Going into Tuesday night's game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Phoenix Suns were in a situation unlike most other NBA teams.
Whereas squads like the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have had only six road contests thus far this season, the Suns have had to survive 16 games away from US Airways Center. And the road grind has taken its toll.
Over the past two weeks they'd been handed some particularly soul-crushing road defeats by a few of the league's greatest (and not-so-greatest) teams -- including the Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Denver Nuggets. Plunging from their plum position atop the league's standings, the Suns seemed like they were heading into a downward spiral that would dim hopes of postseason glory.
Head Coach Alvin Gentry and his squad definitely needed a huge pick-me-up, like maybe decisive win over a bitter rival on their home turf -- which is just what they got when Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Goran Dragić lifted the Suns to a 116-104 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
And the Spurs have been the bitterest of rivals. Many a post-season run has been spoiled by the silver-and-black bastards of Tim Duncan and the floptastic Manu Ginobili, whether it was snuffing out the amazing 2005 playoff run or the infamous debacle that was the 2007 Western Conference semi-finals. (If the Suns have their way, there will be a special spot reserved in Hell for Robert Horry).
Such tragedy makes Tuesday night's win that much sweeter, as Phoenix extended their home winning streak to nine games this season. Amar'e and Nash were on fire (as usual) as the Suns opened up offensively during the first half, leading by 15 at the end of the second quarter. Stoudemire was dominant both in the paint and off the glass with 28 points and 14 rebounds during the game.
The Spurs were up to their old tricks during the third and most of the fourth periods, trying to contain Nash with stops and other defensive shenanigans, plus outscoring the Suns with 54 percent shooting to pull to within a few buckets of taking the lead. (Duncan topped his team in scoring with 34 points). Meanwhile, Phoenix was tossing plenty of bricks.
A 12-3 run in the final minutes sealed San Antonio's fate, however, partially fueled by the shooting skills of Dragic. The Slavic superstar went seven-for-nine from the field during the second half, part of 18 points overall (an NBA career high).
The Suns' respite from the road isn't gonna last long, as they head to the Oregon to battle the Portland Trailblazers on Thursday.
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The basketball gods haven't been smiling upon the Rose Garden dwellers much lately, as a plague of injuries has wiped out a good portion of their starters. The latest casualty is center Greg Oden, who's gone for the year after fouling up his left kneecap this past weekend. But the towering center isn't the only Blazer booking some surgery time. Jeff Pendergraph, Rudy Fernandez, Patrick Mills, and Travis Outlaw have also gone under the knife. Even head Coach Nate McMillan has been on the receiving end of some bad luck: after participating in practice scrimmages because of his shortened roster, the 45-year-old former SuperSonics star ruptured his Achilles tendon during the first week of December. (Probably shoulda stuck with playing in the All-Star Weekend old-timers game, yo.)
Given such a situation, it's only natural for Phoenix fans to expect an easy win. But after having already fallen to such underperforming teams as the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks in the last month, road wins don't always come easy for the Suns. Especially since Portland's managed to amass a 15-11 record, despite having most of their lineup on the mend. This is thanks, in part, to the off-the-bench efforts of power-forward LaMarcus Aldridge and shooting guards Martell Webster and Brandon Roy, all of whom have posted double figures as of late.
Tip-off's at 8:30 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.suns.com.