Finally. A signature win for the Phoenix Suns (see Sunday's 118-111 conquest of the Los Angeles Lakers) and it's all because of Shaquille O'Neal.
Without starters Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, Shaq has really stepped up in a big way, netting 45 and 33 in consecutive wins against the Toronto Raptors and Lakers, respectively. Add in contributions from role players like Matt Barnes (26 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists against L.A.) and Grant Hill (17 points on Sunday) and new head coach Alvin Gentry, who currently sports a 6-2 record as the Suns main man, looks like a mini-genius.
The 34-25 Suns look to keep the momentum going tonight in Orlando against the Magic, another former team that Shaq hopes to ball up. The first in Phoenix's four-game road journey, Orlando's third in the Eastern Conference with a 43-16 record.
A quick-and-dirty scouting report reads like this: Look for 6-foot-11, 265-pound center Dwight Howard -- the team-leader in points and blocks (he'll look small-ish next to the seven-foot-one, 340-pound Shaq) -- to use his agility to not only out-smooth O'Neal, but to get the Diesel in potential foul trouble.
Other down-low presences are power forward Rashard Lewis, who's averaging 18.2 points per game, and small forward Hedo Turkoglu, who's averaging 17.3.
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On the perimeter, Orlando had point guard Jameer Nelson and his 45-percent three-point goal average, but he was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Magic acquired point guard Rafer Alston from the Houston Rockets, but the Magic have been a mediocre team without Nelson. It was thought that Alston, more of a distributor than a scorer, would make Howard, Turkoglu, and Lewis better, but so far the new mixture hasn't gelled.
Advantage Suns, if Steve Nash's back. He was going give it a go against the Lakers Sunday, but was scratched before tip-off. He said during a game break that the ankle was still sore, but that he expected to play against the Magic.
Game time's 5 p.m. tonight from Orlando's Amway Arena. National TV: NBA TV. Radio: KTAR 620-AM.