March Madness on the Suns' minds

PHOENIX — There was a buzz in the air at US Airways Center Thursday and it didn’t take long to see that it was all about the arrival of one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year: March Madness.

Once practice ended, it seemed like all the players wanted to talk about was who was winning what game or who the first big upset would be (looking at you, Old Dominion).

By the time coach Alvin Gentry was done with reporters, almost every Sun had retreated to either the locker room to watch the games or the weight room, where one player kept asking what was happening every time he heard shouts coming from the locker room being that his request to turn on the weight room TV had been refused.

Gentry made his pick before Tuesday’s beat down of the Timberwolves, taking Kansas to win it all over Kentucky. He had Syracuse and Duke rounding out his Final Four, which prompted one reporter to joke, “You went out on a limb, huh?”

“They gave Duke a march right to the Final Four,” Gentry replied.

And of course, no tournament talk would be complete without hearing from Jason Richardson, who won a title at Michigan State a decade ago.

“I just cherish that whole time,” Richardson said after crushing Minnesota.

Richardson said he still talks to his MSU teammates very regularly, including once or twice a week with Mateen Cleaves.

“There’s no greater feeling, besides your kids,” Richardson said of cutting down the nets. “You work so hard to get to that moment.”

When it came to his alma mater’s chances this year, Richardson wasn’t prepared to make any bold predictions.

“I never have them going far in my bracket,” said Richardson, who actually picked the Spartans to win it all last year when they lost to Carolina in the title game. “I think it’s a jinx. Any time I pick them to go to the Final Four, they lose in the Elite Eight or Sweet Sixteen. Years I haven’t picked them, they went to the Final Four.”

And his tournament champ? Syracuse. Same as Jared Dudley, who of course tweeted about it.

“It’s going to be fun,” Richardson said. “It’s always this time of year that a team from the middle of nowhere upsets the powerhouses. There’s no better type of basketball than these next couple weeks.”

We’ll try to get an update later on who might be leading the Suns’ bracket pool.

Clark shines for Energy

Earl Clark played his first game with the Iowa Energy Wednesday, logging significant minutes in a win over the Dakota Wizards.

“He played 45 minutes and nearly dropped dead,” Gentry joked at practice Thursday. “He actually took himself out of the  game at one point.”

Clark collected 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the game.

Stoudemire battling blister

Amare Stoudemire sat out practice Thursday with a blister on his toe. Gentry said Stoudemire has had the blister the past two games, and he took himself out of Tuesday’s game in the fourth quarter due to discomfort.

“It’s no big deal at all,” Gentry said. “He’d had it before that. He’d had it at a couple practices, but he just played through it.”

Clearly there wasn’t enough discomfort to stop Stoudemire from scoring 36 points against New Orleans and 25 against Minnesota. Stoudemire continued his tear and is averaging 28.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in the month of March.

The Blur getting better

After making his long awaited return to the court Tuesday night, Leandro Barbosa is now looking to become an important part of the Suns’ stretch run.

Gentry was happy with Barbosa’s performance, which saw him total seven points, three assists and three rebounds in about 16 minutes of play.

“It’s going to take us a little while to work LB completely back in,” Gentry said. “He showed some good signs the other night. His shooting is going to be a little inconsistent because he hadn’t had the opportunity to do that and obviously, when [an injury] is on your shooting hand, it’s going to take a little while.”

Gentry said he’d continue to try to find extra minutes for Barbosa, who likely benefited from the Suns blowing out the Timberwolves by way of extra court time as the starters rested.

The best part of Barbosa’s return and a good reason to be optimistic about his improvement stems from the fact that he is playing relatively pain free.

“Everything feels good,” Barbosa said after Tuesday’s win. “Of course I feel a little pain when I do some moves, but it’s … not like I used to have. I’m very happy and excited to finish the rest of the season and the playoffs.”

And what a boost it will be for the Suns as they fight for playoff seeding if they can have Barbosa come in and score 10-15 points a game on top of their already very capable bench.

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