It was a hell of a weekend for the Phoenix Suns, even though they got nipped 113-110 by the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center yesterday in the early game on ESPN.
And the national audience wasn't disappointed by this one. It was a seesaw battle all the way against the two superstar-laden archrivals.
The Spurs -- led by the usual trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobil -- haven't been as good this season as in the past, but there's still a lot of basketball left to play in the regular season, and San Antonio (currently seventh in the NBA's Western Conference at 33-24) has always been a second-half team.
Coming back from losing three, they brought their A-game against the Suns (still fifth in the West at 37-24). The Big Fundamental had his usual solid day with 21 points and 10 rebounds, the Frenchman marrried to a Desperate Housewife had 16 points, four assists, and three rebounds; and the reviled Argentinian had 21 points, eight assists, and six boards. But the stats never tell the tale with these three -- it's the effort they put in on defense.
Our city's own Richard Jefferson was no slouch for the Spurs, either (though he was on the receiving end of an in-your face, highlight-reel dunk by Amar'e Stoudemire). The former Moon Valley High and University of Arizona star put in 20 points, and he's beginning to look like what San Antonio acquired him to be: a needed scoring complement to the Big Three.
But enough about the men in black (and silver). The Suns are playing like a serious contender in the West lately.
They dominated the lowly but improving Los Angeles Clippers 125-112 Friday night in a game that wasn't that close. It was Phoenix's fifth win in a row, and second-year center Robin Lopez had a career game, with 30 points and 12 rebounds.
Lopez, though he followed up with just eight points and eight boards against the Spurs (as Tim Duncan took him to school), is looking like a superstar-in-the-making -- an essential complement to Phoenix's Big Two.
Speaking of Amar'e Stoudemire, he's been playing like he deserves that maximum contract since General Manager Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver decided not to trade him before the league deadline. He had 41 ponts and 12 boards -- six of them offensive -- against San Antonio.
And speaking of Steve Nash, he was his usual two-time MVP self. He had 18 points, 11 assists, and five rebounds against the Suns' nemesis.
But though Jason Richardson put in 20 points against the Spurs, he was the goat of the game when, late in the fourth quarter, he took a great outlet pass thrown safely ahead by Jared Dudley (who'd intercepted the ball from Spur George Hill) and blew an easy dunk (click on "big-time blunder") with nobody around.
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It was ironic because Richardson's a two-time NBA slam-dunk champion and because he was the hero of last week's game against the young, surging Oklahoma City Thunder (sixth in the West at 34-23). In that road game, Richardson hit a last-second floater in the lane to give the Suns the two-point victory.
Despite another phenomenal dunk by Stoudemire and a miraculous three-pointer by Nash in the closing seconds against San Antonio, the Suns weren't able to pull this one out.
Next up: the Denver Nuggets tonight at US Airways Center. The Nuggets (second in the West at 39-20) lost 95-89 to the first-place and defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second half of the ESPN double-header yesterday -- so both Phoenix and Denver will be doing back-to-backs tonight. Star forward Carmelo Anthony had 21 points and five rebounds in the loss. Point guard Chauncey Billups had 15 points and four assists. Center Nene put in 14 points and grabbed 11 boards.
Tip-off for Denver vs. Phoenix is 7 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Net. Radio: KTAR 620 AM, For more information, go to www.suns.com.