992-93 Suns, the Valley’s first true love. Those who experienced the head-over-heels courtship say they’ve never seen anything like it. Not before or since. It was a glorious, innocent time when Charles Barkley led most local newscasts and 300,000 people showed up for a loser’s parade.

The current team is also about to pass the 2004-05 Suns, a team led by another Hall of Fame point guard (Steve Nash) who knew how to empower his teammates, who served the team by serving others first. That team was so different and impactful that it changed the aesthetics of basketball, starting a revolution in the NBA.

The current team is just better. More committed. More cohesive. Dangerous on defense with two MVP candidates for closers. They are flirting with a win total that would put as much distance between them and the other 53 years of Suns basketball as there is between them and the rest of the Western Conference in the current moment.

Please, celebrate the moment when it arrives. Because after that, things get really serious. A team like this must win the title. A team this superior must win bring home the championship. Or they risk an unfortunate asterisk to the record they are about to set:

*Most disappointing team in franchise history.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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