Despite Superb Acting by Houston Rockets, Suns Gut Out Rare Road Win. Next Up: New Orleans Tonight
Despite trade talk, Amar'e Stoudemire was a perfect 12 of 12 from the free-throw line against Houston.
It was a game that stunk of Houston Rockets flops -- including one in which Rockets forward Carl Landry fell to the floor grabbing his face as though an eye had been poked out, even though instant-replay showed he wasn't touched -- but Phoenix held on to win 115-111 last night.
There were so many bullshit calls against the Suns that we stopped counting, and half a dozen Rockets would've made all-time-super-flopper Vlade Divac proud. As for Landry's move, it was sheer Hollywood.
But enough carping. The Suns have won two in a row, against the Dallas Mavericks at home Thursday night and against Houston at the Toyota Center. The latter was just the team's second victory in seven road games in January -- a month that saw the Suns come apart at the seams in the wake of Amar'e Stoudemire trade talk.
Though it looks more and more like Stoudemire will be dealt, he was on fire Sunday night, with a season-high 36 points, plus 11 rebounds. This followed the Dallas game, in which he scored 22 but had only one miserable board; he cited the trade speculation as limiting his focus.
The question now is if Amar'e is traded, what will the Suns get in return? An early rumor was that he might go to the Lakers for great-when-he's-healthy young center Andrew Bynum, but that seems improbable. Whatever happens, the Suns aren't likely to hang on to Amar'e, who's seeking a new $100 million contract but hasn't quite made it to franchise-player level (partly because of injuries and partly because of basketball IQ) in going-on-eight NBA seasons here.
With owner Robert Sarver pinching millions in this bad economy, our prayer is that Stoudemire isn't moved just to reduce the payroll. We're counting on savvy General Manager Steve Kerr, who's got to realize that two-time MVP Steve Nash would feel abandoned by such a deal with two years left on his contract (and probably his career).
Also, Mr. Sarver, think about how you're filling up US Airways Center (most of the time, anyway) with fans who still dream that the Suns might still be a contender. "Rebuilding years" would not go over well with this area's fair-weather fans (it's not like we live in a city, like Boston, that will pack an arena no matter what).
Our hope: Keep STAT, unless you can get a legitimate superstar big man in return (Bynum would do). When he keeps his mind on his game, Stoudemire can be the difference between winning and losing -- as he was against the Rockets.
Despite the heartache the Suns have caused us this season, we've been treated to two vastly entertaining games since last Thursday.
Phoenix played shutdown defense (believe it or not) in the fourth quarter against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks to win by six. And the Purple & Orange came back to play decent defense against the Rockets, who have been absent the injured Yao Ming for most of the season. True, the Suns had an 18-point lead in the first half and wound up winning by just four, but (as previously mentioned) the Rockets had help from the refs in this one. In fact, Stoudemire was called three times for infractions that weren't infractions and wound up fouling out in overtime.
It looked as if Phoenix would win in regulation. Nash hit a three-pointer with 47 seconds left to put the Suns up 100-97, and they were able to hold off the Rockets until the clock showed just 11 seconds left. Despite tenacious defense by Jason Richardson, Rockets sharpshooter Trevor Ariza was able to sink a three of his own to tie the game, and Phoenix was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer.
With Phoenix ahead 108-105 and 1:14 left in OT, Houston point guard Aaron Brooks was fouled and went to the free-throw line. He hit his first shot, and then, in the basketball version of an on-side kick, tried to throw the ball against the goal so that his team could recover and either tie the score or win.
Brooks was called for the rule infraction of stepping over the free-throw stripe before the basketball hit the rim. Suns' possession, and the Rockets were never in the game after that.
Next up: the Hornets tonight in New Orleans. After getting off to a painfully slow start, the Hornets have come on strong lately. With All-Star point guard Chris Paul sitting out with a bruised knee, New Orleans overcame a 21-point deficit to beat the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies 109-102 in overtime Saturday night. Star forward David West had 22 points, and point guard Darren Collison, starting in Paul's place, had 17 points and a Hornets' rookie-record 18 assists.
Phoenix, at 28-21, is in seventh place in the Western Conference, and New Orleans is in eighth, at 26-21. The Hornets are among four teams nipping at the Suns' heals for the bottom-two playoff spots in the West. The others are: Oklahoma City (26-21), Memphis (25-21), and Houston (25-22).
Tip-off against New Orleans: 6 p.m. our time. TV: My45. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. For more invormation, go to www.suns.com.
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