Phoenix soaring despite numerous first-half injuries

The Associated Press

PHOENIX The Phoenix Suns seemed impervious to injury while rolling up the NBA's best record before the All-Star break.

Kevin Johnson can't get up to speed? No problem. Elliot Perry, an escapee from the Continental Basketball Association, plays better than anyone dreamed.

Charles Barkley and Wayman Tisdale are nicked? Danny Manning takes up the slack inside.

Manning blows out his knee ...? That's one injury nobody could ignore.

''We have a long season to go still, and I don't know how many more injuries we can overcome,'' Danny Ainge said about Manning's season-ending injury Feb. 6.

Tisdale (ribs) and Johnson (quadriceps) were out, too, but the Suns, wearing Manning's No. 15, still found a way to beat the Mavericks 114-113 the next night in Dallas and then Utah 108-104 in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8.

''I think there are a lot of things special about this team,'' said Ainge, a 14-year veteran. ''I think we've got good character and a lot of integrity. We do what it takes to win.

''We're not more gifted than a lot of teams I don't think we have more talent than every team in the league, by any means, especially with the injuries we've had but our chemistry and character have a lot to do with it.''

So does coaching.

Paul Westphal became a juggler, using 15 starting lineups. None lasted more than eight games while the team's injured were missing a combined 105 games. Johnson, a USA Basketball Team member last summer, alone has missed 30.

Other teams have had worse problems, but few have been able to soldier along with little noticeable decrease in production.

The Suns, who get back into action at home Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, have never looked back. Their home record (20-3) is second only to the Orlando Magic's, and only Utah has a better road record than their 18-7.

Read Next Article