Suns Rise Again in West
AFTER TWO SEASONS LANGUISHING NEAR THE .500 MARK, the Phoenix Suns celebrated their 30th season in the Valley of the Sun by re-emerging as a Western Conference powerhouse in 1997-98.
Antonio McDyess made a solid impact in his first season as a Sun.
Four Times the Drama
The All-Star Kidd
The Sixth Man
So Long Ol' Friend
The resurgence was thanks in part to the arrival of McDyess, whom the Suns acquired in a three-way deal with Cleveland and Denver. The athletic third-year pro was the Suns second-leading scorer (15.1 ppg) and led the team in rebounds (7.6 rpg), blocks (1.67 bpg) and shooting percentage (.536). He continued to develop throughout the season, with his scoring average improving each month.
McDyess, Robinson and forward George McCloud joined a talented Suns nucleus that included bangers Williams and Mark Bryant, the versatile Danny Manning, sharpshooter Rex Chapman and a trio of floor generals: Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash and All-Star Jason Kidd. Yet another weapon, three-point specialist Dennis Scott, was acquired before the trading deadline.
The collection of talent, particularly at the offensive end, put Ainge's team at risk of not having enough basketballs to go around. That notion was dispelled early when the selfless Suns got off to a 9-3 start. "That's one thing about this team -- we are not selfish," said Manning, one of seven players to lead the team in scoring during November. "If a guy gets hot we try to give him the ball."
Manning had the hot hand on Nov. 14, scoring 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting in what was perhaps the most entertaining NBA game played all season, a 140-139 win on Nov. 14 over Portland that took four overtimes to decide. Two nights later the oft-injured KJ had the soft touch, scoring 30 in a two-point win over Houston.
"Kevin (Johnson) was the best player on the court tonight," Ainge said after the 96-94 win. "He came up huge when we needed him. It is good that we don't have to use KJ every game, but it is nice to have him there."
Johnson played a total of 50 games, and learned to play a complementary role on a team led by Kidd, a Western Conference All-Star. Kidd, who had an NBA-best four triple-doubles, was among the league leaders in assists (2nd, 9.1 per game) and steals (7th, 1.98 per game).
The recipient of many of Kidd's pinpoint passes was Chapman, his partner in the starting backcourt. Chapman, who provided the thrill of the 1997 Playoffs with his desperation shot against Seattle, picked up where he left off. Among his many late game exploits: a 30-footer at the buzzer to send the Portland game to a third overtime, the go-ahead jumper in a 74-71 win at Miami on Jan. 30, scoring the game's final eight points in 36 seconds to rally the Suns past Orlando, and two big jumpers in the final two minutes to snap Seattle's 12-game home winning streak on Apr. 6.
The win over Seattle was the 50th of the season for the Suns, who topped that barrier for the 12th time in their history. It came in the midst of a 10-game winning streak that also included wins at Houston and against the LA Lakers. The streak, the fourth-longest winning streak in Suns history, established the Suns as "the team nobody wanted to face in the postseason," but it came at an expensive cost.
Manning tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during an April 7 win at Sacramento, putting a premature end to an excellent season in which he anchored the Suns second unit. One of the league's most efficient shooters (51.6 percent), Manning averaged 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and was named the NBA's Top Sixth Man after the season.
"Cliff (Robinson) had the ball and I tried to cut past Billy Owens for a layup," Manning said after the game. "The pass came and that's all I remember. Then I was lying on the ground. I've been here before, I know what it takes to get back."
Six days later, Chapman aggravated a left hamstring injury in a win over Golden State. The team's leading scorer, Chapman (15.9 ppg) played in only one of the team's final three regular season games, and only appeared in two games against San Antonio in the playoffs.
Without Manning, and with Chapman hobbled, the taller Spurs overpowered Phoenix in four games - an unjust ending for a team that looked so dangerous at full strength only three weeks earlier.
"The bottom line is they had a huge size advantage and we didn't have enough offensive weapons to combat it," Ainge said.
Finished the season as the Suns all-time assist leader with 6,484.
Ranked fifth in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.871).
Celebrated his tenth anniversary with Phoenix, with the Suns reaching the postseason each year.
On Mar. 29 against Vancouver, scored his 13,000th career point.
Participated in the 1998 NBA All-Star Game in New York, totaling 9 assists in 19 minutes of play.
Led the league (along with Detroit's Grant Hill) in triple-doubles (4), ranked second in assists (9.1 apg) and seventh in steals (1.98 spg).
Named NBA Player of the Week for the week ending Mar. 15, averaging 16.0 ppg, 10.0 apg, 6.5 rpg and 3.00 spg while shooting .622 from the field. Won the award again for the week ending Apr. 19, averaging 17.3 ppg, 11.0 apg, 8.3 rpg and 4.00 spg.
Won the NBA's Sixth Man Award honoring the NBA's top bench player.
Ranked seventh in the NBA in field goal percentage (.536)
Joined Alvan Adams and Gar Heard as one of just three players in Suns history to record 100 blocks (135) and 100 steals (100) in a single season.
The Suns made their 10th straight playoff appearance in 1997-98.
Led by Jason Kidd (9.1 apg) and Kevin Johnson (4.9 apg), the Suns led the league in assists with 25.9 per game.
Phoenix posted a 10-game winning streak from Mar. 27 - Apr. 15, equaling the fourth longest in franchise history.
On Nov. 14, 1997, the Phoenix Suns claimed a record-setting 140-139 win over Portland in four overtime periods. The game lasted three hours and 46 minutes before Phoenix emerged with the win in their first-ever four overtime game. The game was the longest in franchise history and just the 11th in league history to require four or more overtime periods.