The Arizona Republic
Nov. 8, 2004 12:00 AM
CHICAGO - Joe Johnson and Amaré Stoudemire are in a groove like a skipping record.
Through three Suns blowout wins, Johnson and Stoudemire have been better than the blueprint's sketches.
Tip your hat to the Steve Nash factor, but it is also two guys in their early 20s who are striving to tap into more potential.
This 3-0 start, the club's best in 20 years, has seen Johnson hit 61.6 percent of his shots from the field. That's a Mark West throwback number, except Johnson is hitting from 15, 18 and 24 feet. Johnson, who shot less than 44 percent in each of his first three seasons, has made seven of 14 three-pointers.
"I was trying to pick up where I left off at the end of last season," said Johnson, who also shot 54.5 percent in eight preseason games. "I'm trying to maintain form and play with confidence."
Johnson's smooth jumper deflated New Jersey on Saturday by opening the third and fourth quarters with three-pointers. He becomes tougher to handle when he puts his rugged 6-foot-8 frame into motion and rises for running jumpers.
"He has one of the best runners in the business," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I don't see how you could get any better than that.
"It seems like he has a quiet confidence about him."
There is plenty of reason to not get too caught up in wins over lowly Atlanta, a Philadelphia team that is only decent in the East and a stripped-down New Jersey squad. However, there will not be much of a wane if Stoudemire keeps hitting 56.8 percent of his field goals, getting to the line 10 times per night and bringing down nine boards a contest.
"This is the best offense I've ever been a part of," Stoudemire said. "We've got something to prove because we were picked 10th in the West. Even in the first few games, we're playing like it's the last games of the season. Every game is important."
Every part of Stoudemire's game is imposing lately. When his outside shot is on, D'Antoni deems him unguardable.
Against Atlanta on Wednesday, he hit all five jump shots. At New Jersey on Saturday, he did not miss on four jumpers. He is 11 of 15 on jumpers this season with only three coming inside 15 feet.
That refined stroke also has him hitting 82.8 percent of his free throws thus far.
Casey on the spot
When Casey Jacobsen
talked last season about coming off the bench and hitting shots cold, he said, "Do you know how hard that is?"
He is making it look easy. He has hit eight of 11 shots, including two of four three-pointers, while averaging 15 minutes.
"I don't have the luxury of 20-25 minutes anymore," Jacobsen said. "It's not an easy situation to be in, but I'll take anything I can get. I do feel I'm better at it, but I'm still not very comfortable with it."
Jacobsen had a huge stretch in Friday's win at Philadelphia. Four minutes into the third quarter, Nash picked up his fourth foul amid a Sixers rally, and D'Antoni did not want to go to Leandro Barbosa
against Allen Iverson.
Jacobsen entered and immediately hit a three-point shot and got a steal. He even played point guard to get Johnson a shot off a set play.
"He is so steady," D'Antoni said. "He's gold. You know what you're going to get."
Today will be Bo Outlaw's first practice in his return to the Suns.
• Phoenix will play the Bulls here Wednesday. Chicago (0-2) also will enter that game after two days off.