Kevin Johnson believed, even when his teammates didn't. And through the struggles of the first half of the season (which featured a season-opening 13-game losing streak) and the point in mid-February when the team was 16 games below .500, Johnson still felt the Phoenix Suns could finish the season at .500.
"I thought he was out of his mind when he said it," said Phoenix coach Danny Ainge.
Added teammate Jason Kidd: "I think everybody thought it was funny at the time. But it's staring us right in the face now."
To finish at .500, all the Suns have to do is go 3-2 the rest of the way, after last night's victory over Sacramento. Phoenix (38-39) is in sixth place in the Western Conference, and clinched a playoff berth with Tuesday's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It marks the first time in NBA history that a team has made the playoffs after starting the season 0-13. (The previous worst start for a playoff team was 0-9.) The Suns are also the first team in league history to have double-digit winning and losing streaks in the same season.
When the Suns acquired Kidd in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks in December, there were questions about whether Kidd and Johnson -- both point guards who like to control the ball -- could co-exist. The small backcourt pair (Kidd is 6 feet 3, Johnson 6-1) had problems playing together at the beginning as the early-season struggles of Phoenix continued.
But the quickness of Johnson and Kidd has helped frustrate opponents. The recent winning streak included two wins each against the Houston Rockets and Seattle SuperSonics.
Ainge has no doubt the two can play together.
"Jason has made more sacrifices than Kevin because he's had the ball a lot less," Ainge said. "[Kidd] does a lot of things that go unnoticed, and we wouldn't have the streak without either of them. Jason can't score like K.J., and K.J. can't defend like Jason."
Sounds like Ainge would like both back next season, although Johnson said last year that he will retire at the end of this season. Johnson, who is 31, stuck to that decision most of the season (the team traded for Kidd to replace Johnson). But averaging 20.1 points and 9.2 assists has him re-thinking his position.
"This has truly been a roller-coaster type of season, but it has been one of the most rewarding seasons I've had in Phoenix," Johnson said.
Johnson will talk with team president Jerry Colangelo at the end of the season.
"Deep down inside, I think he wants to come back," Colangelo said.
The Falk connection
So, Michael Jordan has spoken and his choice for Rookie of Year is Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia guard who scored 44 points against Chicago this week. Sound familiar?
Well, slightly. Late last season, Jordan was touting Juwan Howard as one of the finest young players in the league. The comments about Howard, who was going into a contract summer, were widely publicized.
The connection? Jordan, Iverson and Howard are all represented by agent David Falk, who wouldn't be beyond trying to tip the scales in favor of a client in one of the more wide-open Rookie-of-the-Year races in years.
Around the league
Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller scored 13 points and shot just five of 15 from the field in a loss to Chicago on Wednesday. He also failed to make a three-pointer, ending a streak of 68 games with at least one three-pointer made. Miller's shooting in four games against Jordan this season: 32.0 percent overall (23 of 72) and 27.0 percent from three-point range (10 of 37).
Vin Baker and Acie Earl, both with the Milwaukee Bucks, were fined after trading punches in the lobby of the team's hotel in Portland last Friday. The fight (closed fists, wild punches) was described as a carry-over from earlier trash-talking, and took place in the hotel lobby in full view of hotel personnel and several kids waiting for autographs.
Bobby Hurley, who did not play in 33 of Sacramento's first 75 games, totaled 25 points, 25 assists and just four turnovers in three recent starts under new coach Eddie Jordan. "I just have a lot of bottled-up energy," Hurley said. "I'm finally able to just get out there and play. Everybody on our team has a fresh start."
Toronto Raptors vice president Isiah Thomas called allegations in a new book that he might have shaved points in 1989 as "a compilation of lies, rumors and innuendoes." Allegations in the book came from four unidentified sources: four gamblers and one former Detroit player.
Jerry Bembry can be reached via the Internet at Jeryol.com
Pub Date: 4/11/97