November 10, 2009 | 7:35am
Even the most fanatical of Suns worshippers couldn't have imagined such an outcome. A weeklong five-game road trip to the East Coast, including bouts against powerhouses Boston and Orlando, wrapping up with four wins for the Suns?
Believe it. The Phoenix Suns are for real, and have to be considered viable contenders in the Western Conference after a gutty, come-from-behind, 119-115 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Philly on last night.
Unburdened by the lumbering Shaquille O'Neal and re-employing the run-and-gun offensive scheme that made them so potent for much of the Naughts, the Suns are high-flying -- and high-scoring -- once again. Their 100-plus performance Monday was their eighth straight in the young 2009-10 season, and Steve Nash led the way once again, scoring 21 points and distributing a season-high 20 assists.
The Suns had to feel pretty good about themselves as they flew home to Phoenix after the game. After all, their only loss of the trip was to the Orlando Magic, one of the better teams in the East. The Suns even knocked off the Celtics, the odds-on-favorite to represent their conference in the NBA Finals.
Trailing 68-54 at half, it appeared Suns fans would've had to settle for a respectable 3-2 record on the road trip. But Nash and fellow guards Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley went to town in the second half. Sixth-man Dudley hit two key three-pointers midway through the fourth quarter to set up the Suns' push near the end of the game. Dudley finished with 18 points off the bench, and Richardson led all scorers with 29 points, two days after scoring 34 against the Celtics.
The Suns come home with a 7-1 record, tied for NBA-best with the Celts and a half-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, it's only a couple of weeks into the season, but the rest of the league is surely taking notice: The Suns seem to be a team that is really clicking. They have six players averaging in double figures in this young season, and they're getting it done with an older-than-dirt Grant Hill and a hobbled Leandro Barbosa, who's been dealing with an injured hand.
Few road swings this season figured to be as tough this one. So go ahead and celebrate, Suns fans, because this team is on a roll and has been fun to watch in the early going. They've yet to face any of the elite teams of the Western Conference, but at this point, anything seems possible as the ageless Nash, the in-the-zone Richardson, and the determined Amar'e Stoudemire (17 points and six rebounds on Monday) play loose and comfortable.
The Suns will take on Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday at home before testing their road mettle again on Thursday against the hated Lakers.