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New Suns coach D’Antoni makes debut tonight

The Arizona Republic


The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX – When Frank Johnson took over as Phoenix Suns head coach in 2002, replacing Scott Skiles, the team was rebuilding and Johnson was seen as someone who could grow into the job.

In the end, the team may have outgrown the coach.

The Suns fired Johnson yesterday with the team off to a disappointing 8-13 start.

The Suns promoted assistant Mike D’Antoni, whose contract is good through the end of next season.

D’Antoni, who coached eight seasons in Europe and was 14-36 in one season as head coach at Denver, won in Italy with up-tempo, high-scoring basketball, and he promised to shift the Suns into high gear.

“We’re going to try to put up a lot of points,” he said. “We think we have the talent and the physical capabilities to have a nice style of basketball that people will think is fun to watch.

“To me, that’s the most important thing. If it’s fun for the players, then it’s going to be fun for the fans. You get some excitement, and who knows what you can do?”

D’Antoni, 51, will make his debut tonight at America West Arena, where the Suns will host New Orleans.

The Suns’ outlook changed last season – along with Johnson’s projected learning curve – when Phoenix drafted Amare Stoudemire and found out he was even better than perhaps they had anticipated.

The Suns returned to the playoffs, ratcheting up expectations, but have underachieved this season, chairman Jerry Colangelo said.

“There were high expectations for this team coming into this season, and it wasn’t just internal,” he said. “Externally, the experts said this was one of the young, up-and-coming teams this year, and we never got off the launching pad. So that caused us to reflect.”

It was apparent the club expected great things from rookie Zarko Cabarkapa, and Johnson did not play him a lot of minutes before Cabarkapa suffered a broken wrist that put him on the injured list.

Around the NBA last night

Clippers 100, Mavericks 99: Glen Rice, activated before the game, hit a jumper from the top of the key as time expired as host Los Angeles spoiled Dirk Nowitzki’s return to the Dallas lineup. Corey Maggette got 20 of his 30 points in the first half for Los Angeles, which overcame a 22-point deficit.

Jazz 95, Knicks 73: Greg Ostertag scored a season-high 16 with 12 rebounds as host Utah handed New York its sixth straight loss.

Spurs 102, Trail Blazers 77: Tim Duncan had 18 points and 14 rebounds to lead last-place San Antonio at home. Portland dropped to 0-8 on the road.

Bucks 94, Warriors 89, OT: Michael Redd had 25 points and Dan Gadzuric had career highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds, leading host Milwaukee over Golden State in overtime.

Grizzlies 103, Hawks 90: Mike Miller scored a season-high 22, including 11 in a key third-quarter rally, and host Memphis defeated Atlanta to tie a franchise record with its sixth consecutive win.

Celtics 126, SuperSonics 112: Paul Pierce notched 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while Mike James added a career-high 24 points to lead host Boston to its third straight victory.

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