Updated: Jan. 12, 2006, 5:18 PM ET
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this weekly around-the-league notebook edition of the Dime.
Suns await eclipse's end
They were originally seen as the only team out West that could threaten the San Antonio Spurs. Turns out that Saturday's trip to the Alamo City might be as close as the Phoenix Suns get for a while.
Then again ...
"With such a new team, I almost feel like you should ask me in a month," Steve Nash says.
That's because Nash and Mike D'Antoni, the NBA's reigning MVP and Coach of the Year, are not prepared to believe that the Suns' first seven games are a definitive snapshot of what their lives will be like without Amare Stoudemire.
They can only hope.
The Suns, with only four active players back from the team that met San Antonio in last spring's conference finals, are a deflating 1-4 at home. They've racked up three excruciating losses -- failing to close out would-be wins over Dallas, Sacramento and Detroit -- to go with Wednesday's humbling from Memphis.
They've also got issues to go with the losses. The Suns' defense has somehow regressed, despite the arrivals of Kurt Thomas and Raja Bell, and their 3-point shooting has dipped even with Nash insisting this Amare-less offense continues to churn out plenty of "makeable looks."
The Suns are indeed still scoring big, down just three points from a league-leading 110.4 points per game last season, but it's not quite as punishing without Stoudemire's inside presence and the departed Joe Johnson. Amare especially puts the opposition under constant pressure at the rim and puts defenders in foul trouble.
"We're not running the same way," D'Antoni admits.
Perhaps the only area where the Suns seem in sync is the shared determination of the point guard and his coach to take blame for how they've started.
"Not to downplay Amare's injury, because that would make all the difference in the world, but I think we've pretty much given away three games," Nash said. "My leadership needs to improve. It's up to me to make us more confident down the stretch when it's time to close out a game."
D'Antoni counters by saying he has overcoached the Suns by trying to implement too many new defensive schemes and that he has added to Nash's burdens by trying numerous combinations without solidifying a set rotation.
"Give me one choice and I'm pretty good," D'Antoni joked, referring to last season's thin bench and his forced reliance on the five starters.
Yet don't be fooled by the modesty. D'Antoni remains as brash as any coach you'll encounter and refuses to back off his contention that these Suns will win 50 games even if knee surgery winds up forcing Stoudemire to miss the whole season.
One reason: Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw are improving quickly, which doesn't make the Suns any bigger but certainly helps them address their current athleticism shortage.
The bigger reason: D'Antoni still has Nash and Shawn Marion. Neither one is shooting the long ball like they can, but you'd be wise to hold off on the slump talk after just two weeks. They're both averaging double-doubles. Comfortably.
"They can still go to another level," D'Antoni said of his two healthy All-Stars. Asked to specify, he added: "It's called 'unbelievable.'
"We're pressing right now," D'Antoni continued. "Expect bad things to happen and they usually do. But we're close. We're close to being a good team.
"I still think we'll win 50 games because [Nash] has always won 50 games. He'll figure it out. That's what he does."
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Houston's Jeff Van Gundy would love to dispute Marc Stein's contention below that Detroit and San Antonio aren't getting much of a push these days, but his team hasn't lived up to its billing yet.
1. These are tough times for anyone in the Power Rankings business. Reason being: There are virtually no elite teams at the moment. With Indiana, Miami and Phoenix struggling -- the latter two because of injuries suffered by Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire -- there are only two unquestioned powerhouses in circulation: Detroit and San Antonio.
And we were almost down to one powerhouse late Thursday night, when the Spurs' Tim Duncan stepped on David Wesley's foot and appeared to twist his left ankle. If Duncan did so seriously, Detroit would be seriously lonely at the top.
2. Rick Adelman might be operating as a lame-duck coach in Sacramento, but you can dismiss any notions that he'll be the first coach fired this season. For at least three reasons.
A) After five 50-win seasons in a row, and with close friend Geoff Petrie still in charge of the Kings' front office, Adelman will be given more leeway than most to figure out a team that has only four players left (Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Brad Miller and youngster Kevin Martin) from the group he had this time last year.
B) The Kings, even with Adelman in the final year of his contract, don't have a natural in-house replacement to take over as interim coach; Elston Turner, unlike Byron Scott before him, is not widely regarded as a head-coaching prospect.
C) Co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof tried to make a clandestine run at Phil Jackson before the Zenmeister rejoined the Lakers, but the secret leaked and hurt Adelman. Figure on the Maloofs showing some compassion for Adelman now for as long as they can stomach the current struggles, allotting Adelman some extra time to try to blend the Princeton-worthy passing and cutting of Stojakovic, Bibby and Miller with the more traditional offensive skills possessed by Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Bonzi Wells.
3. Congrats to the Spurs not only for Duncan's good fortune in avoiding a major injury, when it so easily could have been worse, but also their recent (and underpublicized) announcement that they're officially referring to themselves as the "2005 NBA Champions" as opposed to "world" champions. They understand what too many of my broadcast colleagues don't: Basketball's actual world champions are crowned every four years at -- you guessed it -- the World Championships. Surely you recall the tournament hosted by the United States in Indianapolis in 2002 ... in which Team USA finished sixth after losses to Argentina, Spain and the real world champs from Serbia, which was then still playing under the Yugoslavia banner. As global as the game is today, no one on TV should be referring to NBA titles as world championships. Yet you hear it all the time.
Coach Sam Mitchell and general manager Rob Babcock are on equally shaky footing in Toronto, but the difference is that a name surfaced this week in NBA coaching circles as a possible successor for Mitchell: Paul Silas.
It would make the most sense, of course, for a new GM to hire a new coach if there are going to be changes. But Silas, working as ESPN analyst this season after Cleveland dismissed him in March, would likely need the backing of only Raptors senior adviser Wayne Embry, who is expected to remain with the club no matter how long Babcock lasts. ...
When Babcock does go -- which is definitely seen as more of an inevitably than an "if" -- his ill-conceived Vince Carter trade to New Jersey won't be the only cause of his downfall.
Rafael Araujo, taken higher than anyone projected when Babcock made him the No. 8 overall pick in his first Raptors draft, is another strike that won't soon be forgotten. After seven games, in which Loren Woods (three starts), Aaron Williams (three starts) and Araujo (one) combined to register a measly sum of just eight points, Mitchell gave in and asked his power forward (Chris Bosh) to start at center. ...
The Bulls could well have an unusually strong interest in the unified team Great Britain is planning to field as the host country in the 2012 Olympics. Sudan-born Luol Deng grew up in London and has already committed to play for the British. Ben Gordon, with a father who still lives in London, also has an English passport and, at present, remains eligible to play for a national team other than the United States. That's because Gordon has never represented this country in an official FIBA competition, pulling on a Team USA jersey only for the 2003 Pan American Games.
Although Gordon figures to draw some consideration for the U.S. teams that will be assembled for the 2006 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Deng is already recruiting the reigning Sixth Man Award winner for Great Britain in case Gordon is passed over.
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Listen up. Baron Davis says he's not happy with the way the Warriors are playing. You'd think they had a losing record or something.
Marc Stein talks with Golden State point guard Baron Davis.
1. STEIN: You're wearing a look of frustration on your face even though the Warriors are off to a decent start. Why?
DAVIS: We can be a lot better than our record. A lot better. We're not playing good basketball right now. We're finding ways to win a few games, which is a good thing, but I think we're putting a little too much pressure on ourselves and it's translating into our play.
2. STEIN: So you guys are well aware of the high expectations after that 14-4 run to finish last season?
DAVIS: We're a young team, and with the way we finished, we automatically thought we were going to start the season off the same way. But this is a whole new season. Mentally it's challenging for us right now. I think guys are just starting to realize how hard you have to work to be successful, because I don't really think this team was even thinking about winning or making a playoff push [before Davis' arrival in February].
3. STEIN: How much of your frustration is related to your hamstring injury from Opening Night?
DAVIS: It's just unfortunate. I went through the whole training camp [unscathed] and had a good camp, but then one thing happens and from that point it's just kind of lingered. It's frustrating, but I know that I'm getting better. I just wish we didn't have as many games  as we do in November."
4. STEIN: I'm sure you hear people say that the Warriors' season is riding on your health. How much more pressure does that put on you?
DAVIS: I'm always going to get a lot of bumps and bruises. I go to the hole a lot. I play physical. But at the same time I play hurt, and that's been my problem sometimes. I play when I'm 65 to 70 percent instead of just sitting out.
5. STEIN: What do you see as reasonable expectations for this team?
DAVIS: I see enough talent to go to the playoffs. Absolutely. I just really believe that we will, once I get to 100 percent and we can start pushing the ball.
Antonio Daniels and Jerome James are the only rotation regulars Seattle lost in free agency, but the Daniels departure might be as big a blow as the coaching exits of hard-driving Nate McMillan and top aide Dwane Casey.
The Sonics were last in the league in points-per-game allowed entering the weekend (109.5) and one veteran scout thinks he knows why.
"Daniels gave them the kind of great perimeter defense that [Luke] Ridnour can't," he said. "Without Daniels to throw into the game, they're really having trouble keeping little guards out of the lane." ...
You have to go back to 2002 -- a 10-game span late in that season -- for the last time Kobe Bryant has gone this long without a triple.
Entering Friday's showdown with the Clips, the league's No. 2 scorer was 0-for-6 from the 3-point line through eight games.
Phil Jackson, mind you, has bigger worries. The Lakers' run of 74, 81 and 73 points in consecutive road losses to Minnesota, Philadelphia and Memphis marked the lowest three-game scoring output (228 points) in Jackson's coaching career. Jackson's previous three-game low was 237 points with Chicago in December 1994, early in the season that eventually featured Michael Jordan's unretirement. ...
Carmelo Anthony was determined to be a 3-point threat in his third season, but he's also struggling from deep -- just 2-for-14 through Thursday's play. He can't believe it, either.
"I don't know what it is," Anthony said. "I work it on every day after practice, before practice. It's going to start clicking. It's got to start clicking. I didn't put in all that work for nothing."
About the L.A. Clippers:
"They're solid. For the first time in a long time, they've got seven or eight good players.
"But they still look somewhat fragile to me. They've got depth and they've got athletes, but Sam [Cassell], I just don't trust his health for a whole season. And [coach Mike] Dunleavy is going to have his hands full with [Corey] Maggette.
"I'm pretty sure Dunleavy doesn't want to play Cassell, Maggette and [Cuttino] Mobley a lot together. You want to mix Quinton Ross in there, because Ross is that guy on the floor who doesn't need the ball, and there's something to be said for putting those kind of role players [alongside] guys who need the ball.
"Being the sixth man is actually a great place for Maggette, to give them some real thrust off the bench, but he won't accept that role."
"We're going to have similar runs. We're not that far away from being a good team."
Denver coach George Karl,
convinced that his 4-5 Nuggets will soon resemble the Nuggets who closed last season with an 25-4 flurry, even though Kenyon Martin is hobbling on a surgically repaired left knee ... and with Nene already lost for the season to a knee tear.
|NOV. 16: MIKE JAMES VS. SIXERS|
Where would the Raptors be without Mike James? OK, they'd still be winless, but at least James' presence allows Toronto to say that it's winning something -- namely its trade with Houston from the first day of camp.
The Raptors swapped Rafer Alston to the Rockets for James and unexpectedly wound up with a scorer who suddenly seems to think he can hang with Allen Iverson.
James had never before reached the 30-point plateau in an NBA game before last weekend, yet rifled in 36 in Sunday's loss to Seattle and another 38 in Wednesday's narrow defeat to Iverson's 76ers.
Maybe that'll convince the other Raptors that anything's possible.