Remember that February 9 beat-down win over the formidable Dallas Mavericks at US Airways Center?
It was easy to believe that the Phoenix Suns had turned it all around after they toppled a top Western Conference opponent by 28 points, to hope (Barack Obama's favorite word) that they could contend for a championship this season -- after all.
Then, what a mess!
They were fortunate to win against the terrible Los Angeles Clippers and the decent Atlanta Hawks. Those games were followed by a 119-113 defeat against the Northwest Division-leading Denver Nuggets (that they'd led by 14 points at one juncture), a 105-103 loss Friday to the awful Minnesota Timberwolves (that was nip-and-tuck most of the way), and a 117-113 win Sunday morning against Chris Bosh (pictured) and the terrible Toronto Raptors (that they were lucky to get out of alive).
Bosh ain't terrible (he's appeared in the last three All-Star Games), but his team's 16-26.
Tonight the Suns play the Boston Celtics in Bean Town. The Celtics won the NBA championship last year and are 30-9 this year. They will be, by far, the best team the Suns have faced since they lost that buzzer-beater to San Antonio on Christmas Day.
The Minnesota Game was another contest that came down to the last shot. Since the heartbreaker against Tim Duncan's Spurs, the Suns also lost on a last-second shot by the Indiana Pacers.
But it wasn't a last-second basket by the 12-26 T-Wolves that killed the Suns. It was a last-second miss from the right-hand corner by Phoenix guard Jason Richardson, following a three-point make from the left-hand corner by Minnesota's Randy Foye. The T-Wolves guard put his team up three points with under two minutes to play, and that's the way it stayed.
Worth noting is that 6-9 Minnesota center Al Jefferson lit up 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal and the Suns for 22 points and 12 rebounds in the game. The smaller T-Wolves had 50 rebounds, 19 of them offensive. The Suns had 43, only 9 offensive.
Offensive rebounds = second-chance points. Get it? The Suns apparently don't.
And games just shouldn't come down to last-second shots!
Lately, the Suns have built up big leads and then lost them. Not only did they lead by double digits against Denver, they had Toronto down by 10 only to see the Raptors come back in the third quarter to take a one-point advantage.
Luckily, the 23-15 Suns held on to win, but when will they learn how to jump on bad teams, and never let them back in the game? Playing down to their opponents is becoming a Suns specialty.
It's not to say that Phoenix didn't look good in the Raptors game -- on offense. They scored 117 points, Steve Nash had 18 assists, Amar'e Stoudemire had 31 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter; Richardson had 17 points, O'Neal and Matt Barnes had 16 each, and Leandro Barbosa had 14.
The only problem was, Toronto was right there with them until near the end. The Raptors big men outsmarted Shaq and Amar'e on defense, and the Big Cactus fouled out in the fourth quarter. Toronto power forward Chris Bosh had 20 points and 12 rebounds and center Andrea Bargnani had 15 points.
In post-game remarks, Suns Coach Terry Porter marveled at the high level at which both Nash and Stoudemire played in Toronto.
On offense, coach!
Neither of them has ever been know for his defense, and as Nash gets older, practically every point guard in the league can get around him. As for Stoudemire, how many times have we watched him stand flatfooted as his man sails past him for an uncontested layup? Several times in the Toronto game. And he's still a kid.
One big plus for the Suns in the game north of the border: finally, a team got more turnovers than them. They had 13, and Toronto had 15. Uncharacteristically this year, Nash had only 2.
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