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by John Schuhmann

Stoudemire made his return Tuesday.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty Images
Sometimes even the Suns go cold. It doesn't happen very often, but it happened in Cologne. Funny what a difference a quarter makes. They shot .507 from the field through three quarters (holding a 22-point lead midway through the third) before missing 19 of 23 shots (including 12 of the first 13) in the last 12 minutes.

"I loved the way we played for a while but then we ran out of gas," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That is quite normal for the time of the year." 11 points was all the Suns could manage in the final quarter. "We played extremely well for three quarters and then fell asleep," Steve Nash added. "They played with a small line-up that played well against us. We were not necessarily prepared for that."

For once, it wasn't that hard to take the positives out of the defeat. Tuesday officially marked the comeback of Amare Stoudemire, who came off the bench to score six points and grab six rebounds. "He is going to have a suffer a little bit, but it is encouraging," an optimistic D'Antoni stated. "This has been the first time he has been able to do this. That's really good."

Steve Nash was a bit more realistic with his assessment. "He will face a lot of ups and down," the point guard stated. "He looks like his health is improving but I think his rhythm, his timing and his understanding of the way we play is going to be difficult after so much time off. It will be difficult for us to try and work him back in and at the same time play our best line-ups and be as an efficient team as we can be."
-- Johannes Berendt

COLOGNE, Oct. 10 -- Our blogger done good.

Sixers rookie Rodney Carney hit the game-winning shot after helping his team climb back from a 22-point, second-half deficit in the second game of Tuesday's Europe Live double-header in Cologne. The Sixers will now face CSKA Moscow, who defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 90-81, Wednesday night. Phoenix will play Maccabi.

Even before the game winner, Carney had showed the potential to be a contributor for his team right away. He gave his team energy and life, stepping up when the other roll players on the team had an off night. He had three put-back baskets, a couple of steals and a blocked shot, making the most of his 25 minutes on the floor. After the game, coach Mo Cheeks praised "his ability to run the floor, get back in transition and rebound the ball."

In total, Carney finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting (2-2 from downtown) and seven boards (four offensive). That comes after a solid performance in his debut against FC Barcelona last week. He's still going to be carrying the vets' bags and he'll still have to sing "Lean On Me" whenever Chris Webber wants him to, but tonight, he was the star of the show.

"It's a dream come true for me to be in the league in the first place," he said, "but for me to win the game like that, it's crazy."

It's still preseason, of course, and he's got a long road ahead. But, success in your rookie season is sometimes more about confidence then it is about ability, and this is a great way to start out.

"I always keep my confidence high," Carney said, "but it boosts it even more."

There's nothing like a game winner to do that.

The Big Five

Allen Iverson scored 29 points in 30-plus minutes. Chris Webber finished with 14 on 8-of-14 shooting. But when they left the game at the end of the third quarter, the Sixers were down big.

The squad of Carney, Rick Brunson, Kyle Korver, Andre Iguodala and Shavlik Randolph then started the fourth period with a 10-0 run, pulling the Sixers to within four. In a regular season game, Cheeks may have gone back to his starters ... or at least AI.

But not tonight, and that turned out to be the right decision. He made not one substitution in the final period, because those guys never gave him a reason to take any of them out.

"At some point," Cheeks said, "you start to think about inserting other guys back into the lineup, but as we started making our run with the guys we had, I just decided to stay with them. They were the reason that we got back into the game, so I decided to let those guys finish it."

It's a Process

In their first game against FC Barcelona, the Sixers had three major problems: defense, turnovers and free-throw shooting.

The free throws (18-26 tonight) could still use some work and they turned the ball over just as many times, but Cheeks is happy with progress of the most important area.

"Improvement obviously was on the defensive end," Cheeks said, "particularly in the second half. We talked about giving up 15 layups in the first half. They ended up with five or six in the second half."

You can't become a good defensive team overnight of course. It's a process, and with the regular season still three weeks away, the Sixers are moving in the right direction.

"Our defense is only going to get better as the season goes on," Cheeks said.