Just when you thought the Phoenix Suns' luck was improving, another player gets injured.
This time it happened at the end of the first quarter of the Suns' game against the Philadelphia 76ers when Leandro Barbosa went down with a hyper-extended left knee. It was sickening even to watch, but a preliminary examination determined that there was no joint or ligament damage.
What this means about the Brazilian Blur's availablity for the rest of the season, at this writing, is unknown. All the Suns were saying was that he'll probably miss Saturday's home game against the Washington Wizards.
The Suns should be able to do it without him against the Wizards, the worst team in the Eastern Conference -- just as they were able to win without Barbosa's help past the first quarter against the 76ers at US Airways Center on Wednesday night.
Four Suns starters scored 21 points or more in the 126-116 victory (the Suns are now 3-0, after going 0-6), but it was Grant Hill -- low man on that list -- who was the star of the game.
At 36, Hill has drawn the toughest defensive assignments all season (Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, Kevin Durant), and it was no different against Philadelphia. This time, his job was to shadow Sixers star Andre Iguodla. And shadow him he did, holding the former Arizona Wildcat -- who averages 18 points a game -- to just 11. He also forced the athletic Igudola to commit three of the Sixers' six turnovers.
The three oldest guys on the team played the most minutes Wednesday night for the Suns. Hill, Shaquille O'Neal, and Steve Nash each played 39.
Nash had a spectular night, with 24 points and 10 assists. More importantly, he had only 2 turnovers, a problem for him all season -- probably because of the drastic changes in playing style the point guard's had to deal with. From lightening-fast under Mike D'Antoni last year, to turgid under Terry Porter, back to speedy under Alvin Gentry.
Turnovers during the Porter era (double-figures in almost every game) are why the Suns find themselves in the predicament they're in as the season winds down. It's hard to gauge just how many games were lost because of them, but it's safe to say that Phoenix wouldn't be 4 games out of the Western Conference playoff picture after the Sixers win if they hadn't ham-handedly handed over so many games to bad and mediocre teams.
On Wednesday night, the Suns dominated the Sixers down low, which was what won this contest for them. Phoenix had 80 points in the paint to Philly's 50. And a big reason for that was O'Neal, who was high scorer in the game with 26 points
Pushing around Sixers center Samuel Dalembert like a playground bully all night long, Shaq grabbed 11 boards, 5 of them offensive.
The team as a whole had 44 boards, including 15 offensive grabs. Matt Barnes only scored 5 points, but he snagged 9 off the glass.
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What sealed the deal for the Suns was a spectular rebound by Jason Richardson in the final minutes. It was hack-a-Shaq time, and the strategy was working for Philly. The first time Shaq was fouled, he hit one of two free throws, the second time, he missed both. But...
Along came 6-foot-6 Richardson, who leapt above the taller players around him, grabbed the rebound and put the ball back in the hoop. It was a back-breaker for the Sixers, who had looked like they were about to surge. The Suns went on to win by 10 points.
It'll take a lot of luck for the Suns to squeeze into that eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs (ironically, the 37-31 Suns are out of the picture in the tough West currently, while the 34-32 Sixers are sixth in the East). But if Nash & Company play as a team, like they did against against Philly, they've got a shot. Of course, It'll help if Dallas, the team just ahead of them, goes on a losing streak and if Barbosa has a quick recovery.
With Amar'e Stoudemire out for the season, the Suns can't afford to lose another star.