Over the weekend, the Phoenix Suns did what they do best -- beat bad teams.
The score was 106-95 against the 18-48 Oklahoma City Thunder at US Airways Center on Saturday night and a running-and-gunning 154-130 against the 23-43 Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Sunday night.
In the six games before that, they also did what they do best -- lose to good teams.
But, on Sunday Afternoon, Dallas also lost to a good team, the Los Angeles Lakers (who're, in fact, the best team in the NBA) so the Mavericks' lead over Phoenix for that eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot is down to four games.
Which means the Suns could still get in the post-season if...
Well, there are a couple of "ifs". If Dallas goes 8-7 over the final 15 games of the regular season. And if the Suns go 12-3.
As for the Mavericks, they play 10 of their last 15 games against winning teams.The Suns play 8 of their last 15 against losing teams -- which means they will have to beat all of the losers and 4 of the winners.
It's possible, because interim coach Alvin Gentry's version of the Suns were in all of the six games in a row that they lost, against the likes of Cleveland, first in the Eastern Conference, and San Antonio, second in the West. They just couldn't finish in the fourth quarter.
Are we holding our breath to see if the Suns do it? Fuck no, since inspired has seldom been used to describe Phoenix this season.
It all makes for a pitiful place to be, given the standards set in the Mike D'Antoni era, but this is where the Suns find themselves. Hoping against hope that they -- minus leading scorer Amar'e Stoudemire, out for at least the rest of this season after detached-retina surgery -- can squeeze into that last playoff spot in the West and live the nightmare of playing Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the first round.
On Saturday night, it looked for the first half like the Suns would make it a seven-game losing streak.
They were down to 52-46 to the lowly Thunder at half-time. But just as we were having visions of them never winning another game this year, a hero came to the rescue.
No it wasn't Superman; Dwight Howard plays for the Orlando Magic.
It was... Jared Dudley. That's right, the reserve forward's fourth-quarter defense on Thunder wonder Kevin Durant, plus his 7 hustle points kept Phoenix ahead as the clock was winding down. He finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
Durant, one of the best players in the league in his second season as a pro, still had 22 points, but Dudley, and Grant Hill earlier, kept him from torching the Suns, as he's done in the past.
Fact is, Suns' bench players put the starters to shame in this game, considering the limited time Dudley & Company played. Leandro Barbosa was also a spark plug with 22 points, including 3 three-pointers in the final period.
As usual, the Golden State game was a shootout.
Coach Don Nelson was stressing fast-paced offense long before D'Antoni came on the NBA scene. He pushed the ball when he was head coach of the Mavericks, and now he's pushing it with the Warriors again (his second time around with the team). "Nellyball" has never turned anybody into an NBA champion, but it's sure fun to watch.
Nelson may have invented the seven-second offense, but nobody can light it up like the Suns -- when their heads are in the game. Their 154 points against Golden State was the most any NBA team has scored this season.
They were up by only 2 at the half, but they put on an offensive show from the middle of the third quarter on. In their homecoming, Warriors-turned-Suns Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes combined for 51 points. Richardson was the high scorer in the game with 31, 4 of them from three-pointers, and Barnes had 20.
We'd started to wonder what had happened to Richardson, whose ability from way out seemed to diminish when he hit the desert. When he was with the Charlotte Bobcats he was the leading three-point shooter in the league.
Goldon State had no answer for Shaquille O'Neal in the middle. Continuing his All-Star season, Shaq had 26 ponts. And, off the bench, Barbosa again had a stellar night, with 21.
The Suns had 56 fast-break points, the most they've had this decade (no kidding!), 84 points in the paint, and 40 assists. Strange thing is, Nash wasn't the assists leader in the game (he had 9, along with the Warriors' Jackson), it was Barnes -- who had a whopping 11.
Including a beautiful 20-foot pass above the rim to Richardson near the end of the third period for an alley-oop dunk.
The most entertaining moments in Oakland came when Stephen Jackson (who, you'll remember, was suspended when he was an Indiana Pacer -- along with Ron Artest -- for climbing into the stands in Detroit to rumble with fans) was ejected late in the third quarter, followed by Nelson 11 seconds later. It was the second technical for player and coach for mouthing off to the officials.
Next up the 33-31 Philadelphia 76ers here Wednesday night. With a worse record than the 36-31 Suns, the Sixers are in sixth place in the East. What a difference a conference makes!
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