NBA Season Preview: Phoenix Suns

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Last season: 40-42, good for 10th place in the West, and six games out of the playoff picture.

Head Coach: Alvin Gentry

Key Departures: Vince Carter was waived by the team and was picked up by Dallas. Aaron Brooks signed to play in China just before the lockout was resolved, and while the Suns still hold his rights as a restricted free agent, he’s not expected back until late this season, if at all.

Mickael Pietrus is an interesting case, still technically on the roster after a trade to send him to Toronto for a second round pick fell through once it was discovered that Pietrus is still hurting from the knee injury that caused him to miss the last 12 games of last season. Don’t expect him to play in Phoenix this year, however, as the Suns will likely look to move him once he is healthy, or possibly even waive him under the team’s amnesty provision.

Key Additions: Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price, Markieff Morris

Best case scenario: Things stay quiet on the rumor front, Steve Nash plays out the final year of his contract in peace, stays healthy, and the Suns make it back to the postseason.

It’s been extremely quiet in Phoenix on the Steve Nash front, and with good reason. The organization has made it clear that it won’t look to trade Nash before he enters free agency this summer unless he specifically requests it. Nash has said many times that camaraderie and stability are as important to him as anything these days, and ring-chasing doesn’t seem to be his style. That’s not to say the rumors won’t start heating up as the trade deadline approaches, especially if the team begins to believe that Nash may in fact look to bolt in free agency.

But if the team competes for a spot in the postseason as expected, and can manage to keep its roster intact without making big changes to personnel that in turn set the team back in terms of chemistry and on-the-court production, it’s likely that Nash will be content to, at the very least, play out his contract this season.

And that would mean that the circus which has surrounded Chris Paul and Dwight Howard can skip its scheduled stop in Phoenix.

For that to happen: The Suns must get quality minutes from their bench if they’re to keep Nash and Grant Hill fresh for the shorter but more demanding season. Phoenix is a deep team, and the additions of Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, and Ronnie Price should give Alvin Gentry plenty of reasonable options to play while Nash gets more rest than usual, or even some days off entirely during the tougher stretches of the lockout-induced schedule.

More likely the Suns will: It’s possible that the team’s depth won’t be as beneficial as it appears to on paper, and that Nash, while in supreme physical condition now, may break down in the second half of the season due to a combination of high usage and a grueling schedule. That would mean more losses than planned, which might make the front office a little nervous and therefore overly aggressive to try to fix the team’s problems through hasty player personnel decisions.

Simply put, the Suns need to keep their continuity and be wise about Nash’s minutes as the season progresses. If the team can do that, and find some consistency in some other areas, a return to the playoffs is not at all out of the question.

Prediction: 37-29, seventh or eight seed in the Western Conference.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.

LeBron James swats Thaddeus Young on yet another chasedown block (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is The King, but he’s also the king of chasedown blocks in the NBA. During Sunday’s Game 4 matchup with the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers star dropped the hammer yet again on an unsuspecting opponent.

The victim this time was Pacers forward Thaddeus Young, who was out on a 2-on-2 break with LeBron trailing.

To be honest, Young should have known better than to try this.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Robin Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Jae Crowder’s shoe (VIDEO)

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Why did Robin Lopez tie Jae Crowder‘s shoe during Sunday’s Game 4 between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls? We may never know. Perhaps he was just helping the Celtics forward after he tossed him to the ground? Or maybe he’s just doing weird Robin Lopez things?

In any case, Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Crowder’s shoe after it came off during a battle down low early in the third quarter at United Center.

Here’s how it went down.

Via Twitter:

I still have no idea.