The Beauty of a Season in Flames

Growing up in rural Arizona, four hours northwest of Phoenix, meant a few distinct things.

Boredom, definitely. To this day my childhood home borders miles of desert. The only other building between my backyard and the mountains 13 miles to the east is a hangar for a private airstrip, save a few long-abandoned homes. Or, at least, the remnants of homes, made of brick and not much mortar, crumbling in the harsh conditions.

Yeah, kind of like that, but with a few derelict two-room buildings.

The fact that we used those shells of shelter as shields in paintball skirmishes probably did little to secure their longevity, but finding entertainment in acres of sand isn’t easy – unless you factor in the off-road vehicles. And the jet skis on the river. And fireworks on the Indian reservation.

Living in my hometown also brought with it a constant gravitational struggle between Phoenix and Los Angeles (five hours away, the city where I was born, and home to both frequent visitors looking to use the river and transplants like my parents). As a young Suns fan whose father grew up rooting for the Lakers — a man who solidified his relationship with his father-in-law at courtside viewings of Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan — that pull was a constant burden from November to, if I was lucky, June. You made the most of it, though – after all, at least Disneyland was within driving distance!

Most importantly, dwelling in the desert meant finding beauty in the ugly, in the harsh, and often in the destructive. One of my most vivid memories is of a fire ignited in a dry field of brush by someone (classmates of mine, we’d later find out) setting off fireworks.* The fire burned for days. In an area with sightlines for miles, it was difficult for one’s eye not to be drawn to the flames on a nightly basis. Apparently people found it even more difficult to physically stay away, as many – myself and a few other high schoolers fighting ennui included – were compelled to get as close as the firefighters and police would allow. We all knew that the fire was deadly and would do untold damage to that area, but we couldn’t look away from the spectacle.

It was a lot like last night.

*Fireworks set off during the day. When they can hardly be seen. Did I mention my hometown is boring?

Because how could one, even as a fan of the losing side, not enjoy the magnificence of what several on twitter proclaimed the “game of the season”? The Suns found themselves down by 20 points at one point on a night defined by blowouts, yet there always seemed as if something stirred beneath that significant margin. These Lakers and these Suns (well, maybe not these Suns entirely, a team that has seen such roster upheaval, but surely Steve Nash’s Suns) have provided compelling game after compelling game, extraordinary series after extraordinary series. It may have been asking too much to ask for the Suns to come back against Los Angeles, but that turned out to not be as wishful as wondering if these two teams might actually bore us.

The Suns’ playoff chances are alight. Phoenix is three games behind Memphis with 13 to play. It is unlikely that the Suns could lose more than three or four games the rest of the way and reach the postseason, and their schedule the remainder of the way is rough, including a five-game road trip with games against San Antonio, Chicago, New Orleans, and Dallas. A win last night would have been the type of victory the Suns need to battle their way to the eighth seed. It was a frustrating outcome on that level, but…

Am I disappointed they lost?

After such epic entertainment? Are you kidding me? I’m disappointed in you for even asking the question.

So thank you, Phoenix and Los Angeles, for taking part in your almost-always one-sided , always entertaining engagement.

Thank you, Phil Jackson, for playing Luke Walton enough to enable a Suns comeback.

And yes, thanks to even you, Vince Carter, for throwing enough dull matches at the hoop to spark the greatest game of the year. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Perhaps the only negative to come out of last night’s game was the damage it did to the Suns’ aforementioned slim chances at the playoffs. Phoenix must now prepare to face Toronto tonight at the US Airways Center. Don’t shrug off the challenge that the Raptors may present tonight; since the All-Star Break, they’ve defeated Chicago, New Orleans, and the Thunder, as well as Indiana – a likely playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

The Suns also struggle on the second half of a back-to-back, as most fast-paced teams do. Their overall record on the year is just a game over .500, but on the second night of consecutive games, the Suns’ winning percentage drops to just over 36%.

Tonight’s game is especially worrisome after three of Phoenix’ key players – Steve Nash (49:20), Channing Frye (56:59), and Marcin Gortat (53:05) – saw such extended playing time. A loss to the Lakers was a heavy blow forPhoenix. A defeat against the Dinosaurs may be the death knell.

Gortat playing so many minutes means that Sideshow Lopez spent most of the game on the bench, accruing just under 10 minutes on the floor. Coach Alvin Gentry says that Robin isn’t living up to expectations, and he and the rest of the staff aren’t sure why.

“That’s probably been the biggest mystery for our team,” coach Alvin Gentry said when asked why Lopez’s progression has stopped. “In actuality, we really thought that he would probably be the second-most-important guy on our team, especially if he took a big leap. I’m not real sure if it’s the injury or what, but he hasn’t been able to give us the consistent play that we thought we’d be able to get from him.”

“We could use it. It’s something that has hurt us a bit. We haven’t really had much inside play. Gortat gives us some. Other than that, we’ve been pretty much resigned to the fact that we’re a perimeter team. That hurts you when you’re going to rely on jump shots night in and night out, even as good of a shooting team as we are.”

From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, “Phoenix Suns’ Robin Lopez falls short of expectations this season”

It really hurts you when those jump shots are coming from Vi…you know what? No. That game was too good. I’ll leave him alone. Enjoy the game tonight, everyone, and keep an eye on DeMar DeRozan, a fun player to watch.

Tags: 3 Beautiful Disaster Lakers OT Playoffs Suns Triple Overtime

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