Continent-hopping Suns set for rematch in Mexico


PHOENIX — Call them the North America Suns.

The Suns will be hitting every country in this continent during preseason road trips, starting with Sunday’s 4 p.m. rematch against the 76ers in Monterrey, Mexico, to be televised on NBA TV. Phoenix will also battle the Blazers in Canada next week.

“I think it’s a great situation for us because we have such a large Hispanic population here,” said David Griffin, the Suns’ senior VP of basketball ops. “It helps to grow our product with our own Hispanic population to be there. For me it’s a huge positive as a franchise. … For the Phoenix Suns in particular it’s a huge deal to grow our Hispanic population, our Hispanic fan base, and it’s a thing that I know is important to us as an organization.”

Griffin paints the positive spin on this game. This is a great opportunity to “grow the league,” as is such a priority from David Stern on down in the Association.

Mexico also is theoretically fertile ground for potential Suns fans due to the country’s proximity to Arizona and because of the large quantity of Mexicans living in Phoenix.

On the flip side, the Suns will be playing not far from the place where swine flu originated, and why would a pro franchise even want to put itself in a position to possibly open up that Pandora’s box?

“I’ve just got to stay away from the swine flu, that seems to be the name of the trip so far,” Amare Stoudemire said.

Amare said keeping their hands clean will be a major priority for the players, so you might even see players high-fiving with the backs of their hands. There are also no plans to go out in the city because, as Amare noted, the crime rate isn’t so hot in Mexico.

Then there’s the issue of travel. Alvin Gentry implored the Sixers to stop fouling and for the game to end in regulation Friday night because, as he yelled out, “They’ve got to go on the same flight we do.”

Both teams were slated to arrive in Mexico around 4 a.m. Saturday morning, and then that trip to Canada will follow next week. It’s a good thing nobody forgot to renew their passport.

“It’s a little heavy for us for the preseason,” Amare said. “I think we’re doing a little too much as far as traveling knowing we have 17 of our first 26 games on the road, so we’ve got a lot of traveling preseason, lot of traveling regular season, but we’ll be all right.”

It is only fair to note that all in all Amare sounded upbeat about the trip and the opportunity to play in front of Mexican basketball fans.

In taking these international trips, the Suns are also playing the Sixers and Blazers twice each, whereas Gentry would prefer to play a more diverse selection of teams so his squad can get a feel for playing every different style it will face during the regular season.

In an ideal world, the Suns would stay close to home the entire preseason as they slowly round into shape, but in the NBA more pressing business concerns supersede practicality.

That’s why the Suns played an outdoor game in California and are set to play in front of the fans in Mexico and Canada, bringing their game-night staff to Mexico just as they did for the outdoor game.

All of this stuff is good for the Phoenix Suns brand, giving themselves a chance to connect with potential new fans in fairly nearby markets (and in the case of Canada, be re-connected with all the fans who adore Nash).

This preseason will go a long way toward making the Suns a North American brand, as fans in Mexico and Canada get to see these players up close and personal.

But for a team that will already be logging enough frequent flier miles to fly around the world and back in the coming months, wouldn’t a scrimmage against the Clippers in LA have been more sensible?

Don’t hate him for rooting for the Dodgers

LeBron James made waves for showing up to an Indians playoff game donning a Yankees cap (then again LBJ makes waves in Cleveland every time he walks out of his house), but I’m sure Phoenix fans didn’t love seeing the “LA” Dodgers cap Amare wore after Friday’s game.

I can’t blame him, personally. I did grow up hating all things LA, but after covering the Dodgers for last season, I’m partial to Manny and the boys this fall as well. After all it’s personal. The Phillies beating the Dodgers cost me one last paycheck and a chance to cover a World Series.

As for Amare:  “I’m keeping up with the playoffs. It’s been interesting. I’m not sure who I’m going for, the Dodgers or the Yankees, but I want to see one of those big cities take it home.”

Joe Torre vs. the Yankees? I’m with you, Amare.

As for what team Amare might be siding with?

“LeBron’s more of a Yankee,” Amare said. “I’m on the West side.”

As long as he still hates the Lakers, right?

J-Rich the defender

Jason Richardson was often criticized for his lack of defense last season.

But before Friday’s game Gentry singled him out with praise for his defense, particularly for his effort Wednesday against Brandon Roy. Then he went out and held Andre Iguodala scoreless in 13 minutes.

“I think J-Rich has had a terrific camp,” Gentry said. “Defensively I think he’s been as good an anybody has from the standpoint of just being engaged and playing hard and trying to accept the challenge.”

He won’t be getting fined any time soon

Larry Brown and the Bobcats were fined $60K each last week because of critical comments about the replacement officials, but Gentry actually had something nice to say about the refs.

“I think the guys are doing a pretty good job,” he said. “It’s no different than any preseason. Just like anything else it’s a process, so I don’t see anything. Obviously they’re working their butts off trying to figure out how the flow of the game goes and stuff like that. To me I think they’ve been fine.”

That, of course, didn’t stop Gentry from voicing his displeasure a couple times during Friday’s contest.

He’s unbelievable

Reason No. 7,545,363 that Steve Nash is amazing: