A Pacific Division title, plus 50 cents, will buy you a newspaper. This isn’t the goal for the Suns, who had won five division titles without winning an NBA title. But they’ll take it.
They nailed down their sixth Pacific title — including their third straight — in whipping the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves, 108-90, Tuesday night at US Airways Center.
Though no champagne party was in immediate sight, the Suns at least celebrated verbally.
“We’re really proud of it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
“This means we’ve had a good regular season and positioned ourselves well for the playoffs,” Raja Bell said.
“But the ultimate goal is winning a championship.”
The game showed the Suns don’t have to have their fastest players on the floor to run and shoot an opponent out of the building.
The Suns (51-16) used a quintet of Steve Nash, Bell and Shawn Marion, plus two of their slower-moving players in Kurt Thomas and Boris Diaw, to sprint off on a 14-0 run and an 82-63 lead late in the third quarter.
“I was really happy with that,” D’Antoni said of the lineup’s effectiveness.
“It looked good. ... The pace was good.”
Bell, who had been struggling with his shot, buried four 3-pointers in the quarter.
He hit 6-for-9 from long range and finished with 22 points.
Bell was only 1-for-6 from the floor when he heard his wife at halftime say, “Relax and have fun.”
Said Bell, “Sometimes, you need to hear that.”
The other Suns high note came from Diaw.
He was moved to a reserve role, yet he still played 30 minutes and was extremely effective with 11 points, nine assists and six boards.
“Diaw got some baskets where we just couldn’t find him in transition,” T-Wolves coach Randy Wittman said.
D’Antoni said, “Most encouraging was Boris’ and Raja’s play.” Leandro Barbosa, inserted as a starter, hit 8-of-19 shots for 20 points.
The other player who missed out on the fun was Amaré Stoudemire, who was a non-factor with just four points and two rebounds.
For the T-Wolves, Kevin Garnett scored 30 points to move to 43rd place on the all time scoring list with 18,839, passing Chet Walker and Isiah Thomas.
Barbosa is in and Diaw is out as a starter, at least for the moment.
Maybe more important, this means Shawn Marion is going back to starting at the “four” spot, all in an attempt to inject more speed and energy.
“I just want to jump-start us,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ll see how it goes.” With Marion, “We want to get him more involved. It seems he hasn’t been really involved lately.”
In general, “We want to keep speed and shooters on the floor.”
He also will use Jalen Rose in spots as a ninth man, without breaking up any rhythm of his top eight.
All in all, “It’s really not broken. At the same time, we want to see different combinations and rotations before the playoffs.”
And yet, “We want to stay ahead of San Antonio” for the No. 2 spot in the West, he said.
His verdict afterward?
“I don’t know if it worked or not. Who knows?”
At least the struggling Diaw seemed more relaxed and alive, he said.
But in the end, “It’s more important who finishes games.”
Rose had eight points in 13 minutes.
“He looked OK,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll give him a chance.”
LIKELY STAYING PUT
Assistant coach Dan D’Antoni’s name is being mentioned by fans of Marshall University as a possible candidate for the school’s vacant coaching job.
D’Antoni, of course, is the brother of the Suns’ head coach.
One of his main tasks has been overseeing the development of Barbosa, who has blossomed into the leading candidate for the NBA’s award for the top sixth man.
Asked if he’d be interested, Dan D’Antoni, who played for Marshall, said, “Probably not. It’s taken me too long to get with Mike. Would I talk with them? Yes.”
In any case, Marshall officials “haven’t shown real interest yet,” he said.
BITING HIS TONGUE?
Mike D’Antoni chose his words carefully when answering a Minnesota reporter’s question about the future of Marcus Banks, an ex-Timberwolves player.
“He hasn’t quite fit in,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Part of the reason for Banks’ lack of playing time is “great” for the Suns; Leandro Barbosa has emerged as one of the NBA’s top reserve players, D’Antoni said.
D’Antoni likes the other seven or eight regulars, so that means Banks is among those who sometimes is put on the inactive list.
“He hasn’t gotten his niche here yet,” the Suns coach said.