Paving the way


THE 1977-78 SUNS WERE THE KIND OF CLUB General Manager Jerry Colangelo and Head Coach John MacLeod had been building for four years - young, athletic and able to sustain success over a long period.

The Suns announced a blockbuster trade just before the opening of the season: Ricky Sobers to Indiana for guard Don Buse, an All-Star and the NBA leader in both assists and steals. With Buse and rookie Walter Davis in the starting lineup, the Suns bolted from the gate and were 19-11 by Christmas, 34-16 by the February All-Star break. They finished with a 49-33 record, fourth best in basketball, but were second in the Pacific Division behind the formidable Portland Trail Blazers, led by Bill Walton.

It was a special year for the Suns in many ways. The Suns set NBA records for team steals in a season (1,059) as well as tying the league mark for assists (2,338). Davis and Paul Westphal were among the league's top 10 scorers, both averaging better than 24 points per game; both were named second-team All-NBA and both participated for the West at the All-Star Game in Atlanta. Westphal also set a club record for points scored in a game with 48 in a 115-97 home victory over Denver on Nov. 27.

With Davis and Westphal leading the way, the Suns increased their average points scored per game by eight over the year before. Phoenix had emerged as one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, but their Achilles Heel was rebounding. By starting the 6-6 Davis alongside 6-6 Garfield Heard at forward, and coupled with 6-9 Alvan Adams at center, the Suns had one of the smaller front lines in the league, and suffered for it on the boards.

To add to the problem, at the All-Star break, the Suns lost Curtis Perry with back problems and went the rest of the season with five rookies on the roster, more than any other NBA club. In the opening round of the playoffs the Suns were upset in two straight games by the Milwaukee Bucks. They would get plenty more chances in the postseason, however, as the 1978 appearance was the first of eight consecutive trips to the "second season."

Davis went on to become the league's Rookie of the Year, the second such distinction for a Suns' player since Adams won the award in 1976. Buse was also named to the NBA All-Defensive team and Ron Lee led the league with 2.7 steals per game.

Attendance continued to climb in 1977-78 as well. Of the 41 regular season home games, only six drew less than 10,000, as the Suns set a season attendance record for the second consecutive year. Those figures would continues to climb, as the Suns continued to build, and as a result, continued to win.

Record: 49-33

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