Finally, the Phoenix Suns open up a serious can of whup-ass on a bad team.
Fact is, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the worst team in the NBA's Western Conference, at 14-54.
And who would've thunk it not that long ago, but the 42-26 Suns have become one of the best.
With last night's 152-114 beat-down of the lowly Wolves, Phoenix is a half-game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and alone in sixth place in the West (we almost felt sorry for Minnesota Coach Kurt Rambis in this one...almost). Also, they're a half-game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and 1 1/2 games behind Friday's opponent, the Utah Jazz, in the tight conference playoff race.
With 15 games to go in the regular season, the Suns look hot. The team's finally all-the-way healthy, with shooting guard Leandro Barbosa's return against Minnesota. And though he played only 15 minutes and had seven points, the Brazilian Blur looked good.
But we've buried the most astounding detail about the Minnesota blowout:
Defensive-minded scrapper Looou Amundson scored 20 points off the bench. While garbage time started midway in the second quarter, Amundson played spectacularly, grabbing his points and seven rebounds with cleanup work in the paint.
It was a contest (and we use the term loosely) in which eight Suns players were in double figures, with Amar'e Stoudemire scoring 25 points in 27 minutes, biggest-surprise-of-the-year Robin Lopez grabbing nine rebounds in 24 minutes, Jason Richardson scoring 27 points (15 in the first quarter) in 29, and Steve Nash going for 14 assists in 24.
With increasingly good play from seven-foot center Lopez and backup point guard Goran Dragic, plus hustle minutes from Amundson and fellow forward Jared Dudley, the Suns have become a deep team under Coach Alvin Gentry. We hope we don't live to eat our words, but they look like a contender. We'd still have to bet on the Los Angeles Lakers to win the West this season, but the Suns will be a feared team in the playoffs.
And he big reason isn't the Suns' offense -- the most potent in the league -- but team defense. The aforementioned bench players, plus Lopez, have given the Suns a presence in the middle. They are no longer a team that allows easy baskets; they contest most every layup and dunk.
What a contrast from previous years, but blocked shots have become a team forte' -- with Lopez, Amundson, and (yes, even formerly reluctant defender) Stoudemire leading the way.
The Suns will need to summon all their burgeoning strength against the Jazz on Friday night. Utah has beaten the Suns twice this season, though Phoenix was beaten up in both games. Barbosa was out for 23 games with a wrist injury, during which time Utah nipped the Suns at US Airways Center and in Salt Lake City in games that Phoenix had led until the final minutes.
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But the Suns should be readier than ever for the Jazz. Besides being healthy to the man, Phoenix's starters rested for almost half of last night's game, and Suns subs built up their confidence in the blowout.
Tip-off's at 7 p.m. here. TV: Fox Sports Net. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. For more information, go to www.suns.com.