Here's an idea: play Shaquille O'Neal every third game.
The other idea would be to play him only against Milwaukee (he scored 27 and 35 points in two games against the Bucks this season), but that wouldn't be cost-effective for a guy making $20 million a year.
After missing two games because of a family funeral in North Carolina, the Big Shaqtus scored 23 points and had 12 rebounds in 35 minutes to propel Phoenix to a 111-103 win over prodigal Sun Mike D'Antoni's New York Knicks at US Airways Center Monday night.
On two occasions this season after he sat out one game, O'Neal played brilliantly and dismally. But resting the 36-year-old that extra game seemed to be the answer against New York.
O'Neal was the monster of old, carrying defenders on his back and intimidating D'Antoni's guys when they ventured into the paint. He didn't put the ball in the hole on these piggyback rides like he used to when he was slaying opponents with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he got and actually made plenty of free throws.
He was 11 of 18 from the line to be exact -- rendering any attempt at hack-a-Shaq ineffective.
It was a miracle, or was it because he was fresh?
We've said all along that Shaq would be more effective as a role player for this team, but maybe his role is to play more often than a starting pitcher in baseball, but not that much more often. Given the Suns' ability to play better without him on many nights (probably because he's worn out from successive starts and slows them down), is this such a crazy idea?
Whatever it takes to go deep in the playoffs, right Coach Terry Porter? Whatever it takes to develop Suns' center of the future Robin Lopez (who didn't play against the Knicks).
Shaq made the whole Suns team play better Monday night. He played smart, shooting when he had a chance to score, and passing the ball back out when he didn't. He created scoring opportunities for Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, newly acquired two-guard Jason Richardson, and even bench player Louis Amundson (pictured). Shaq made a great pass to Amundson under the goal, and the second-year pro dunked it.
Let's talk about Lou Amundson for a second. He scored four points in five minutes, but they were on hustle plays. His value to the team can't be measured in scoring. He always has a huge impact defensively, bothering the hell out of those who venture inside.
We wondered who would spell Stoudemire and O'Neal with Boris Diaw traded to Charlotte, but it appears Amundson's up to the task. Here's hoping Porter gives this sparkplug more minutes.
As for Stoudemire, he had a great game, too. Since getting called out for his rebounding lethargy, he's responded with killer efforts on the boards. Against D'Antoni's team, he had 14 rebounds. Five of them were offensive to go along with Shaq's four and four by the rest of the team. This gave the Suns 13 second-chance attempts at points.
This kind of effort is crucial if Phoenix is to go anywhere this season.
Every Suns starter was in double figures: Stoudemire and Steve Nash had 21 points, Grant Hill had 11, and Richardson, in his second game with the Suns, had 16 and six rebounds -- again showing that he's an inside threat as well as the best-three point shooter in the game. Against New York, he went four of seven from the outside.
It was Nash who put the daggar in New York with a long three in the last minute of the game.
Phoenix needed all of this to overcome the pesky Knicks, who got great performances out of mighty midget Nate Robinson, who led all scorers with 27 points off the bench and forward Al Harrington, who had 24 points and seven rebounds.
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The best thing about Phoenix's victory was proving they could outrun and outgun D'Antoni's team, now 11-13. That is, beat the old boss at his own game, and at the same time play a little defense. A telling statistic -- attributable to O'Neal and Stoudemire's tenacious inside D -- was that the Knicks attempted 37 three-pointers. Lucky for the Suns, they made only five.
All this is to say... we're cautiously optomistic. If Porter has the good sense to play Shaq only when he's effective, and develop players like Lopez and Amundson, there may be better days ahead for this 15-10 team. -- Rick Barrs