It’s no secret this NBA season has been a grind in Phoenix. Many of the games have been downright difficult to get through and there are only so many times you can ask the same questions about what is going wrong to professionals who are failing to show progress as a group.
Lately, though, the script has flipped. Covering a team that is getting joy from destroying the hope of other franchises throughout the past two weeks has been a treat.
I didn’t expect to care about this discrete Suns subplot. I was more focused on the fact that Sacramento finally turned things around after drafting well and finding a general manager who could act as a go-between for ownership and the team; or the team in Dallas, led by the Slovenian sensation whom the Suns passed on last June, that quickly moved most of its assets to go all-in on its young star duo.
I’m sure many fans’ focus was in the same places. The grass is always greener.
That changed last Saturday night in Phoenix against a Lakers team that had its way with the Suns all year. Playoff chances on the line, Los Angeles marched into Talking Stick Resort Arena with a bizarre small lineup and numerous injuries, though still rolling out LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. And Tyson Chandler. The Suns dominated, driving a stake through the Lakers’ playoff chances and swatting down the first domino toward a full-on tank in L.A.
Their win two nights later over the league-leading Bucks wasn’t quite as important in the broader context of the NBA, as Milwaukee has a firm lead on the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. It was, however, enjoyable to watch the woebegone Suns become the only team to sweep the Bucks during their historic season.
The biggest treat of all as a spectator came Sunday night in Oakland, when the Suns were the catalyst for the latest wave of “Are the Warriors broken?” stories. Klay Thompson blamed the fans, Steve Kerr lost patience with Draymond Green, and Golden State couldn’t muster its typical end-of-game run to close out the Suns.
As time has passed, my fandom for my hometown Suns has waned. It’s not really there anymore. So this doesn’t come as a subconscious response to the awakening of a dormant team. Instead, it is the satisfaction of seeing how even when all is lost, teams that buckle down and play for one another can make progress and amaze.
This surely could be a blip on the broader radar. The Suns have given us no reason to believe they will right the ship and suddenly become a powerhouse young group. The problems run deeper than what happens on the court, as we know. Winning a handful of games doesn’t change that.
However, it’s satisfying to see young players coalesce into something bigger — a team — for the first time in years and take pride in small milestones. The Suns cared about beating the Warriors, and it was hard not to absorb that sense of accomplishment.
They have another opportunity to rabble-rouse tonight at home against a Jazz team seeking to solidify a playoff berth amid a rough season. Utah is four games up in the loss column for the eighth seed but no lock for the postseason, having lost five of its last ten games. Against young playmaker Donovan Mitchell, with whom he is so often compared, Suns star Devin Booker has the chance to upstage Mitchell and damage the Jazz’s playoff odds at once.
Should they win and keep up their stretch of improved play, it will be impossible not to feel some sort of giddiness about the Suns actually affecting the outcome of the NBA season in what weeks ago felt like another lost year.
Beating the two best teams in the NBA has a way of making every game exciting. Teams who see the Suns on the schedule can no longer pencil in a W on the calendar. When was the last time anyone could say that?