21 turnovers were the culprits in the Phoenix Suns' 105-99 road loss to the Denver Nuggets, a night after they'd stunned the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic,106-103 at US Airways Center.
Aside from the outcomes, the games were almost identical. The Suns ran up big leads (19 points in the first game, 17 in the second) that extended into the second half, only to get caught by their opponents. With two minutes to go either night, either team could've won.
Except for one factor in Saturday night's game in snowy Denver -- the officials: Bill Spooner, Bill Kennedy, and Eli Roe. Only Denver could win with them on the floor.
We're saying, are these freakin' guys blind?! Or does Denver Coach George Karl have negatives of the trio doing the nasty at a gay bar in Boulder?
As the fourth quarter proceeded, we watched Nuggets reserve forward and hitman Chris "Birdman" Andersen commit foul after foul under the goal. He fouled Amar'e Stoudemire so many times that he should be brought up on assault charges.
No calls when the game was on the line.
Now we don't normally blame the refs for the Suns losing a game, but this became ridiculous. The clincher came in the closing seconds when Steve Nash drove in for a layup, and Nuggets center Nene grabbed his arm, forcing him to miss. It was blatant. No call.
Nash argued furiously with Spooner, and Suns Coach Alvin Gentry was so infuriated that he nearly went after the head ref and was ejected from the game.
The officials certainly didn't mind calling fouls on the Suns in this hard-fought contest, as we said a back-to-backer for Phoenix. Look at this: Phoenix got 28 foul calls (making 22 free throws), and Denver got a whopping 43 (making 34),
It was the difference in the game. Sure the Suns had 21 turnovers, but the Nuggets had 14 and only shot 41 percent from the field to the Suns' 55 percent.
We wuz robbed.
Denver's Carmelo Anthony was the high scorer with 32 points, followed by Nash with 28. One of the Suns' two super-subs, Lou Amundson, had a spectacular night, hustling up 12 points mostly on put-backs. He led the team in rebounds with 11.
The night before, it was the other super-sub's night to shine. Jared Dudley had 19 points and played the defensive game of his life. It was his hustle play on D that handcuffed the Magic in crunch time.
Stoudemire looked great against Orlando, with 28 points and 10 rebounds, including an offensive board and a dunk in the last seconds to seal the win.
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The Suns limited the best center in the game, Dwight Howard, to just one field goal. He went to the free-throw line 17 times but converted only eight to finish with a paltry (for him) 10 points. The victory, Phoenix's 17th consecutive home win, kept Howard winless against the Suns in Phoenix during his six-year career.
After splitting the two weekend games, the Suns are 16-8. Denver went to 17-7, and Orlando went to 17-6 for second place in the East behind the league-leading 19-4 Boston Celtics.
Next up: The 12-9 San Antonio Spurs, who're off their pace of years past but always give the Suns an ass-pain. After all, they still have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. The hated Robert Horry has retired, but the Suns still remember how he knocked them out of what could've been an NBA championship run a few years ago with his cheapshot to Nash. The two-time MVP, Stoudemire, and Grant Hill should be poised to take a step toward getting even.
Tip-off's at 7 p.m. Tuesday at US Airways Center. TV: FSN Arizona; Radio: KTAR 6:20 AM. For more information, go to www.nba/suns.com .