PHOENIX -- They did not knock Dirk Nowitzki out of the MVP lead or send his Dallas Mavericks scurrying into therapy or even clinch the No. 2 seed in the West.
Positive ID check for Suns
Nor were they trying to.
The Phoenix Suns happily settled for success on a more modest quest Sunday.
"We have our identity back," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni says.
Small. Fast. Fun.
D'Antoni believes that the Suns' only chance to win a championship, no matter what traditionalists say about what wins in the playoffs, is when you can use all three of those adjectives to describe their game. He believes it even as he admits that the first two inevitably lead to defensive and rebounding shortcomings.
What he can't believe is how little fun he's been seeing from the Suns lately, pretty much ever since they won that double-overtime epic in Dallas on March 14.
So . . .
Blaming himself to a degree -- specifically his recent attempts to get his only accomplished interior defender (Kurt Thomas) on the floor more -- D'Antoni has vowed to play smaller and faster for the rest of the season, preferring to focus on the much-needed joy and energy it might generate as opposed to potential consequences. Yet you suspect he'd have made that vow sooner if he had any inkling of the fun that would follow: Phoenix shot 64.8 percent from the field in a 126-104 rout to register the finest display of marksmanship in the history of a building now known as US Airways Center.
"Sometimes, to a fault, we play to the level of competition," said Suns guard Steve Nash.
"When we play well, no one is going to defend us well. This was one of those games where we were close to our best."
"If you don't miss a shot," D'Antoni volunteered, "it helps."
April Fools Day didn't get off to the funniest start for the quippy coach. Suns owner Robert Sarver called D'Antoni on his cell phone in the morning with a made-up tale about Nash and Nowitzki going out to dinner Saturday and Nash getting arrested for climbing behind the wheel after one too many adult beverages. He had D'Antoni going for a minute or two before Sarver's victim realized what day it was.
Better news awaited at the office, where D'Antoni learned Dallas' foremost deterrent at the rim (Erick Dampier) would be sitting with a shoulder injury. Although he was determined to play his smallest possible lineup combinations regardless, making sure three quality shooters were on the floor at all times, Dampier's absence made it even easier. The Suns responded by throttling their guests with a barrage of layups and 3-pointers that, according to Nowitzki, had the Mavs "going both ways" defensively and usually making the wrong choice.
Nash and Amare Stoudemire missed only seven shots between them and combined for 47 points, but Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion were the Suns who hurt Dallas most. Barbosa seemed especially unguardable, sinking four triples that opened up countless drives, resulting in 29 points for the Brazilian speedster to go with Marion's all-around activity and energy.
Dallas knows it can beat the Suns even if the first two go off. It has no chance with the Suns are recording a ridiculous 50-16 advantage in points scored in the paint.
The Mavs nonetheless managed to hang in for three quarters by hitting seven of their first eight attempts from 3-point range, only for their aim to gradually waver. When Nowitzki landed on Marion's foot early in the fourth, forcing him to the bench with yet another twisted ankle, Dallas gradually faded away. Nowitzki (21 points on just 6-for-18 shooting) tried to play on after a 1:39 rest stint but was clearly hobbled when he returned. Mavs coach Avery Johnson finally pulled him with 2:43 remaining, realizing that the Suns just weren't going to miss at the end.
No joke. Phoenix made 13 of 15 shots from the field in the final period to inflict just the third defeat Dallas has suffered in the past 65 days.
It became a full-fledged holiday for the Suns later in the evening when word of San Antonio's loss in Indiana reached them, widening Phoenix's lead over the Spurs for home-court advantage in a possible second-round matchup to three games with nine to play. For the first time in a while in Phoenix, where the home team was briefly booed last time out, there was no shortage of fun.
Which explains why none of the Suns were apologizing, even though we didn't get the Phoenix-Dallas classic we've now come to expect every time these teams hook up.
"I'd say it was still better than 90 percent of the games in this league," Nash countered.
AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki
LeBron James, sidelined by right knee tendinitis, gives a rise to Damon Jones. Boston, the East's worst team which was playing without Paul Pierce, defeated the Cavs 98-96.
[Editor's note: David Thorpe breaks down some of the best moves in the game:]
JAB AND GO (Opposite direction from the jab)
The best: Carmelo Anthony
It stands to reason that we'd put Anthony here as the top guy. He has the best first step in the league, and the best jab and go.
You could briefly hear a "Dirk Sucks" chant from Suns fans in the first half Sunday.
First time I can remember hearing the soon-to-be MVP getting razzed like that at US Airways Center since the Dallas-Phoenix rivalry got serious.
But you didn't hear too much complaining Sunday from the Mavs about the Dirk Nowitzki-Shawn Marion tangle in the fourth quarter that re-injured Nowitzki's left ankle.
Suns, Mavs finish 2-2 in regular season
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Steve Nash (23 points, 11 assists) and Dirk Nowitzki (6-for-18 shooting, 21 points) jostle for postion in the Suns' 22-point win.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
David Stern has always said that his hardest job in 23 years as NBA commissioner was kicking Micheal Ray Richardson out the league for drug abuse in 1986.
The Commish also happens to be one of the most prominent Jews in sports, if not the United States.
So if I wanted to hear anyone's reaction to Micheal Ray's comments about Jews this week, it was Stern's.
"My reaction is that if I were the commissioner [of the CBA], for the inappropriate and insensitive remark he made about gays, I would have suspended him," Stern said by phone Friday.
"But I have no doubt that Micheal Ray is not anti-Semitic. I know that he's not. A number of his children happen to be Jewish. He has a former Jewish wife. He may have exercised very poor judgment [in what he said], but that does not reflect Micheal Ray Richardson's feelings about Jews."
Let me add a little-known fact. The first country Richardson played in after his banishment from the NBA? You guessed it: Sugar had a brief stint in Israel with the tiny club Hapoel Ramat Gan.
Bill Simmons shares his thoughts with Chad Ford on the Final Four, the Celtics and a "question of fear" centered on Adam Morrison and Darko Milicic.
The Bulls were the first team I can ever remember to play back-to-back regular-season day games. They beat Atlanta anyway, with some help from their two rookies.
On consecutive plays in the second quarter, Chicago got spectacular blocks from first-round picks Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas. Sefolosha came from several feet away to surprise Tyronn Lue on a jump shot, and then Thomas one-upped him by capping Josh Smith on a dunk attempt -- we don't see that 'round these parts too often.
Thomas showed off his freakish athleticism several other times. He crammed home a dunk over Smith and got the foul for one fourth-quarter bucket, came up with a steal and big-time lefty dunk to extend Chicago's lead, and rejected another Smith shot a minute later that helped seal the deal in Chicago's 105-97 win.
While Thomas' eight-point, eight-rebound, three-assist, three-block stat line paled beside the career-high 27 he got a day earlier, he still made a huge impact in crunch time. It's pretty clear that while P.J. Brown may continue to start games, Thomas is going to be the guy finishing them most nights as the Bulls make their playoff run.