White is ahead by eight at halftime. Mike gathers both teams in the locker room and makes some general comments. "We're putting on a good show," he says. "We're running. We're playing some defense. We've had some lapses, but that's going to happen. At the end of the day what we're looking for is scoring more points than the other team. We were plus-seven last year, second best in the league to San Antonio. Good teams outscore their opponents by a big margin on average. That's what we want to do."
He is unremitting in his message: Run. Score. Keep running. Keep scoring. Put on a good show.
Marion hits four shots in a row for Orange to open the second half, and suddenly we're on our heels. Timeouts take on new importance when you're a coach, but Iavaroni can hardly make himself heard with the background cacophony. The Gorilla is normally a pleasant diversion; now I want him to sit the hell down so the crowd will shut up.
Over the week certain relationships have developed between player and coach, none closer than the one between Barbosa and Dan. The head coach will do most of the communicating with Nash, so Dan has taken it upon himself to work with Nash's backup. "Way to be, LB!" he says in a piercing drawl. "Good positioning, LB!" Barbosa listens, wide-eyed, to everything Dan says; the 22-year-old from Brazil is grateful for the attention and picks up a lot.
In the third quarter Barbosa takes a quick jumper and misses. "I don't like that one shot and out," says Iavaroni.
"Hell," says Dan, "that's the way we play."
Late in the third quarter Nash sits down for a breather. He looks at my pad. "I'm charting deflections," I say, "and I note that the 2005 MVP doesn't have any." A few minutes into the fourth Nash has three. "Did you get them?" he asks during a timeout.
With about 1:10 left, Sarver, the managing partner, hollers down the bench. " Mr. Iavaroni," he calls, "would you take a timeout, please." It's not a request exactly; more like a gentle order. "He's not going to pull a Nixon and send in a play, is he?" I say to Dan. Iavaroni obliges, and Steve Kerr, an Arizona legend who is now a Suns minority investor and adviser, walks to midcourt. He thanks the fans and the university for the hospitality it has shown the team during camp. A nice moment.
With 24 seconds left, the score is tied at 83 and we have the ball. "At the risk of demonstrating my genius," I say to Dan, "I think we should run something for Nash."
"You'll be a head coach someday," says Dan.