For the second time in three years, the Suns will send three players to the NBA All-Star game. Guard Steve Nash, forward Shawn Marion and center Amaré Stoudemire were selected among the seven reserves for the Western Conference team that will be coached by Phoenix’s Mike D’Antoni.
The Suns are the only team in the league that will have three players in Las Vegas for the Feb. 18 game.
It will be the fifth All-Star appearance for Nash (2002, 2003 with Dallas, 2005-07 with Phoenix), the fourth for Marion (2003, 2005-07) and the second for Stoudemire (2005, 2007).
“It’s really special and I’m happy for all three guys because each of them truly deserves it,” D’Antoni said. “They got me to Vegas, so to have them all there is pretty special.”
For each Sun, the honor has unique significance:
• Marion, who becomes only the fifth Sun in franchise history to be a four-time All-Star, returns to the Thomas & Mack Center where he starred in college for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Walter Davis, Connie Hawkins, Paul Westphal and Charles Barkley are the other four-time Suns All-Stars.
“Each game feels different for me because it’s in a different city, and this time will be extra special,” Marion said. “Las Vegas is a great basketball city even though the NBA isn’t there. The fans are loyal and intelligent and they love the sport.
“I’m sure the town will be jumping even more than usual. I’m glad I’m going to be part of the game there, because I really would have missed not playing.”
Despite his strong numbers (18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.13 steals, 1.44 blocks in 38 minutes), there was a feeling Marion might be in a battle to make the squad — a view he didn’t agree with at all.
“I never feel like I’m on the bubble. That’s like an insult,” he said. “I like that the coaches pick the reserves because they know what’s going on. They know what I do.”
• Stoudemire made good on his preseason boast to become the first player to reach the All-Star game the season after undergoing microfracture surgery. Averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while playing 31 minutes per game, Stoudemire zoomed past his recovery timetable and is shooting 60 percent from the field.
“All the hard work paid off and this is one of the perks,” Stoudemire said. “There may have been a lot of doubters out there, but I never doubted myself. My work ethic hasn’t changed since the fifth grade. This one will be extra special for me and my family.
“To pull through such surgeries and come back to play at an All-Star level is something I’m pretty proud of.”
• Even after back-to-back MVP awards, Nash is in the midst of a career season, averaging a personal best in both points (19.6) and assists (a league-leading 12.0). He ranks second in the league in 3-point shooting (.496) and leads all guards with a .536 field goal percentage.
“It’s always an exciting honor to be recognized,” Nash said in a statement. “It will be great to be able to go with our coaches and teammates.”
With starting center Yao Ming missing the game due to injury, D’Antoni will have to pick a replacement starter — with Nash and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki the prime candidates. Has D’Antoni decided what he will do?
“I think we’ll start both of them, because they both deserve it,” he said. “We’ll just send six guys out there, start the game with a technical foul, and go from there.”
D’Antoni said he will likely play the three Suns together at some point in the game, and promises to break from his usual pattern and play all 12 All-Stars plenty of minutes.
“We’ll play them all, without a doubt,” he said. “That’s a pretty good lineup of talent to pick from.”