With that strong start, we wanted to believe. Oh, how we wanted to believe!
But after heartbreaking back-to-back losses to Utah Monday night and Charlotte last night, we're giving up on the Suns' season.
Barring a miracle.
Because it will take that for Coach Alvin Gentry's sad-sack bunch to pull themselves out of the misery they find themselves in just past mid-season.
After blowing a 17-point advantage and losing to the Jazz in Salt Lake City, the Suns came home and blew a 3 1/2-quarter lead to the Bobcats. That's right, Charlotte got its first lead of the game with 6:15 left in the final period, before going on to win 114-109 in overtime (the Suns' first of the season).
To say the Suns can't finish games is no longer an understatement; it's a virtual certainty.
What happened to the team that posted those incredible wins against Boston, the Lakers, the Magic? Man, did we used to have hope, only to see it dashed by a purple-and-orange brigade that's lost seven of its past nine games -- almost all of them after blowing huge leads.
Coach Gentry's got his work cut out for him. Once a team joins the hang-dog cult of losing, it's hard to teach the hounds new tricks.
We doubt there's a monster trade in the works. (Surprise us General Manaager Steve Kerr -- please!) So Gentry's got to perform some psychiatary, kick some ass, conjure up some mojo, pray for divine intervention, threaten to commit suicide, anything to get his team back on track!
Because, check it out: Gentry's Suns, in second and third place in the NBA's Western Conference earlier in the season, are now in eighth, with a 26-21 record. And like the Valley's real-estate values, the Suns fortunes are plunging fast.
We're saying, only eight teams per conference make the post-season, and the Suns appear doomed to get left out in the cold for the second season in a row.
To make a dismal situation worse, up next are the Dallas Mavericks, the current third seed in the West with a 30-15 record. After the Mavs game Thursday night, the Suns go on a four-game road trip to Houston, New Orleans, Carmelo Anthony's Denver, and Sacramento.
If the Suns can't stop the 22-22 Bobcats' Stephen Jackson, how the hell are they going to stop Dirk Nowitzki, who's averaging 25 points and eight rebounds a game to Jackson's 20 and five. Steve Nash's seven-foot German bud has been tearing it up lately, cementing his status as one of the league's five best players.
It was head-case Jackson, famous for punching fans and yelling at coaches, who put hurtin' on the Suns last night. He crushed them with two three-pointers late in the contest; he made four of eight threes all night to finish with 30 points and nine rebounds. Frenchy former Sun Boris Diaw played out of his mind, too, with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Gerald Wallace had 21 and nine boards.
Nash had his usual solid night, with 23 points and nine assists, but the Larry Brown-coached Bobcats bottled up the two-time MVP in crunch time, which meant the Suns offense barely got off a clean shot in the last minutes of regulation and throughout OT. (Talk about shut-down D!) Stoudemire played with foul trouble for most of the game and wound up with 12 points and five boards.
Jared Dudley, who started with Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa out injured (Hill with a bruised knee and Barbosa after wrist surgery), looked high-energy great, with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Off the bench, Channing Frye hit four of seven threes and had 20 points.
Tip-off against the Mavs is 8:30 p.m. at US Airways Center, and it's a TNT game. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for Phoenix, the Suns (in what we call the Curse of Charles Barkley) have been jinxed this season when playing on TNT. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. For more information, go to www.suns.com.