October 30: Hangin' with my Suns teammates -- and some stars
Finally, the season is under way, and what better way to start it than with a trip back to L.A., where we spent several weeks during the '06 playoffs.
We got into town on Monday afternoon to get some rest for the Lakers game the following night. Of course, we had some time to kill, so some of us got out of the hotel for a little while for a trip to the movies: the world premiere of "Stranger than Fiction," the new Will Ferrell flick, in Westwood.
I was able to pull some strings and swing four tickets to the premiere. Generally, I hang out with all my teammates -- they're all cool guys -- but the guys I took with me are the ones that I click with pretty well and roll to dinner with, so when I was able to get four tickets, those are the guys I invited.
The premiere was a great experience. We'd probably go to a movie anyway on a night like that, so to go to a movie that isn't out yet was really cool. I've never been to a premiere, but I always hear about them, so it was good on that level -- a pretty interesting culture. We saw a lot of recognizable faces -- Dustin Hoffman, Don Cheadle and of course Will Ferrell -- but I wasn't in it to be meeting and greeting. I just wanted to see a movie.
(Watch the video for more on the premiere.)
And how was the movie? It was different than what you usually see Will Ferrell in, so you kind of don't know what to think at first. But it was a decent movie. I heard a lot of good reviews on Will's performance, and I'd have to agree. He did well in a mold-breaking role.
Following the movie, there was an afterparty, but of course we had a game the next night so we didn't stick around. Maybe next time.
October 31, Halloween night vs. Lakers: Missing that urgency
Losing to the Lakers isn't how we planned to start the season. We came out and fired on all cylinders, took a 39-20 lead at the end of the first quarter. But then we just took our foot off the gas. That was our Achilles' heel last year. We'd jump out on people, then get complacent and squander leads. And that bit us again.
But the Lakers played great. They seemed to play with more of a sense of urgency than we did. That's a lesson we need to learn, so it's good it happened early in the season. If we are going to vie for a championship, we need to find that sense of urgency.
One thing that caught my eye about the Lakers was the development of Andrew Bynum. He's a great young player who, like most big men, shoots a very high percentage, but I was most impressed with his passing out of the triangle offense. I know he beat me backdoor a couple of times for layups. Young guys, and especially 7-foot-plus young guys, aren't usually able to pass with such a deft touch, but he's got that down.
As for being back at Staples Center, I got what I expected: boos. The fans didn't let me down. But it wasn't bad. I like the L.A. fans and I think Staples is a great building to play in. I always enjoy going there. Of course, I would have liked to have won and leave them in a quiet mood, but it was a great atmosphere on Halloween night, and the fans came out strong and did what they were supposed to do.
I think something that might have helped their atmosphere is Staples' new lighting scheme that people are talking about. It's like Madison Square, where the arena itself is dark while the court is all lit-up. It makes for a good show, but I'm sure it makes it hard for the fans to see their celebrities. Hard for us, too. Not that we go out of our way to spot them. If a celebrity is sitting right across from the bench, we might see them. Otherwise, we're focused on our jobs.
November 1 vs. Clippers: Back on track
The next night against the Clippers, we brought that sense of urgency we were missing and played with a lot more energy. I think Elton Brand used the word "piranhas" when he talked about our pace offensively, and he's right. That's the way we have to be for a full game. And we succeeded at both ends, unlike the Lakers game.
Which brings us to a key to the victory, and a big key to our season: defense. I think defense starts with the backcourt. That's your frontline, and I think we did a good job of trying to disrupt their rythym. You're not always going to make the steal, but you can disrupt them and help the rest of us make plays. A big part of that is the effort of Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Banks.
Leandro had a great defensive camp. LB was always capable of playing D, but now he's trying to concentrate on it; he took three or four charges. He's so fast, he can beat people to any spot on the court. But the key for him is, once he gets there, he needs to make better decisions than he did last year, and he's been doing a good job with getting charges.
I didn't know much about Marcus Banks before he got here. And his acquisition can help us. Steve Nash is obviously the motor that makes us run, but you got to have somebody coming off the bench who can push the tempo while also making good decisions with the ball. Marcus is also a good change of pace. I'm learning he's one of those bulldog defenders, who can pick you up the length of the court and get people out of their offensive rhythm.
Marcus was a key acquisition. We lost Tim Thomas, a valuable body in our frontcourt, and signed another guard -- so yeah, we've got a lot of heads back there. But we're one of those teams who can throw four guards at you, along with a power forward, and make you try to keep up. Don't get me wrong, Tim was a very valuable player for us last year, and we hated to lose him. But we're confident with our roster, and we'll make it happen just the same.
Helping to fill Tim's gap is Amare Stoudemire, who looked great against the Clippers. I think he looked good against the Lakers, too, but it's going to be a building process for him as far as his stamina. We'll get him in there more and more until he's at 100 percent. I know the home fans loved getting that first glimpse of him. Hopefully, it's a sign of bigger and better things to come for Amare.
As for my performance in the first two games, I don't think I played that great. I've been struggling a bit offensively, but that happens. It hasn't really happened this early in the season for me -- I'm usually good at getting off to a strong start -- but I'll treat it like any other time: You work hard, keep shooting and eventually they start going in. That's all you can do.
Going back to school
Something else I've been hitting hard is the books. Yup, I've decided to go back to school. I didn't finish at FIU because I was working hard to get into free-agent camps, so I left with five classes to go. Now, the time is right to return and get my degree through some online classes. I know this will mean a lot to my folks. My dad is in academics at the University of Miami and my mom is a teacher. Anyway, I'm now taking two classes, Religious Analysis and Spanish.
I just got the results back on my midterm from my Religious Analysis class, and I did pretty well, scoring an 87. That's good for me. I just need a Pass, but I'll take the 87.
Jesse (Mesa, AZ): I am a religious studies major at ASU. I was wondering what you think the meaning of life is?
Raja: You're deep, Jesse. Where are the questions about 3-point technique? Must be the Religious Studies curriculum.
I know I'm really enjoying my religious analysis course. I get to learn about the different faiths in this world while examining my own beliefs. I'm a religious person and I pray a lot. But I don't necessarily buy into mandatory visits to a house of worship. The Lord is in everybody. I can be with God anywhere. Why do I need to be in this church or that church? Anyway, just one man's opinion.
As for the meaning of life, I'm still looking to find that answer. But so far, here's what I've come up with: Love, be loved, and do as much as you can for others who may be less fortunate than you.
However, I'm not sure you'll ever find a definitive answer in your lifetime. Life is the search. Live the best life you can, and then you're gone. That's my plan, anyway.
Jessica (San Francisco): Raja, I think you're hot but I know you're taken. How did you meet your lucky wife?
Raja: Thanks, Jessica, but I'll stick to the second part of that question for obvious reasons.
Cindy played soccer at FIU, where I went to school. Some of my teammates were showing me around during my first day at the campus, and she walked up to my car with a teammate of hers who was dating my roommate. I started talking to her, and they told me she had a man.
It's kind of corny, but at that point, I was like, "Yeah, right! We'll see about that." Sure enough, she broke up with that guy and we've been together ever since, 10 years now, and got married in August '04.
Sorry, pal, wherever you are.
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