Looking Like the Suns of Old After the Coaching Change, Phoenix Blows Out the Hapless L.A. Clippers

It was a game in which Goran Dragic slam-dunked.

Goran who? You know, the highly touted backup point guard whom fired Suns Coach Terry Porter used to ream a new one from the sidelines everytime he made a blunder.

The Slovenian rookie (pictured) played with reckless abandon in the Suns' 140-100 rout of the hapless Los Angeles Clippers at US Airways Center Tuesday night. As did the rest of the Suns, who were laughing, high-fiving, and acting like a load of bricks had been removed from their shoulders with the unpopular Porter axed and new interim head coach Alvin Gentry at the helm.

When Dragic rattled the rim, Gentry grinned and pumped his fist, in a show of emotion seldom seen in Porter even after the most stunning Suns play.

In an interview after the final buzzer, Steve Nash gave Porter an E for effort, but it was obvious from the excited look on the starting point guard's game face that he was having fun for the first time this season -- with the reinstatement of the fast-paced system poularized by departed-for-the-New York Kncks head coach Mike D'Antoni.

The Suns had 90 points in the paint, but not in the usual way such points are scored in a half-court offense. These points came off fast-breaks and laser-beam passes to open men for layups and dunks.

There were some incredible moments, including an alley-oop pass off a fast-break from Nash to reserve forward Louis Amundson for a dunk, and a behind-the-back fast-break pass from Leandro Barbosa to Grant Hill for a layup.

It was the hustle play of Amundson that so enraged Clippers center Zach Randolph that he  punched Lightning Lou in the first quarter and was ejected from the game. Because of the incident, Randolph's suspended for tonight's rematch with the Clippers at Staples Center in L.A. 

Nash was the only starter not in double-figures, though he had 10 assists in 25 minutes. Barbosa was the high scorer on the Suns with 24 points, Amar'e Stoudemire had 23, and Hill had 20.

The Suns were playing without Jason Richardson, suspended for a game after getting stopped for driving 55 miles per hour over the speed limit with his unrestrained 3-year-old in the backseat. This arrest followed an earlier one for driving under the influence.

But the Suns didn't need Richardson on long-time assistant coach Gentry's first night in charge. Ten Suns played at least 20 minutes. Reserves Matt Barnes, Amundson, and Jared Dudley had 9, 8, and 8 rebounds respectively -- with the Suns out-rebounding the Clippers 58-21.

Dudley and Barbosa had 5 steals each, as the Suns were purring like a Mercedes-Benz S550. They led by 52 points late in the fourth quarter before a Clippers spurt that closed the gap to 40 at the end.

It made us wonder if owner Robert Sarver and GM Steve Kerr have dropped plans to move a Suns regular before Thursdays trading deadline. All-Star Game starter Stoudemire's been the most sought after by other teams, since it became known that the Suns were shopping any player except Nash. If Sarver and Kerr do trade Amar'e, it'll be clear that it's all about saving money, because the 26-year-old was clicking again in the Suns' patented running game.

But let's not get too giddy -- the Suns were playing the 13-41 Clippers, missing injured big men Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. Sure, Shaquille O'Neal played well in limited time in a rout (15 points and 8 rebounds), but it remains to be seen how effective the 37-year-old bruiser will be in a speed game against a good team when he must endure major minutes.

The NBA schedule's blessed Gentry's first three games. After tonight's Clippers rematch, the Suns play 13-41 Oklahoma City at home Friday.

 After that, it's Boston, Charlotte, the Lakers, Toronto, and the Lakers -- followed by a four-game road trip to Orlando, Miami, Houston, and San Antonio.

If the Suns win seven of the next 10 games -- they play six against top teams-- we'll be ready to crown Gentry messiah. Right now, the Suns are ninth in the Western Conference, one spot removed from the playoffs.

Here's an irony about Tuesday night's game: The Suns scored 81 points in the first half, and the only team to score more in a half this season are D'Antoni's Knicks, who ran up 82 points against Golden State on November 29.      

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Rick Barrs
Contact: Rick Barrs