It's about the fast-break points, stupid! The Phoenix Suns, though way off last year's pace, had six in their weekend game against the Portland Trail Blazers. We wouldn't say they dominated the Blazers, but they held on to win at home 102-92.
In other words, hope was reborn, after the Suns' embarrassing loss to the hated Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers the other night. But let's not get too giddy. Coach Terry Porter was gleeful that the win against Portland meant his team hadn't lost three in a row. Come on, Terry, this isn't a milestone for a team that crows constantly about winning a championship.
It's also about the turnovers. Phoenix had 18, which is the only reason the Blazers (about 37 percent from the field to the Suns' 53) were able to stay close Saturday night in a game in which the Old Shaqtus had 19 points and 17 rebounds.
As we said on this blog the other day, O'Neal is doing all he can. We cautioned Coach Terry Porter that he can't run the team's offense through the 36-year-old, thourgh. The Suns -- Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Grant Hill -- are a team that needs to blast down the court to be effective.
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While he wasn't back in the lineup after his mother's death, Leandro Barbosa especially needs to run. They don't call him the Brazillian Blur for nothing, and the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year has been next to worthless this year in Porter's constipated offense.
There were instances Saturday night when the Suns had their old spark. Besides the fast-break points, they were able to get enough spacing to to hit eight three-pointers.
It's too soon, as Bell said in the locker room afterward, to tell if Porter's system is beginning to gel. "This is one game," he said, almost funereally. It was still primarily a half-court offensive effort in which Shaq had a stellar night. The 7-1, 350-pounder hit most of his shots and even soared Superman-style into the fourth row in an attempt to save a ball from going out of bounds (miraculously, nobody was hurt).
Thing is, Shaq's not going to have a night like this everytime out. Porter must figure out a way to get back to channeling the offense through Nash.Turning the Suns into a half-court team will ensure that they don't even make the playoffs, much less go deep into them.
And, Terry, stop bragging about your defense. While it looked much better Saturday night, it's still mediocre in the league.
As for all the talk about Portland center Greg Oden dominating the NBA, he was unimpresive in 13 minutes against Phoenix. We were expecting to see him take it to Shaq, like the Lakers' young Andrew Bynum did last week. Instead he left the game with five fouls and five points.
Nash had flashes of passing brilliance in Saturday night's game. One 20-foot lazer shot to Matt Barnes under the goal was unbelievable. The problem was, Barnes missed the dunk, which points up how confused the Suns are in Porter's system. How many bobbled balls have we seen this season!
Let's hope Porter's a good enough coach to figure out how to merge Shaq into a run-and-gun system, not (like he's been doing it) the other way around. -- Rick Barrs