That wasn't the wind off the desert, that was Phoenix exhaling after the Suns--for the moment, at least--dodged one of the great upsets in NBA history.
The local darlings are home, still in their basketball uniforms rather than their golf togs. But whatever happens today, they had better not get too happy because they have already lost.
The Lakers have exposed their weaknesses and everyone else has gone to school on them: the Suns' small front line and ineffectual defense, their difficulty playing half-court offense, their dependence on Charles Barkley.
None of this was a surprise. There was a long-standing theory the Suns were a regular-season phenomenon, ill suited to the playoffs, when games slow down and get physical.
The Lakers proceeded to show it was true.
Before the series, TNT's Jack Ramsay, a 76er color commentator for several seasons, noted that tall defenders who can move their feet can slow Barkley.
Sure enough, the Lakers' Elden Campbell took Barkley one-on-one and made him work for his points. Rather than double-teaming and letting Barkley pick them apart as teams had all season, the Lakers stayed home with the three-point shooters, Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge. They slowed the game down. They posted up Campbell on Richard Dumas and watched Vlade Divac burn Mark West and Tom Chambers.
Then the Suns started choking. Barkley loosened his teammates up with his clown act before Games 3 and 4 and the Suns went into this weird mode, where a lot of tight players tried to show how loose they were by taking the first 20-footer that presented itself.
The Lakers, as usual, had their own trouble scoring. One appearance of the old James Worthy in Game 3 or 4 might have finished Phoenix, but he kept putting up six-for-16s. A breakout by Campbell might have done it, but despite the mismatch with Dumas, Elden's post game is still undeveloped. The Suns had time to regroup and did.
But there are better teams than the Lakers waiting out there, deeper ones, more physical ones. For the Suns, this was only a warm-up.
HERE COMES HIS 19TH NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Why is everybody down on John Starks again?
You've got to like his originality.
The NBA office announces it is going to suspend players for throwing punches, so the Knick guard head butts Reggie Miller and escapes with only a $5,000 fine.
Of course, Pat Riley tacked on another $5,000 to show where he stood on this issue and Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley almost killed Starks on the floor. Ewing screamed at him, looking as if he might head butt him or worse, until Riley grabbed Starks by the arm and walked him off like a naughty preschooler.
"Like a fish, they put the hook out there and we bit on it," Oakley said.
Said Riley: "We've talked about this all year long and the fact that I have to sit here after a playoff game and discuss this is ridiculous."
Starks has been fined $5,000 or more four times in the last 11 months.
"It was nothing like a punch," Starks said. "It was a love tap."
The NBA is now working on the Starks Amendment: no head butting, biting, kicking, scratching, eye-gouging, throwing cups of water (Starks did that to Mark Jackson in a game at the Sports Arena in November), or running people over in the parking lot.
AS THE WORM TURNS (CONT.)
If the Pistons had any illusions that hiring Mr. Nice Guy, Don Chaney, would mollify Dennis Rodman, they didn't have long to wait.
While Chaney was telling a news conference he would be open to players' suggestions, Rodman was suggesting they had hired the wrong man and assistant Brendan Malone should have been the one.
Chaney shouldn't take it personally. To get out of Detroit, Rodman would also have endorsed Brendan Suhr, Brendan Byrne or Brenda Starr.
Rodman didn't even talk to the last coach, Ron Rothstein, and cut out several times during the season.
"From all indications," said Piston President Tom Wilson, a quick study, "it's time for him to go."
Rodman says he would like to try a warm-weather city next. Bidders are expected to again include the Clippers and Suns, who represent a warm-weather city and a scorched-weather city, respectively.
If the Danny Manning situation remains unresolved, the Clippers will have to think about putting him in a deal. It isn't even: Manning is 27 to Rodman's 32 and a better player besides.
How about Manning and Gary Grant for Rodman and one of the Pistons' lottery picks?
FACES AND FIGURES