Following the Phoenix Suns' figurative demise in their do-or-die game versus the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the dudes in orange have about as much chance of making the playoffs as did Don Quixote of slaying a windmill. But that doesn't mean the end of championship-caliber NBA hoops at US Airways Center quite yet, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and their superman of La Mancha, LeBron James, visit the PHX tonight.
You'd be hard-pressed to find teams on such opposing trajectories as the fast-setting Suns (34-30) and the ascendant Cavs (50-13). The first was built from spare parts and engineered to squeeze into a tiny window of opportunity. The latter was organically constructed from the ground up around a single wunderkind superstar, and is reminiscent of nothing so much as the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. People forget, however, that Jordan's Bulls mid-lined for years before Jordan found his Sancho Panza in Scottie Pippen.
Similarly, the Cavs blossomed this year thanks not so much to some great leap forward on the part of James -- whose numbers are actually down slightly from '07-'08 -- but to the addition of a worthy sidekick in point guard Mo Williams.
Not so long ago, Williams was toiling in obscurity in the NBA's beer-stained equivalent of Siberia: Milwaukee. The dude even had a chance to bust out of Brew City, but he opted for a six-year deal with the Bucks in '07. His anonymity was not to be, and greatness was thrust upon him in a preseason trade involving the Bucks, the Cavs, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Mo's per-game averages of 18 points and 4 assists, his 93 percent free-throw touch, and his ball-distribution skills have transformed the Cavs into legitimate championship threats and Williams into an NBA All-Star. (He subbed for the injured Chris Bosh at February's All-Star Game in Phoenix.) Most significantly, Mo's presence has taken the weight of shouldering the entire franchise off LeBron.
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The Mo-less Cavs took the eventual world-champion Boston Celtics down to the wire in last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals, but Cleveland fell short in game seven in spite of -- or more likely because of -- LeBron's 45 points, which represented just under half of his team's total score.
That's the NBA equivalent of tilting at windmills. Michael Jordan and the Bulls know all about that. So do Steve Kerr and the Phoenix Suns.
Tip's at 7:30 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. Info: www.nba.com/suns.