Don't Drink the Orange Kool-Aid Yet. Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant Are Coming Right Up.
Just two weeks ago, in our secret heart of hearts, we were ready to consign 35-year-old Steve Nash to the dustbin of history. Unless you're Steve Nash's mom, you were, too. Be honest. Then came that last-minute beauty shot in the regular-season opener against the Clippers, the 20-assist game against Golden State, the 30 points and four treys against Miami, and the massive 21 point/20 assist effort to lead the Suns back from what looked like certain defeat on Monday night in Philly.
As he did in the MIke D'Antoni years, Nash is engendering (way too) early MVP talk as the centerpiece of a Phoenix Suns team that pulled off tough road wins against the Heat, Celtics, Wizards, and Sixers in less than a week.
It's a team with a gritty, hybrid style of play that incorporates selflessness, the opportunism of the Fun 'n' Gun, and (gasp!) D.
A team that's scored 100 or more points in each of its first eight games, and that's had more balls bounce its way in eight games than it did in 82 last year.
A team with a crank-ass bench led by Sweet Lou Amundson and Jared Dudley that frequently increases leads when the starters hit the pine.
A 7-1 team that finds itself -- almost unaccountably -- in first place in the NBA's Western Conference, ahead of the world-champ Lakers.
Hey, we wanna drink the orange Kool-Aid, too, but we remember getting a little green around the gills after chugging it last season, when Team Shaq opened at 6-2 before plummeting to an eventual playoff whiff.
We might be willing to take small, circumspect sips of the titian brew if Nash, hot-shooting Jason Richardson (29, 22, and 34 points in his last three games), and company can take care of business at US Airways Center tonight against the New Orleans Hornets and avoid getting embarrassed on prime-time national TV on Thursday in L.A. against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Yes, it's a different Suns team, but recent history hasn't been kind to the Suns where these Western Conference rivals are concerned.
The Hornets, especially, have treated the Suns as their personal voodoo doll/chew toy since D'Antoni split, winning all four meetings against the Suns in 2007-08 and two out of three in '08-09. After a magnificent, breakout year in '07, the Hornets struggled to make the playoffs last year, finishing 49-33, and are off to a rocky start in '09 at 3-5 (1-4 on the road).
Someday -- and here's hoping it's not today -- the Hornets will get their act together again under one of the NBA's tops-on-paper 1-2 punches: All-World point guard Chris Paul (who's averaging 26.3 points and 9.8 assists) and 6-9 forward David West (16.1 points, six boards). Problem is, the team's talent level dips precipitously after Paul and West, especially on defense. New Orleans has been wilting against top teams -- losing big to the Spurs, Celtics, and Lakers -- and has coughed up 100-plus points in five of its eight games. The team's one marquee win to date was a 114-107 home W against Dallas.
The Hornets are, in short, a team that's seriously out of whack. That's a familiar feeling for Suns fans, who're watching their own whack crew turn into a team before their very eyes.
And getting their Planet Orange blenders out of mothballs.
Suns/Hornets tip is at 8:30 p.m. TV: ESPN, Fox Sports Arizona. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.