Burning bright

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – Sometimes, Shawn Marion rifles through those channels, game by game, searching for something in his sport with pop, a pulse. He considers himself an NBA junkie, but his threshold for merely mortal basketball borders on snobbery. A lot of times now, he turns on a movie.

"I am a big fan, but some games are real boring," Marion said. "Most games we watch are in slow motion.

"It's like we're moving light years ahead of everybody."

They're the greatest show in sports now, a brand of basketball straight out of the space age. The Phoenix Suns had come to Madison Square Garden to make a modicum of history, spinning a second 15-game winning streak within a season. Before Wednesday night's 112-107 victory over the Knicks, Marion flashed a cocksure certainty about the Suns' standing in the sport.

"The athleticism, the chemistry, how everybody can shoot the ball," Marion said.

"Can't nobody match that right now."

They're running and laughing and transforming the way a contender tries to chase a championship in the NBA. It is interesting to listen to Steve Nash search for gloom and doom amid the hyperbole that surrounds everything they do now.

Another MVP, Steve?

Hey, how many Suns should be going to Vegas for the All-Star game?

Fifteen straight, again?

These days, what you're getting out of the guard with the greatest imagination in the game is a contrarian routine. For the good of his teammates, he's sounding unimpressed with everything. Ah, the streak is just beating a bunch of teams that Phoenix should beat, he will tell you. He could've blamed a sluggish start to the 15th straight win on tired legs from a back-to-back with Washington, but Nash is too desperate for a title to be the teammate reaching for an excuse.

"In some ways, we kind of fed into playing in the Garden and tried to put on a show," Nash said.

And that's the greatest regular-season challenge for these Suns: Fighting human nature. A year ago, without center Amare Stoudemire, there was such an improbability to Phoenix's unrelenting success. That season's story was beautifully told through the educated eyes and deft prose of author Jack McCallum in "Seven Seconds or Less" (Touchstone Books).

Everything has changed now. The Suns are shrouded in championship expectation. They're one of the burdened. With Stoudemire sturdy again, there's a sense that the Suns ought to go the distance this year.

And that's all Nash is thinking about now, all the conversation that he's allowing to breathe in his locker room. This is his team, his time. Someone tried to get Nash going on the remarkable feat of the two streaks within a half season, and he isn't going there.

"I guess it's something," Nash said. "We don't really draw a lot from the regular season. We're trying to win a championship."

In so many ways, the Suns are light years ahead. For the NBA, they've made general managers and coaches reassess the way they're playing the game. It took a complete outsider, Mike D'Antoni, to come back to the United States after almost 20 years in Italy for this to truly take shape. Free of the narrow thinking so many of his NBA peers had been conditioned to honor, he believed basketball to be a game of quickness and guile, spacing and shooting.

With Phoenix's 34th victory, D'Antoni secured the job as the Western Conference All-Star coach in Las Vegas next month. Out on the Strip, it wouldn't be the worst thought to imagine the Suns' system taking on the rest of the sport. In fact, Marion was asked how many Phoenix players deserved to make the game.

"All 13," he said.

For Marion, maybe it would be the way to hold his attention on the game. Even on a sluggish night for the Suns, there's still nothing else like them in basketball. Steve Nash can play the part of curmudgeon leader now and again, raising the Phoenix warning alert, but Shawn Marion isn't so sure. He changes those channels and watches them all, but he keeps coming back to the best show in sports right now.

The Suns.

You heard him, didn't you?

"Can't nobody match that right now," he said, and that truth keeps tumbling onto the basketball floor night after night, city after city. Fifteen straight, again.

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