For a precious few minutes
in the first quarter of last night's Suns/Lakers game in La-La Land, the Suns held their own against the NBA's best. No, it was better than that. They were rolling, running, gunning, roaring. They were taking advantage of someone else's defensive miscues for a (pleasant) change. And with literally only 2.5 first-teamers on the floor, they were doing the unthinkable: winning.
It was beautiful. It was fool's gold. In a game the Suns really couldn't afford to lose, it was L.A. 132, Phoenix 106.
Still, early on, with the Suns leading 20-17, residents of Planet Orange sat bolt upright and started to believe that Phoenix might just pull off a miracle along the lines of, say, the Arizona Cardinals in Carolina without Amar'e, without Steve Nash, and with Grant Hill hobbling around on one good leg. Then Suns butterfingers and a 20-6 Lakers run popped the balloon, and we remembered that -- oh, yeah -- we weren't supposed to win this one, anyway. In fact, word prior to tip-off is that even if Nash and his sorely bruised ankle could have gone, Suns brass had deemed this one unwinnable, and were likely to sit Nash in favor of the next game on Friday, February 27, against the Toronto Raptors.
Nothing against Leandro Barbosa -- who's been reborn to a degree since he returned to starter status under new coach Alvin Gentry -- but if the Blur's your high scorer, and he only nets 18, the Phoenix Suns don't have a prayer against the L.A. Clippers, never mind an offensive juggernaut featuring the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom (who's been playing out of his skull of late, and was the game's high scorer with 23).
The numbers were crystal clear. Alando Tucker (!) had 16, Goran Dragic 14. J-Rich, Shaq, and Grant contributed 13, 12, and 8, respectively. It's obvious that the Suns didn't give this one 100 percent -- couldn't give it 100 percent -- and that's all she wrote.
Fortunately -- we think -- Phoenix gets one last regular-season crack at cracking the Lakers' code on Sunday, March 1, at US Airways Center. The game tips at 1:30 p.m., and will be nationally televised on ABC.
|Shawn Marion: Not The Matrix of yore.|
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First, though, a presumably much-improved Nash and the Suns have to hurdle old pal Shawn Marion and the new-look Toronto Raptors tonight at US Airways.
As weird it was to see him in a Miami Heat uniform, it's gonna be mondo bizarro to see The Matrix flaunting the blood-red togs of Toronto. After Marion started bleating for a long-term contract, Miami sent him and his expiring contract packing north of the border two weeks ago in exchange for center Jermaine O'Neal, whose short stay in Canada was marred by a nagging knee injury and team-chemistry issues. Toronto also agreed to swallow the rights to former Suns bust (and Heat bust, and general all-around bust) Marcus Banks and send swingman Jamario Moon and a future first-round choice to Miami.
Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, the former Suns honcho who brokered the deal, sounded pleased as punch with his handiwork, saying it would make his team more athletic and unclog the middle of the court for superstar Chris Bosh. On paper, the front line of Bosh, Marion, and Andrea Bargnani does look formidable; in real life, it's still finding its way. And Marion is hardly The Matrix of yore. Though his rebounding numbers have remained consistent, his offensive output has eroded alarmingly, from the 19-to-21-point range during the D'Antoni run-and-gun days to his present paltry 12.
The game tips at 7 p.m. TV: FSN AZ. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.