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| Sports |

Road Test: Brutal NBA Swing Opens With 3-0 Suns at 3-0 Heat

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A record of 3-0 to start the season? Even against poor-to-middling competition (L.A. Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves), we'll take it, though we're not deluding ourselves. The other athletic shoe's about to drop on the Phoenix Suns, thanks to the NBA's Special Department of Torture (a.k.a. the schedulers).

Tonight, Phoenix starts one of those harrowing road swings the NBA's infamous for: five games in seven nights against a couple of beasts from the East (Orlando, Boston), two of the Eastern Conference's top second-tier teams (Miami, Philly), and one much-improved squad that might have provided a breather last year, but probably not now (Washington with a healthy Gilbert Arenas).

Did we mention that the brutal swing includes a couple of nasty-ass back-to-backs?

Winning two out of the five would be a signature sort of victory for a Suns team that's still finding its way with a reconstituted lineup and a revamped Fun 'n' Gun.

Three of five? Bonus -- and confirmation that (as we suspect) these Suns are better than they're being given credit for nationally. (They should be, what with five starters who were first-round draft picks, three of those Top 10.)

Zip out of five? To paraphrase the inimitable Ms. Margo Channing -- who knew jack-squat about b-ball, but a lot about odds -- fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Planet Orange's grueling road test begins in south Florida, against Dwyane Wade and the Heat, who also started the season 3-0 with victories over the Knicks, Pacers, and Bulls. Wade, the NBA's leading scorer last season, notched his 10,000th career point in Sunday's game against the Bulls, leading the Heat to a 95-87 win. Averaging 27.7 points through the first trio, D-Wade has had solid support from center Jermaine O'Neal (17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds) and second-year forward Michael Beasley (14.3 points, 7.7 boards).

In support roles, the Heat roster features a couple of old Phoenicians in James Jones and Quentin Richardson. Q had a grueling NBA road trip of his own this summer, hauling his unpacked bags around the country after being traded from the Knicks to the Grizzlies to the Clippers to the T-Wolves to the Heat.

Following the Miami game, the Suns face the Magic on Wednesday, the Celtics on Friday, the Wizards on Sunday, and the 76ers on Monday.

Suns/Heat tipoff is at 5:30 p.m. at Miami's American Airlines Arena. TV: My45 (cable 9). Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.

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