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Raja Bell's Return

Chuck Carlton says it was a last-minute decision.

The decision to play was made 30 minutes before the game, after Bell showed the Suns' training staff and doctors he could move, run and jump in warmups.

"Nature has a way of healing warriors a lot quicker," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Whatever we needed all year, he's done it spiritually, physically, talent-wise, whatever. And he just stepped up again."

I'm not so sure. Howard Beck points out that Coach Mike D'Antoni was dropping hints:

But the hints were spilling through D'Antoni's teeth during his pregame news conference.

He called Bell "a lot better" and "pretty close" and declared: "Eventually, he'll play. I don't know exactly when."

Raja Bell ducked Craig Sager's question about when he knew he would play, which likely means it wasn't just before tipoff, which means the Suns have been super-crafty! I love that kind of gamesmanship. As Sager pointed out, Bell wears the same number as Willis Reed. Perfect.

D'Antoni acknowledges that the thought process began the night before. Paola Boivin reports:

"I got a call last night from his agent that, you know, if we don't want to play him we might have to shoot him," coach Mike D'Antoni said, smiling. So it was like, 'Do we kill the guy or let him play?' "

Still, D'Antoni was concerned, and Bell said,

"I had to promise them that if I felt I couldn't do it, I'd let them know." After much persuasion, Bell won. He expected to come off the bench. To his surprise, D'Antoni inserted him in the starting lineup.

As usual, when it comes to the Suns, Paul Coro has the answers. He says that the staff knew about noon, and even the Mavericks knew before tipoff.

The staff knew at about noon that Bell would play, and he did the team's pregame walk-through.

"Yesterday was really good, the stuff he was doing," D'Antoni said. "To be honest with you, it's his call. If it was up to medical reasons, it might not happen."

Word on Bell trickled to the Dallas locker room.

"Is Amar� (Stoudemire) coming back too?" Jerry Stackhouse asked.

And Dirk Nowitzki chimed in, "Bring Tom Chambers back, too."

D'Antoni played coy for a while before the game. All the while, Bell was on the practice court warming up.

In case you didn't watch last night, Bell also says he felt a little disrespected by Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley who imtimated Bell should step aside instead of hurting the team by taking up minutes hobbling around. In response, Barkley, at halftime, uses the phrase "whiney-ass players."

Neal Pollack has Raja's back:

As for Raja Bell, there's little more that can be said. The guy stood up to Kobe like everyone else in the NBA wishes they had the guts to do. He hit a game-tying shot when the Suns were facing a dying breath. And he came back from the dead tonight to play a fine, well-rounded, thuggish game. To add insult to the NBA nostalgia hounds' injury, who don't believe that a team built on speed and shooting can win the title, he didn't even say that his number 19 is a tribute to Willis Reed. Raja Bell wasn't born when Willis Reed took the floor at the Garden. What possible tribute could he pay? The man has had the most dramatic single postseason since Michael Jordan hung up his sacred jersey-shroud for the second time. Attention must be paid.

Also, Kurt Thomas creaked off the bench for five ineffective minutes. But let that be a warning to the rest of the NBA. Every time the Suns add another man to the rotation, you are all one step closer to your doom. These Suns are going to be your champions whether you want them to be or not.