LOS ANGELES - Raja Bell led the NBA with 76 charges taken this season (according to the eclectic Web site 82games.com), a fact that was duly noted by Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy — who went to his left hand with a compliment for the Suns guard.
“I think he’s an excellent defender, very good, and he flops very well,” Dunleavy said after Friday’s shootaround. “I’m not saying that’s a negative. If he was on my team and he got away with it, I would love it. But he’s drawn the most charges, and for a tough guy, he goes down real easy.”
Only five players in the league took more than 60 charges this season. One of them, Dunleavy knows quite well — Golden State’s Mike Dunleavy Jr.
As a team, the Suns took 247 charges this season — third-most in the NBA and almost double their total from last season (145).
NOT RATING WELL
The Suns have gone from front-and-center on the NBA playoff radar to the back of the bus, taking part in the forgotten series from a national perspective.
After the seven-game Suns-Lakers series was featured on ABC and broke cable viewing records on TNT, Game 4 of Suns-Clippers didn’t get a sniff from ABC — despite the presence of two-time MVP Steve Nash and Phoenix’s high-powered offense. The Clippers are gaining momentum in Los Angeles, finally, but it appears getting the rest of the country on the bandwagon might take longer.
“Their audience is the one that’s missing out,” Dunleavy said.
Why? Star power. The Spurs-Mavericks series is the marquee matchup in the West, while Cleveland (LeBron James) and Miami (Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal) have the star power, and the Nets and Pistons have the market power.
While the Lakers and Suns made no bones about their dislike for each other — during or between games — the Suns and Clippers continue to enjoy a much cozier relationship. As the Clippers finished their shootaround Friday and the Suns took over the Staples Center court, players and coaches alike traded handshakes, back-slaps and even embraces.
“There are a lot of guys who’ve played with each other and the coaching staffs have a lot of history between them,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But you can hug and shake hands before a game and still go beat the hell out of them.”
The Suns have spent so much time in California, they’re eligible to vote.
Playing the Lakers and the Clippers in the playoffs isn’t the only reason they look so familiar to the Suns. Three of Phoenix’s last nine regular-season games were against the Lakers (twice) and the Clippers (once), meaning Friday’s Game 3 was the 13th time they have played a Los Angeles team in their last 19 games, dating back to a Clippers visit to Phoenix on April 5.
“It’s definitely a little weird, the familiar surroundings,” D’Antoni said about returning to the Staples Center for the fourth time in less than a month (April 14). “It’s getting a little redundant. We can make sure we don’t have to come back if we play better. We want the same ending, just a little bit quicker.”
Steve Nash and LeBron James were named co-Most Valuable Players by The Sporting News on Friday, with each player collecting eight first-place votes in a poll where the front office of each team had one vote.
With 28 of the 30 teams responding, only four players received votes. Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant finished in a tie for third with six votes apiece.
Nash, James, Nowitzki and Bryant were joined on the All-NBA first team by Tim Duncan.
Back from Texas — where he attended the birth of his first son (Kurt Jr.), Kurt Thomas will be on the practice court for the first time today taking part in shooting drills. “Other than the normal soreness and stiffness, things have gone pretty well,” said Thomas, out since Feb. 23 with a stress fracture in his right foot. “My conditioning isn’t very good, but it’s coming along.” D’Antoni said he doesn’t expect Thomas to play in this series.