One thought rolled through our minds watching the Suns battle the Dallas Mavericks last night:
Just who the hell are these guys, and what did they do with the purple-and-orange losers who've been occupying US Airways Center of late?
Such surprise is only natural, given the fact that Phoenix Suns pulled a complete turnaround from the kind of piss-poor basketball they've dished out over the past few months to pull out a much-needed win over the Mavs on Thursday. At home. And during a game broadcast on TNT, no less (which had meant certain defeat for Planet Orange for 14 straight games broadcast on the network).
And they did it by playing tough defense (remember that?) and a solid effort by reserve players down the stretch. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley did a hell of a job of tag-teaming Dirk Nowitzki, neutralizing the 7-footer and limiting his shots. The rest of the Suns' lineup provided physical and aggressive defense, particularly in the fourth quarter, when the bench trio of Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Lou Amundson limited Dallas to only 6-of-21 shots.
It was a far sight better than how Phoenix began the evening against the 30-16 Mavericks (who sport the NBA's best road record), falling behind by 14 points in the first behind the hot shooting of Jason Terry and ex-Suns star Shawn Marion. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry countered in the second quarter by bringing in bench players like Goran Dragic, Amundson, and Dudley, leading their opponents in scoring by 18-15 at one point in the period. Jason Richardson (17 points) also came alive in the second half with some key long bombs, helping his team grab the lead for the first time 67-66.
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After a tough third quarter, which saw the Mavs pull ahead 90-84, the reserves came back onto the floor in the fourth and proceeded to dominate Dallas, outshooting them 43-26 with 55 percent. Steve Nash also returned with about five minutes left to help fend off Nowitzki and his squad to secure the win. Meanwhile, trade-bait Amar'e Stoudemire spent the last period riding the pine, which Gentry stated in post-game interviews was because the bench was on fire.
If said flames can stay lit, then the Suns stand a chance during their road game against the Tracy McGrady-less Houston Rockets (24-21) on Sunday. The same defense that shut down Nowitzki will come in handy when matching up against such H-Town starters as Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, and Luis Scola, all of whom have been scoring in double figures in recent games, despite a three-game losing skid. Their most recent defeat was a horror show, as the Denver Nuggets ran roughshod over the Rockets' swiss-cheese defense and forced missed shots and airballs aplenty.
Let's see if Phoenix can do the same. Tipoff in Dallas is at 5 p.m. our time. TV: KUTP My45. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. For more info: www.suns.com.