Updated: Feb. 2, 2007, 1:53 PM ET

Convincing approach for Suns

If we were wondering who holds the NBA's first position on the first night of February, we have an answer -- Phoenix.

Speaking of answers, how about all the questions we keep hearing about the Suns?

How can they win the title if they don't play defense?

Well, without defensive stopper Raja Bell available, the Suns held the Spurs under 90 points in their 103-87 comeback victory.

In fact, the Suns are in the NBA top 10 in defensive efficiency -- though their stopping skills are obscured by the fast pace they play.

On Thursday, they forced 18 turnovers and scored 23 points off turnovers. That's not offense -- that's offense off defense.

Even with Kurt Thomas sidelined, the Phoenix Donuts (no real center) harassed Tim Duncan into a 6-for-18, four-turnover, Amare-induced nightmare.

They held Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, Robert Horry, Jacque Vaughn, Michael Finley, Beno Udrih and Francisco Elson to a collective 2-for-18 in 100 minutes played.

(Yes, Manu Ginobili did go off.)

They forced the Spurs' starters into nine straight misses during the Suns' critical third-quarter run.

I'm sure a San Antonio fan or two will be eager to point out the following -- the Spurs were on the second night of a road back-to-back, and they missed some shots they normally make.

Sure, that's fair enough, as long as you're willing to hear out the other 29 teams when they offer excuses for their losses.

Haven't the Suns shown they can't beat the good teams? They racked up all these wins against the East and the dregs of the West.

No doubt, those winning streaks of 15 and 17 games came against the softer part of the Suns' schedule.

And Phoenix still has to show it can sustain its success against the West's best.

So, given all that, a resounding win over the Spurs sounds a bit like a statement.

Don't you know the Suns can't pull out games in the fourth quarter when it counts? They can't get stops, and they have trouble in the half-court when the game gets tight.

Right. That explains their 26-9 trouncing of San Antonio in the last eight minutes of the game, after the Spurs took a 78-77 lead.

The Spurs, known for their deadly late-game execution, scored three field goals the rest of the game.

The Suns scored nine field goals in those eight minutes. Ballgame.

How can the Hollinger Power Rankings have the Suns No. 1 over the Mavs? Their big scoring margin was inflated against lousy teams.

In the past four weeks, the Suns have defeated the Heat by 18, the Warriors by 23, the Cavs by 19, the Grizzlies by 15, the Wolves by 29, the Wizards by 22, the Cavs by 15 ... and the Spurs by 16.

Which one of these results is just like the others?

So, we should just hand over the Larry O'Brien trophy to the Suns, huh? We don't even need to play out the rest of the season -- is that what you're trying to say?

No way, Manu.

Heck, we won't even remember this game in a couple of weeks. And there's no telling how things will look when these two teams meet again -- in San Antonio -- on April 5. Which still will be more than two weeks before the playoffs start.

Hey, it's a long season.

At least that's what the rest of the league is telling itself after watching the Suns shred the Spurs.

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Foul Result Among Friends
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Cavs forward LeBron James intentionally fouled Dwyane Wade, flooring him late in the Heat's 92-89 win.

You're Not A Fool, Are You?

Blame the system.

It's easy to think the Western Conference coaches are fools for taking three guards on the All-Star team when the conference is dominated by forwards. It gets even easier when one realizes the league's leading scorer was among the omissions.

See the full John Hollinger story

Dime Mailbag: Elevating Wallace
Gerald Wallace

Memo was a nice pick for Wednesday's Best ... but what about Gerald Wallace? He put up a ridiculous stat line in his career-best 42-point game. It was a jaw-dropping performance that stunned most observers. I know some Cats games are rough, but you've got to see the way this guy is dominating games offensively right now.

-- Yorkis (Philly)

The worst player of the night should not come from a team that won (i.e., Dwight Howard). His team controlled all 48 minutes of that game, he didn't have to do much.

-- Court (San Diego)

I think Raptors should be at the top spot of the Atlantic. Looking at January 10-5 result, including a one-point loss with Dallas and a two-point loss to Phoenix, come on ... that should be way better than NJ. Note: 10-point win over Washington is a nice one too.

-- Pedro (Hong Kong)

Records At A Glance

Heat Looking Better With Shaq

Wade scores 24 in fourth of win over Cavs.

Drive For Excellence
Amare Stoudemire
Barry Gossage/Getty Images
Suns center Amare Stoudemire (24 points, 23 rebounds) helped deliver a 103-87 win over the Spurs.

Extreme Behavior
Dwyane Wade

Thursday's Best
Heat guard Dwyane Wade: Quite a double-double in front of the Super Bowl party people: 41 points and a career-high 12 turnovers. And he sank 23 of 24 free throws. Twenty-four points in the fourth quarter. Gets in Barkley's 5 with that hat.

Bruce Bowen

Thursday's Worst
Spurs guard Bruce Bowen: His defense had to be good because spending 26 minutes on the court against the Suns with only four 3-point misses to show is not good. Bowen can make those, hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers this year. Just not Thursday.

Quote of the Day
"D-Wade knows it's not intentional. But it's part of the rules, you've got to call it."
-- LeBron James, talking about his late foul on Dwyane Wade.

See how all 38 who played stacked up
Playoff matchups if season ended now

-- Andrew Ayres

Putting On Additions
Josh Howard

The All-Star fixes in the West couldn't be more clear cut. I'm not quite sure how West coaches conspired to omit Josh Howard and Carmelo Anthony from their seven-man reserve roster -- nor can I explain how the Mavs have two All-Stars fewer than Phoenix and one fewer than San Antonio -- but don't forget that David Stern has two West replacements to name now that Carlos Boozer has joined Yao Ming on the list of injured unavailables.

The Commish, then, doesn't have to make the agonizing choice between Mark Cuban's guy and the guy he just suspended for 15 games for one reserve spot.

Stern will have the privilege of righting two wrongs and shattering some myths about his vindictive side.

By picking Howard, who has to be in Vegas with Dallas possessing the league's best record, Stern can show everyone that people are crazy if they think his years of clashes with Cuban would factor into this kind of decision.

By picking Anthony, whose 31.2 points per game would represent the highest scoring average ever for a player not to receive an All-Star invite, Stern can confirm that he was serious when he said he wants to help Melo move on after Anthony served that 15-game suspension for his role in the MSG Fight Night in mid-December.

See the full Marc Stein blog

In Melo Company

Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets averaged 26.0 PPG at the All-Star break last season, seventh-best in the NBA. The Nuggets were in first place in the Northwest Division. But Anthony was not selected to the All-Star Game. He had the highest scoring average of any player not to make the All-Star Game last season. This season, Anthony is averaging 31.2 points per game, best in the NBA. It would be unprecedented to leave him off the team. His 31.2 PPG would be the highest ever for any player not to make the All-Star team.

However, David Stern has two replacement spots to fill on the West team, so Anthony seems likely to gain a berth.

Most PPG at All-Star Break
No All-Star Appearance
Year Player Pre-ASG Post-ASG
'78-79 World B Free SD 28.7 28.8*
'65-66 Dick Barnett, NY 28.4 16.9*
'84-85 Purvis Short, GS 27.8 28.4
'84-85 D. Wilkins, ATL 27.2 27.7*
'87-88 Dale Ellis, SEA 26.6 24.7*

*--Made All-Star team in future season

-- ESPN Research

Elias Says

Steve Nash had 11 assists Thursday, and he's had at least 10 assists in each of his past 10 games. It's the fourth time in his career Nash has had at least 10 assists in 10 straight games. The last NBA player other than Nash to have a streak like that was Mark Jackson, who had a 14-game streak in December 1996-January 1997.

Elias Says



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