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National attention on the way for a Suns team that’s earned it in recent weeks

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Suns owner Robert Sarver made a rare appearance at Alvin Gentry’s pre-game media session before Sunday night’s game against the Rockets, which the head coach traditionally holds in a very relaxed atmosphere in his office.

Sarver was in good spirits and wanted to joke around a little, and with the way his team has played over the past month or so, his mood was completely understandable.

Curious to know the various media outlets that were there in attendance, Sarver walked the medium-sized room, looking at the credentials hanging around the necks of the assembled press, taking them in his hand and reading them aloud.

When he got to mine, since I was one of the few people in the room representing national coverage, Sarver decided to ask some questions. He was very good-natured while grilling me, and there were plenty of laughs while this was going on. But he wanted some answers.

“NBC. How come you don’t show us on anything,” he challenged.

I reminded him I’m here for just about every home game.

“I know. But nationally, nothing. It’s like we’re not in the league right now,” he exclaimed.

It’s coming, I told him. (And that’s true: It was the plan anyway if the Suns were able to beat the short-handed Rockets.)

“Does anything get covered?!”

Plenty gets covered, I told him.

“Where?”

I promised to send him the link — one which will be on its way directly after the Suns took care of business and beat the Rockets 99-86 to move above .500 for the first time all season, and within just a half-game of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference standings.

Just a month ago, a climb back into the race for a spot in the postseason — especially this quickly — seemed like an impossibility. Back on Feb. 17, Phoenix was a dismal 12-19, had lost four straight and five out of six, and looked more like a team planning a trip to the draft lottery than one interested in making a run to the playoffs.

Since then, however, Phoenix has won 11 of 14, and finds itself relevant and realistically looking at a postseason chance for the first time since training camp. The only team with a better mark is the Chicago Bulls, who went 12-2 during that stretch, but who also have the best record in the league at 37-10.

You could see those stretches coming from that Chicago team. But this run from these Suns wasn’t anywhere close to being expected.

As the players and coaches have been asked to explain the sudden success in recent days, the immeasurable metric of chemistry is the one that comes up again and again.

“I really think the chemistry has just come together,” Gentry said. “And I don’t know how that happens, and I don’t know if anyone can really tell you how that happens. But I think our guys feel really good about themselves.”

One way it happens is that guys who find themselves out of the rotation — whether for one game or for a few weeks — stay ready.  They don’t cause problems in the locker room by griping about playing time that wasn’t earned, or opportunities that weren’t there to be given. They remain professional, and support their teammates who do get those chances on a consistent basis.

“I don’t know where I’ve had a team where it’s been this good,” Gentry said of his bench players not complaining about missed minutes. “Guys, I’m telling you, it’s really tough to sit over there and not play. And you can make it miserable on the coaching staff or on your teammates, and none of those guys do that here. None of those guys do that.

“I think the big thing for them is that they always feel like at some stage, they’ll get an opportunity again.”

Michael Redd, who’s had his fair share of DNP-CDs this season but broke out for 25 points in Sunday’s win over Houston, echoed Gentry’s sentiment, while offering a reason why.

“Because the agenda is winning,” he said. “Shannon Brown’s won two championships, he knows what it takes to win. Grant (Hill) and Steve (Nash) have won. I’ve been in some winning situations. When you have guys who have experienced winning, it kind of permeates throughout the team. And the team kind of follows suit, and guys prepare themselves.

“We genuinely want to see each other succeed, and that’s big.”

The bench unit as a whole has been the key to the Suns recent surge. Early in the season, as Gentry struggled to find the right rotations, the second unit would allow large leads to disappear, and their ineptitude would force the starters to play long minutes, leaving them gassed in the fourth quarters of tight games.

Lately, the consistency has been there to the point where Gentry has found a competent 10-man rotation where the five guys he uses off the bench can each function for 17 minutes or so a night.

“Amazing,” Nash said of the way the bench has played. “Obviously it was a special one (last Thursday) in L.A., (when Phoenix beat the Clippers with Nash and Hill out) but since the All-Star break really, the bench has been really good, and it’s kind of turned our season around.”

Shannon Brown has provided perhaps the most consistent spark off the bench, and he told NBCSports.com that chemistry comes easily when everyone has a hand in the team’s overall success.

“Whenever you come together as a team and win, and win consistently, where everybody contributes, that’s the main goal,” he said. “You want everybody that’s playing to go out there and contribute in the way that they know how, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

“We feel good about ourselves, we’ve got a little win streak going, and we’re making a real conscious effort to try to make it to the playoffs.”

Playoffs were the goal in Phoenix before the season began, a mantra that was recited repeatedly by everyone from top to bottom throughout the organization. After the painfully-slow start the team got off to by going 7-9 in its first 16 home games, it’s once again a topic on the table thanks to this recent run of victories.

Nash was asked after Friday’s game if the results of this homestand were beyond his expectations.

“It’s getting there,” Nash said. “Maybe not even just the home stand, but the season, where we’re beginning to exceed what people thought of us.”

As the Suns continue to exceed expectations, the national media will catch up. Maybe not quite yet, though, considering Phoenix does play its next two games back-to-back on the road in Miami and Orlando. But if the way the Suns have played during this stretch continues, while the qualities of confidence, chemistry and “cohesion” (as Nash likes to say) that have finally started to show themselves on the court remain in plain sight, then Phoenix has a completely legitimate shot at making that coveted trip to the playoffs.

And that will net Mr. Sarver all of the national coverage he desires.

Paul George says he’s willing to play all 48 minutes in Game 6 against Raptors

Indiana Pacers' Paul George (13) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll (5) defends during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA first-round playoff basketball series, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The on/off splits for Paul George in the Pacers-Raptors series, which Toronto leads 3-2, are jarring:

  • On: +26 in 189 minutes
  • Off: -29 in 51 minutes

Indiana’s problems without George came to a head in Game 5. In the 6:55 George sat, the Pacers shot 0-for-10 and got outscored 19-1. That was more than enough for the Raptors, who won by three when Solomon Hill‘s game-tying 3-pointer left his hand a fraction of a second too late.

How do the Pacers solve this problem?

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Paul George said he is willing to play 48 minutes in Friday night’s Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors if needed.

“If that’s the direction that the game is going, I’m all for it,” George said after Thursday’s practice. “Whatever we got to do to win, I’m doing it.”‘

The only player to play a full this game was Rajon Rondo, who played 48 minutes in consecutive (!) Kings games in November. The last player to do it in a playoff game was Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes of a Bulls’ overtime loss to the Wizards in 2014.

So, it can be done, and George is the type of athlete who can do it.

But can George sustain his elite production without a rest? That’s the main question, including how it’d affect him for a potential Game 7. With Indiana’s season on the line, it might be worth finding out.

There are also last drastic solutions. Frank Vogel used one lineup the entire time George sat in Game 5: Ty LawsonRodney StuckeyC.J. Miles-Solomon Hill-Ian Mahinmi.

Maybe don’t run the offense through Lawson, Stuckey and Miles at any point of a must-win game? Stagger minutes between George and Monta Ellis and maybe George Hill. Ellis is the type of player who can lead a bad team in scoring, but regularly bad would be a huge step up for the George-less Pacers. George Hill has also proven capable of handling the reins without George.

Vogel’s goal should be maximizing George’s minutes but also minimizing time Indiana spends without George, Ellis or George Hill.

Kevin Durant doesn’t regret Kawhi Leonard ‘system’ comments, praises Spurs forward now

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, right, defends as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, left, looks for a shot in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. Oklahoma City won 112-106. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Right after Kawhi Leonard won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant sent these tweets favoring Paul George over Leonard:

With Durant’s Thunder set to face Leonard’s Spurs in the second round, how does Durant feel about Leonard now?

Durant, via Travis Singleton:

He’s definitely grown as a player. He’s not a system player. I know you guys like to throw that word, that term, around.

But he’s just grown so much as a player, a guy that can – I have to be locked in every play. He can shoot the mid-range. He can post up. He can shot the 3. He can dribble. He’s just grown so much as a player. Defensively, probably one of the best guys in the league.

So, it’s fun. It’s fun when you get that matchup at the small forward. There’s so many great guys, but he’s one of the guys that’s in the top tier.

Does Durant regret his 2014 tweets? Durant, via Singleton:

No I don’t. At the time, I didn’t even call him a system player. I just said Paul George was better. I like Paul George better as a player. I can be a fan of the game, too. And I thought Paul George – one of my guys was debating with me and said that he was better than Paul George at the time, and I didn’t think so.

I’m not taking back. I said the system is the reason he’s out there. Pop put him in great positions to be the player that he is. So, I don’t regret it at all.

He’s grown. It’s three years ago. If he hasn’t grown, that’s on him. But he’s grown as a player.

And, yeah, I don’t take it back.

Durant was wrong two years ago. Gregg Popovich certainly helped Leonard, and the coach would’ve helped George, too. But answering whether Leonard would’ve excelled with the Pacers with a flat “no” was ridiculous. Leonard was already awesome and would’ve been with any team.

Now, the Leonard-George debate – an interesting one in 2014 – has ended. As impressive as George has been in his return from injury, Leonard has passed him.

Durant recognizes that, and he’ll get to see first-hand starting tomorrow.

Dennis Schröder held back from Isaiah Thomas after Hawks-Celtics series ends (video)

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The final game of the Hawks’ 4-2 win over the Celtics included little drama – until it was ending.

Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schröder got into it earlier in the series, and Thomas appeared to want more as he left Game 6. The Boston guard had toward Schröder on the Atlanta bench. After the buzzer, Schröder was held back from going the direction of Thomas.

Was Schröder definitely going after Thomas? No. Players were exchanging well wishes near center court, and Schroder might have just wanted to join. But with a series against the Cavaliers upcoming, the Hawks preferred not to take any chances.

Spirits of St. Louis owner Ozzie Silna, who made incredible deal in NBA-ABA merger, dies

FILE - In this May 23, 2006 file photo, Ozzie Silna poses for a photo at his home in Malibu, Calif. Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association team into a four-decade cash cow worth nearly $800 million in NBA money, has died at age 83, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association franchise into a four-decade windfall of nearly $800 million from the NBA in what’s commonly called the greatest deal in sports history, has died at age 83.

Silna’s younger brother and Spirits of St. Louis co-owner Daniel Silna told The Associated Press that his brother’s funeral was held Thursday. Ozzie Silna died Tuesday at a Los Angeles hospital after a brief illness, his brother said.

The two brothers made their millions without having to pay players, build arenas or hire coaches. They only had to sit back and cash the checks.

Banking on an eventual ABA-NBA merger, they bought the failing Carolina Cougars of the ABA in 1974 for about $1 million and promptly moved it to St. Louis, then the biggest American city without a pro basketball team.

After the 1975-76 season the NBA agreed to a merger, accepting four of the six remaining teams into the league. The Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs got in. The Kentucky Colonels, and the Spirits, did not.

As part of a concept he and attorney Donald Schupak dreamed up months earlier, Ozzie Silna negotiated to receive four-sevenths of a share of the NBA’s annual TV revenue for as long as the NBA was around.

The agreement was drawn up to be as broadly defined and open-ended as possible. It worked.

At the time, it was worth about $300,000 a year. But as the NBA and its popularity grew, the annual checks grew into the tens of millions.

“You’ve got to be lucky in a lot of this stuff,” Ozzie Silna told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “But you’ve got to see the stuff, too. If it’s there, and you don’t see it, you don’t have a chance to get lucky.”

By 2014 the brothers had netted nearly $300 million from the deal. By that time the NBA was challenging the arrangement in court.

That year they settled with the league in a deal that paid them $500 million and kept a much smaller stream of money coming in, according to the New York Times, which reported Silna’s death Wednesday along with TMZ Sports.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by Silna’s death.

“Ozzie and his brother Dan owned the St. Louis Spirits at a time when the ABA’s future was uncertain, but he loved the game and was determined to be part of professional basketball,” Silver’s statement said.

Born Uziel Silna in Israel in 1932, he moved to New Jersey when he was 7. He made his money in his family’s textile business before buying the Spirits.

In later years, he lived in Malibu, California, where he was a tenacious fighter for environmental causes.

In the ABA, the brothers accumulated an eclectic and unpredictable talent pool that was typical of the freewheeling league – Marvin Barnes, Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas. They also gave a young Bob Costas his first play-by-play job as their announcer.

Silna downplayed the brilliance of the deal he and Schupak drew up. In fact, Silna says, the basis for it came months earlier when only seven teams – the final six and the Virginia Squires – were left standing in the ABA.

League owners the figured six teams would be allowed in the NBA, and one would be left out. Silna wanted to be equitable to the owner who was excluded. He assumed it wouldn’t be him.

“That’s how we came up with the one-seventh” figure, he told the AP in the 2006 interview. “I thought that seventh team deserved the same benefit as the other six.”

But the Squires folded, and Silna and Schupak applied the parameters they’d set up for that team to themselves. One-seventh times four – four teams were admitted to the NBA – equals four-sevenths, which is the cut the Silnas got each year.

“Some people say it’s the best deal ever done,” Silna said. “I just looked at it as a way of being fair.”

AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this story.