As bizzare as it may seem, we were thrilled by the Phoenix Suns' road loss to the New Orleans Hornets 104-91.
Playing without Shaquille O'Neal (resting, as usual, on the first of back-to-back games) and Steve Nash (flu-like symptons), the Suns looked much better Wednesday night against a good team than they have -- with their future hall-of-famers -- against four awful-to-average teams.
A starting lineup of Grant Hill (pictured scoring), Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez, Raja Bell, and Leandro Barbosa fell behind by 14 points early in the game, but hustled back to trail by just one at half-time.
They could've won this game if Nash had played. Nevermind Shaq. For a while, we thought they could win it without him, but things disintegrated at the end of the third quarter and the Suns never came closer than nine points. Superstar New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, who had 24 points and 15 assists, was the main reason.
Paul (the smallest guy on the court) had one fewer rebounds, at three, than Stoudemire -- who should stop bitching and planning his future elsewhere, stop getting technical fouls (he was T'd up again in this game), and start hitting the boards like he used to.
Hill, in a more comfortable starting role, hasn't looked this good since he was injury free and considered the next Michael Jordan as a point-forward for the Detroit Pistons. He scored 17 points, had 6 assists, and six rebounds. But mostly he played killer defense.
His play must have inspired rookie center Lopez, who was a bear on defense, tipping several shots and monster-blocking two others. His contribution doesn't show up on the stat sheet (he had two points in 20 minutes), but his play should tell Coach Terry Porter that the kid should get a lot more playing time. As we said the other day, try starting him and bringing Shaq off the bench.
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Coach, look to the future. Lopez may be it. Shaq definitely isn't, no matter how great he may play once in a while. When Shaq's out there, the Suns offense runs into a brick wall, and he's it.
Stoudemire looked better offensively than he has lately, with 26 points against New Orleans, but he's not living up to his All-Star potential. Four rebounds just doesn't cut it. Filling in for Nash at point guard, Barbosa was less out-of-control than usual, with 19 points, three assists, and four rebounds. And, coming off the bench, Matt Barnes was good on offense with 13 points but better on defense.
If Porter were to start Lopez tonight against the also-struggling Dallas Mavericks, we'd be optimistic about the Suns' ability to win -- especially if Nash's back in action in the Big D against his old team and its alleged insider-trading owner Mark Cuban (the guy who thought he was washed up and traded him to the Suns). -- Rick Barrs