Finally. A signature win for the Phoenix Suns (see Sunday's 118-111 conquest of the Los Angeles Lakers) and it's all because of Shaquille O'Neal.
Without starters Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, Shaq has really stepped up in a big way, netting 45 and 33 in consecutive wins against the Toronto Raptors and Lakers, respectively. Add in contributions from role players like Matt Barnes (26 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists against L.A.) and Grant Hill (17 points on Sunday) and new head coach Alvin Gentry, who currently sports a 6-2 record as the Suns main man, looks like a mini-genius.
The 34-25 Suns look to keep the momentum going tonight in Orlando against the Magic, another former team that Shaq hopes to ball up. The first in Phoenix's four-game road journey, Orlando's third in the Eastern Conference with a 43-16 record.
A quick-and-dirty scouting report reads like this: Look for 6-foot-11, 265-pound center Dwight Howard -- the team-leader in points and blocks (he'll look small-ish next to the seven-foot-one, 340-pound Shaq) -- to use his agility to not only out-smooth O'Neal, but to get the Diesel in potential foul trouble.
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Other down-low presences are power forward Rashard Lewis, who's averaging 18.2 points per game, and small forward Hedo Turkoglu, who's averaging 17.3.
On the perimeter, Orlando had point guard Jameer Nelson and his 45-percent three-point goal average, but he was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Magic acquired point guard Rafer Alston from the Houston Rockets, but the Magic have been a mediocre team without Nelson. It was thought that Alston, more of a distributor than a scorer, would make Howard, Turkoglu, and Lewis better, but so far the new mixture hasn't gelled.
Advantage Suns, if Steve Nash's back. He was going give it a go against the Lakers Sunday, but was scratched before tip-off. He said during a game break that the ankle was still sore, but that he expected to play against the Magic.
Game time's 5 p.m. tonight from Orlando's Amway Arena. National TV: NBA TV. Radio: KTAR 620-AM.