In the first elimination game of the season, four days before the playoffs are even set to begin, the Utah Jazz have advanced while the Phoenix Suns head home for another long summer.
This is what April is supposed to feel like: players recklessly diving to the floor for loose balls and a slew of hard fouls. Games clicking down to the final buzzer before a winner walks off the court, one game closer to the playoffs.
SACRAMENTO -- Steve Nash hopes you can excuse him for his unrefined play.
The way Jared Dudley speaks has much in common with the way he plays. The words run into each other quickly and logically across a variety of topics. His style of play is equally fast and smart and versatile.
PHOENIX (AP) -- Phoenix Suns swingman Mickael Pietrus exercised the one-year player option on his contract Tuesday.
While the sky falls daily upon the Miami Heat -- culminating Thursday in LeBron James' prodigal return to Cleveland -- the defending champs slog onward in relative quiet and calm. Much of the Lakers' slogging has been done by 7-footer Pau Gasol, who has turned himself into an MVP candidate by assembling the NBA's most impressive stat line of the young season: 20.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game.
Reinvention is a New Year's resolution for these Phoenix Suns. They are no longer, and never again can be, what they once were. Their problems have nothing to do with the ages of 36-year-old Steve Nash and 38-year-old Grant Hill. They, ironically, are exceptions to the decline.
To explain why Phoenix could be the best of all havens for Vince Carter, and why his arrival may yet turn into a gain for the Suns, understand first of all that coach Alvin Gentry wasn't exaggerating last month when he made the following case to me.
NEW YORK (SI.com) -- Looking to fill the void created by Amar'e Stoudemire's departure, the Suns are working on two deals that would bring Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress to Phoenix, according to the Arizona Republic.
Amar'e Stoudemire agreed to sign with the Knicks on Monday, SI.com has learned, a move that still leaves unanswered the big question of this wild free-agent summer.
Conventional wisdom says that Game 5s are crucial to the outcome of a series, and that's certainly what Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson are telling their teams right now. But I was surprised to discover how many teams did win the championship despite losing Game 5.
Where and when the Great Free Agent Summer Summit takes place no one is certain at the moment. Ambassador Dwyane Wade has called it, and, presumably, fellow diplomats LeBron James, Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh (the attendance of the Toronto Raptors forward would make this a truly international meeting) will be there, too. We can only hope that a photographer is present to capture the moment, as one was at Yalta, where Roosevelt, Stalin and a fur-hatted Churchill famously met to figure out what the post-World War II world should look like, much as the future geography of the NBA will be sussed out this summer.
Just how pivotal is Thursday night's game in Los Angeles? Consider: Winners of Game 5s in a best-of-seven series hold a 129-26 record, and home teams have a staggering 117-38 record in the fifth game of a tied series. But while the Staples Center may give the Lakers an edge over Steve Nash & Co., five other factors will play a major role in tonight's outcome:
The Phoenix Suns have a chance to win one of the most remarkable championships in NBA history. Their star point guard, Steve Nash, is 36 and playing with a broken nose and black eye. Their leading scorer, Amar'e Stoudemire, has been available to the right bidder for so long that the Suns replaced his locker room stall with a FedEx box. Starting forward Grant Hill is on his second career.
PHOENIX -- There was a moment last night, late in the second quarter as the Phoenix Suns reserves were taking turns seeing who could hit the most uncontested three-pointers, where it appeared to dawn upon the thousands of garishly clad folks around me at US Airways Arena: We might just win this thing. And not just the game at hand, but perhaps even this series. After all, the Suns' gimmicky zone was looking less gimmicky and more permanent by the minute, the Lakers big men were befuddled and Channing Frye's jump shot -- apparently sequestered at the border this past week -- finally cleared immigration. But the most promising sign in Phoenix's 115-106 win -- or ominous one, if you're a Lakers fan -- was the play of Kobe Bryant.
PHOENIX -- They had the best seat in the house, Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire did. Cushioned, with a courtside view of one of the most important games in recent Suns history. Ordinarily, Nash and Stoudemire would be on the floor, running and gunning, trying to power Phoenix to a critical victory in the fourth quarter. But on Tuesday night, their place was on the bench, watching. Watching the Suns' second unit manhandle the Lakers starters on the way to a Western Conference finals series-tying 115-106 win.
PHOENIX -- Something happened on the way to a Celtics-Lakers showdown in the NBA Finals -- the Phoenix Suns are trying to derail it. Backed by 18,422 orange-clad fans, the Suns climbed back into the Western Conference finals, cutting down the Lakers 118-109 to slice L.A.'s series lead to 2-1.
"Truth is generally the best vindication against slander" -- Phoenix Suns locker-room whiteboard, prior to Game 3
This story appeared in the May 24 issue of the magazine.
LOS ANGELES -- After the Lakers fell to the Celtics in the NBA Finals two years ago, and Pau Gasol finished his exit interview back at the team's headquarters, he walked down to the weight room that he so often ignored, and told the trainers he was committed to getting stronger. If he ever saw Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins in a similar situation again, he had to be ready.
LOS ANGELES -- For most of this season, the MVP chants at Staples Center sounded weary and contrived, remnants of a bygone era kept on display for nostalgia's sake. The chants would start after every trip to the free-throw line but quickly wane and die, as if the locals were repeating those three letters out of habit and not because they really believed what they were saying. Sure, Kobe Bryant was still one of the best couple of players in the game, but even in Los Angeles everybody knew that the MVP resided in Cleveland.
Ever since Phoenix whipped San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals, a few variations on this topic have been out there in the ether: What does the success of Suns coach Alvin Gentry say about former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni?
Sitting in front of his locker Sunday, a towel wrapped around his waist and a half-finished bottle of Becks in his hand, Amar'e Stoudemire soaked in the moment.
After looking vulnerable in their first-round series against the Thunder, the Lakers left little doubt about their elite level of play after dominating the Jazz in their Western Conference semifinal series. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol looking virtually unstoppable, the Lakers swept the undersized Jazz out of the playoffs with a 111-96 victory Monday in Salt Lake City, setting up a conference final with the Suns.
While the Cavaliers and the Celtics take turns grinding on each other's muscles and nerves in their deadlocked second-round series, the Magic are methodically dismantling their playoff foes. Stan Van Gundy's crew won ugly against Charlotte in the first round, with Vince Carter mostly AWOL and Dwight Howard benching himself with heedless fouls. Now Orlando is winning pretty against Atlanta, making more than half its shots in the first three games while holding the Hawks to an average of 81 points.
February sure seems like a long time ago. Three months after nearly being dismantled at the trade deadline, the Suns are eight wins away from an NBA championship, courtesy of a gritty 107-101 win over San Antonio that advanced Phoenix to the Western Conference finals
SAN ANTONIO -- The Spurs prepared for a lot of things coming into this series. Goran Dragic dropping 23 points in the fourth quarter wasn't one of them. Behind a head-shaking performance from the 24-year old Dragic, the Suns blew past the Spurs 110-96 to seize a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Steve Nash and Grant Hill had no reason to speak up.
Almost two games deep into all the conference semifinal series and a number of stories have already become headliners. Of course, the most notable has been LeBron James' elbow injury. Who else made the list of top 10 second-round newsmakers? Take a look ...
After a practice last month, the Spurs' rookies sang happy birthday to DeJuan Blair. "I sang it to myself too,'' said Blair. In San Antonio, the rookies are expected to sing on teammates' birthdays, and for much of this season Blair has been the only Spurs rookie at practice -- thus their only singer.
Remember February, when the Suns were thisclose to breaking up their roster? Well, neither do they. "Los Suns," as they were known on Wednesday, moved one step closer to their first conference finals appearance since 2006, beating San Antonio 110-102 on Wednesday to seize a 2-0 series lead.
Round 1 of what is expected to be a competitive second-round series between Phoenix and San Antonio went to the home team, with the hot-shooting Suns knocking down 51.9 percent of their jump shots en route to a 111-102 victory.
The Phoenix Suns advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden 99-90 on Thursday. While the Suns prepare for what is sure to be an emotional second-round series against a Spurs team that has defeated them four consecutive times in the postseason, the Blazers are left to mull over a season that brought pain from almost the beginning to the end, with key injuries a constant companion.
The Phoenix Suns maintained home-court advantage by swarming the Portland Trail Blazers in a 107-88 victory at USAirways Arena Monday night. The Suns now hold a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series and can close it out when the teams play in Portland on Thursday night.
Nobody expected the Portland Trail Blazers to sweep the Phoenix Suns. But nobody expected the Blazers to turn their Game 1 upset into a completely demoralizing loss, either. Still, that's what happened when an inspired Suns team played the way it had played over the final month of the season. It happened on several fronts.
Now that the six-month "preseason" is out of the way we can move on to the real games. Let's start with the five teams most likely to win the final game in June.
Despite missing leading scorer Brandon Roy, the Blazers spoiled what otherwise was a perfect record for home teams during the opening weekend of the playoffs, pulling out a surprising win in Phoenix. As the Suns lick their wounds from the 105-100 loss, Steve Nash and Co. are likely to lose some sleep over the following elements that left them without homecourt in the first round.
This story appeared in the April 12, 2010, issue of Sports Illustrated.
Less than two weeks before the start of the first-round series, several playoff teams are coping with key injuries. Predicting what the future holds for these clubs and their ailing players is no easy task -- remember, a year ago at this time, most people figured Kevin Garnett would return at some point to help the then-champion Celtics defend their title.
If you're taking your 5-year-old nephew or 80-year-old grandmother to his or her first NBA game and you can't afford the ticket markup to watch LeBron or Kobe, you have them see the Phoenix Suns.
Another season is in progress. It should be his 16th. Grant Hill is sitting in another visiting locker room on another weeknight preparing himself for another game.
Almost half of the league's teams were involved in deadline trades over the past week. There appeared to be a number of explosions, but when the smoke cleared very little of importance had altered the championship race this season.
The NBA trading deadline is 3 p.m. ET Thursday. Refresh this page for late-breaking news from the trade market.
As All-Star weekend clears out of Dallas and NBA teams look ahead Thursday's trade deadline, the ball is now firmly in Cleveland's court. The Cavaliers are the most ambitious team available to take on salary, and they must decide whether to continue pursuing Amar'e Stoudemire or to renew potential trades for Antawn Jamison or Troy Murphy.
PHOENIX -- Relatively speaking, Phoenix Suns All-Star center Amar'e Stoudemire has one of the most difficult decisions to make of any NBA player this summer.
1. Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat from the Lakers for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick; July 14, 2004 Shaq wanted out of L.A. Kobe Bryant wanted him out, too. This trade lifted Miami from a 42-40 team that was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs to one that reached the conference finals in 2005 and won it all in 2006. It didn't turn out as badly for the Lakers as first thought. The immediate hit the Lakers took in '05, when they missed playoffs, provided them with the No. 10 pick in the draft, which brought center Andrew Bynum. If Bynum had not been injured, the Lakers might have won the title in 2008. They won it last season, with Odom playing a vital role. If they hadn't been suckered by Kwame Brown's eternal potential and traded Butler for him, they'd be even better, although Brown did serve a purpose in 2008 (see No. 3).
Amar'e Stoudemire's goggles sit in the middle of the Phoenix Suns locker room, resting atop table filled with shoes, jerseys and shorts. If Stoudemire had it his way, the goggles would stay there, out of sight and off his head, but they're always there, never letting him forget the most difficult time in his career.
It was just a month ago that the Kings and Bucks were perceived by many, if not most, fans as the doormats of their respective conferences. As we flip the calendar to December, the Bucks are 9-7, the Kings 8-8.
Four SI.com writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the NBA each week. (All stats and records are through Nov. 30.)
Steve Nash is the grandfather who dances every dance at the family wedding. He is the millionaire who keeps showing up to work because he loves what he does. At 35, he continues to play like -- and get the best of -- the youngest point guards in the world's finest league.
Shawn Marion may be one of the most versatile players in the NBA, but as he sits in a hotel suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, he's showing off a different kind of versatility: He watches Scooby-Doo on TV, listens to Michael Jackson on the radio, updates his Twitter page from his computer and talks on the phone all at the same time.
SAN DIEGO -- On April 15, Grant Hill scored 27 points and snagged 10 rebounds in the season-finale against Golden State, and no one outside of Phoenix really seemed to notice. The Suns won the game, but the playoffs were starting, and for the first time in five years they were not a part of it. Their season would be remembered mainly for the hiring and firing of Coach Terry Porter, the trade of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, Amar'e Stoudemire's detached retina, Jason Richardson's reckless driving arrest, and all the background noise generated by Shaquille O'Neal.
It starts as a crack. It develops into a chink, grows into a hole, and pretty soon, it's a crater. Basketball season is fast approaching, but so is another of winter's traditions: pothole season.
The busiest week of the NBA offseason, at least until free agency kicks off next month, yielded plenty of items to dissect.
If you were circling the political wagons in South Carolina, an aide to humiliated governor Mark Sanford hoping to achieve some small measure of damage control, would you bring in Eliot Spitzer and Rod Blagojevich for counsel?
The Cavaliers have agreed in principle to acquire Shaquille O'Neal from the Suns for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, an NBA source confirmed late Wednesday night.
Claiming to know the greatest draft pick of all time in each of the top 30 slots is a good way to start an argument. In this case, I leaned toward draft picks who helped create team success. While going through the lists year by year, I was reminded just how difficult it is to find impact players -- even when dealing with a top-three pick. To go through the draft lists over the last six decades is to realize that the likes of Bill Russell and Michael Jordan are rarely discovered.
Decisions, decisions. Can't live with 'em, can't thrive without 'em.
Steve Nash is multinational, multicultural and more of a participant than a spectator. Which is going to make it tough on him this spring to be on the outside looking in at the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2000.
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All records are through Monday.)
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All records are through Tuesday.)
"Excuse me," the teenager in the Suns hat says. "Who is that guy?"
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats are through Monday.)
Maybe it's the creepy fascination some of us feel in watching Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver remake a Suns team that, at its best with coach Mike D'Antoni, was a work of art in a punch-press league. You check out the Suns now and it's like the old Twilight Zone episode where the pretty girl in the hospital bed shrieks when her bandages come off, because surgery hasn't made her ugly enough to fit in with the other aliens.
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Wednesday's games.)
BOSTON -- Steve Kerr isn't going to like this, but he needs to make another trade. Maybe a lot of trades.
Dwight Howard and LeBron James have the early lead in the Eastern Conference, while Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming top the Western Conference after the second returns of 2009 NBA All-Star balloting. Howard, the reigning slam dunk champion, is the overall leader with 1,421,882 votes.
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Monday's games.)
More and more I find myself feeling compelled to write about teenage draft picks who may never pan out, as well as moves that may never happen at the trade deadline this February or in the summer of 2010, while in the meantime, events that are actually happening right now seem to carry less and less importance.
A hummingbird trapped in a plastic bag.
SI.com NBA writers will analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. Have a question you'd like answered? E-mail us here.
What made the Phoenix Suns so much fun, such an ideal to the basketball purists and a delight to the casual fans, was that for three and a half NBA seasons (and three postseasons), they were without compromise. They came, they saw, they scored. Seven seconds or less. Energy meets basketball, or vice versa.
With the Suns having won at least 54 games in each of the last four seasons, the decision to put the brakes on an offense designed to shoot in seven seconds or less has struck more than a few observers as unnecessary tinkering.
In the NBA, assistant coaches are like backup quarterbacks: They are beloved for the abilities they show in practice and praised for how well they support the man in front of them on the sideline. But like many backup quarterbacks, assistant coaches don't always live up to the hype.
SI.com's NBA writers offer six different views on what they're most looking forward to this season.
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Long goodbyes work best for Raymond Chandler, Mick & Keith, second-term presidents, Evander Holyfield and, every few years or so, Cher.
After methodically, nay, painstakingly rounding up suspects both usual and unusual in the search for their next head coach, the Bulls settled on Vinny Del Negro after 52 days, which was only 39 more than the Kennedys needed to avert the Cuban Missile Crisis and 50 days longer than it took the cardinal electors to go from black smoke to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Or MMV, if you prefer.
Had Reggie Miller accepted the Celtics' offer to come out of retirement last fall at age 42, more than two years removed from his NBA playing days, he might be participating in these 2008 playoffs from the other side of the broadcast table, in the other half of the bracket. Arthritis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and lumbago willing, of course.
SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum to discuss the hiring of Mike D'Antoni by the Knicks, who officially introduced their new coach Tuesday.
Mike D'Antoni has accepted the New York Knicks' lucrative job offer, ending a week-long battle with the Chicago Bulls, who also pursued the Phoenix Suns' coach, a league source told SI.com.
Remember when teams used to hire coaches based on X's and O's?
Rick Carlisle appears headed to Dallas. Mike D'Antoni or Avery Johnson might end up in Chicago. And Mark Jackson remains the front-runner in New York.
The genius-moron dichotomy, offered from the start by Steve Kerr himself, will get plenty of play between now and October. The Phoenix general manager knew the sort of criticism he would face if the Suns, after his gutsy, in-season acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal, did no better (or possibly worse) in the playoffs post-Shaq than they had done in recent pre-Shaq years.
There has to be a wee sense of satisfaction for Joe Johnson, a small measure of triumph, that his NBA season still was alive five days after the Suns had scattered for the summer.
Donnie Walsh and John Paxson, personnel bosses of the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, respectively, flew to Phoenix to interview Suns coach Mike D'Antoni about their head-coaching vacancies, SI.com has learned.
5. Washington Wizards. Their stubbornness in refusing to yield to Cleveland outweighs the knuckleheadedness of some decisions their players have made recently. The offseason will center on whether to re-sign Gilbert Arenas (who can opt out of his contract) and Antawn Jamison. In both cases, the answer is yes. Arenas can't (and won't, unless the condition of his surgically repaired knee changes horribly) be allowed to walk, because second-team All-NBA guards are almost impossible to replace. The Wizards hope to reach a compromise on a new contract for the 31-year-old Jamison, who has established himself as an All-Star and leader in Washington.
Mike D'Antoni, the NBA's Coach of the Year for the 2004-05 season and the man credited with reinvigorating fast-break basketball in a league gone stale, will not be back to coach the Phoenix Suns for the 2008-09 season, SI.com has learned.
The Phoenix Suns team that had wreaked havoc on the NBA for much of the past four seasons briefly reappeared in the playoffs on Sunday afternoon. But at press time it seemed mostly a face-saving performance. Indeed, the only clear conclusion to be drawn after the Suns' 105-86 Game 4 thrashing of the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center was that Phoenix would not be swept. To emphasize that point, the Gorilla, the franchise's iconic mascot, stood at center court during a late timeout and broke a broomstick in half. At this juncture boasting, Dammit, we will not lose four in a row! was a little lame. But that was the fate that befell the Suns after a heartbreaking defeat in Game 1 and poorly played efforts in Games 2 and 3.
As the First Round Series That Could Be The Conference Final moves to Phoenix on Friday night, two obvious questions present themselves:
The best NBA rivalry since the Kings tried and failed to knock off the Lakers six years ago is frantically underway, and the Suns hope to produce a different ending than their forerunners in Sacramento.
On the eve of an NBA tournament that promises to be more unpredictable than March Madness, the Celtics have emerged as the surest thing on the books. Here's why they're the safest pick to win the championship in two months:
Also in this column: • NBA scouts weigh in on MVP race • Strategy to resuscitate the Knicks
Also in this column: • HOF case for an ex-international star • More debate on European expansion
Growing up as I did in a city where dead people voted, it's no big deal now to cover a league in which retired people get traded.
The interminable NBA regular season marches on, a test of the players' endurance and the fans' attention span (or is it vice versa?). We are still, if you can believe it, eight long weeks away from the beginning of the postseason, which itself seems to last longer than most marriages.
Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? -- Gnarls Barkley
Throughout his 13-year career, Suns forward Grant Hill has been more Cessna than 747, preferring the comfort of lower altitudes on his flights. Sure, he has had his YouTube moments: a dunk on Alonzo Mourning here, a one-handed slam on 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan there, both of which came when Hill was a fresh-faced member of the Detroit Pistons. But in recent years, as age has grounded him and surgeons have taken to treating his left ankle like a Thanksgiving turkey, Hill has turned the layup into an art form, mastering the right- and left-handed bounce off the backboard.
They arguably came within a Robert Horry cheap-shot foul of making it to the Western Conference finals a year ago. They have one of the NBA's best records so far this season. They are widely considered a legitimate, albeit flawed, title contender.