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The Suns (11-3) take on the lowly Grizzlies (5-9) tonight at US Airways Center and since it’s Thanksgiving Eve, here’s a list of 10 things the team with the Western Conference’s best record (high five!) should be thankful for.
1 Tempered expectations: Two years ago the Suns were a Finals-or-Bust franchise ill-equipped to realize such lofty goals. A failed Shaquille O’Neal Experiment later, they were seen as, at best, a fringe playoff team. And that’s a good thing, because there’s no better receipe for overachievement than having the bar set ridiculously low.
2 Amar’e Stoudemire’s attitude adjustment: The Suns’ top asset isn’t scoring 20 points a game (19.9), but he isn’t talking about his unsettled future, either. Well played, Mr. Stoudemire. Plus, he looks amazing in those RecSpecs protective goggles, like Bo Outlaw with a smooth free throw stroke.
3 Steve Nash’s work visa: Nash, born in South Africa and raised Canadian, is playing every bit as well as he did when he was a back-to-back MVP in 2004-06. He’s not chucking so many threes and his 11.6 assists per game easily lead the league.
4 Louis Amundson’s hair: Despite only averaging 15 minutes a game, Amundson (pictured, left) is quite possibly the second-most popular Suns player behind Nash. Why? Because he leads the team in blocked shots (16), hustle points, and hair scrunchies.
5 The schedule-makers: Yes, the Suns have played the Lakers, Celtics and Magic, going 1-2 in those games, but the October-November schedule has been largely soft. December is a different story, with two games against both the Lakers and Cavaliers, plus dates with the Magic, Celtics, Maverics, Spurs and Trail Blazers.
6 Alvin Gentry: The Suns’ head coach is everything Mike D’Antoni isn’t–humble, malleable, defense literate–and the players are following his example. Plus, Gentry has somehow managed to use the 12 active players NBA rosters allow for, something D’Antoni never considered, let alone mastered.
7 Grant Hill’s close relationship with Ponce de Leon: The Suns choosing to re-sign Hill (or, rather, Hill choosing to re-up with the Suns) has proved brilliant. He’s leading the team in rebounding, has stepped up his defense (particularly in the fourth quarter), and has played in over 100 consecutive games, which is beyond staggering given his health history.
8 Channing Frye’s homecoming: The St. Mary’s and University of Arizona product has flourished since signing a two-year, mid-level exception deal with the Suns. He’s leading the team in three-pointers made and does just enough defensively to avoid being a liability.
9 The Cardinals’ relevancy: The Suns are used to being the only game in town during the winter months but not only are the Cardinals coming off a Super Bowl berth, they’re once again leading the NFC West and battling for (gasp!) a top-2 seed in the playoffs. With the sporting public’s attention split, the Suns don’t carry nine tons of pressure on their shoulders to provide Phoenix with a winner.
10 Jared Dudley’s Twitter account: Follow him at JaredDudley619. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy Thanksgiving Suns fans!