Just more than three years ago, the Phoenix Suns and the Chicago Bulls played an exciting NBA Finals, eventually won by the Bulls in six games. At the time, it appeared a rivalry, maybe countering that of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, was born.
But there were no similarities to that Finals when the teams met on Wednesday. The Bulls won, remaining the only unbeaten team in the NBA (11-0). The Suns dropped to 0-10, the only winless team in the NBA.
That is why Cotton Fitzsimmons quit as coach last week, and promoted Danny Ainge. A player for 14 years, Ainge was hired as an assistant coach in May, with the agreement he would become head coach in the future. But when players began coming to Ainge -- and not Fitzsimmons -- with their problems, a change was necessary.
"I gave [Ainge] more input and authority than I've ever given an assistant," Fitzsimmons said. "But the players of the '90s need one voice, so I decided that voice should be Danny Ainge's."
One of Ainge's first decisions was to dump the triangle offense.
"I'm not afraid of any of these guys," Ainge said. "I'm going to play the guys who earn the minutes. I just want to win basketball games, and I'm not afraid to sit guys I played with, that I was close to, or to play guys I'm not a big fan of."
Phoenix has too many role players (Sam Cassell, Michael Finley, Robert Horry and Danny Manning), and not one star who can carry the team. With no one in the lineup commanding double-teams, there are fewer open scoring chances.
Charles Barkley was that star, but forced a trade to the Houston Rockets after becoming upset when the team began shopping him at the end of the season. The Suns' brass was upset last year that Barkley practiced little, having his own set of rules. Those rules are part of what led to the removal of Paul Westphal as coach.
The losing streak (going into last night's game against Houston) is the worst start in Phoenix history. The team has been so bad that Brad Cesmat, a radio talk-show host in Phoenix, has vowed to stay in a van parked outside America West Arena until the Suns win a game. It might take awhile, and he's prepared.
"I've got all my Christmas shopping done," Cesmat said.
Around the league
Magic Johnson said last week he was approached by Pat Riley over the summer about joining the Miami Heat. "He wanted me to play before he even signed Juwan [Howard]," Johnson said. "I was going to be the piece to put him over the top." Speaking of the Heat, center Alonzo Mourning cried after Saturday's home loss to Philadelphia. He should have cried the previous night when the Heat scored an NBA record-low 21 points in the second half of a loss to the Hawks, who had a starting backcourt of Eldridge Recasner and Jon Barry.
What's wrong with the three 'J's' in Dallas? Entering last night, Jim Jackson (16.8 ppg) was shooting 40.3 percent, Jason Kidd (10.1 ppg) 36 percent and Jamal Mashburn (10.0 ppg) 35.6 percent. When the Boston Celtics lost to the Washington Bullets at the USAir Arena on Saturday, Dino Radja broke a finger and was stung by a bee. He said he was stung on the lip as he ran the fast break in the first quarter. New Jersey Nets third-year center Yinka Dare is still without an assist.
Some fans at the Rose Garden in Portland have taken to a cheer of "Smoke 'em, J. R.!" in tribute to guard Isaiah 'J. R.' Rider, who was arrested and charged two weeks ago for smoking marijuana out of a pipe fashioned from a soda can. When Portland visited Minnesota on Nov. 12, a fan, during a quiet moment, held up a Coke can and shouted, "Hey, J.R., do I drink it first?"
Quote of the week
From Orlando Magic center Rony Seikaly, on playing with the Golden State Warriors the past two seasons. "I felt like I had been playing in the JBL, the Jail Basketball League."
BTC Jerry Bembry can be reached via e-mail at Jeryol.com.
Pub Date: 11/22/96