The rested Phoenix Suns were on a five-game winning streak, with four of those victories coming on a four-game road trip, to make them fifth in the West.
And on that trip, the Suns had done something they hadn't done since early in the season, something the Steve Nash version of the Suns are historically infamous for not doing -- they played shut-down defense.
Well, this didn't happen in Phoenix's 108-101 loss to Portland at US Airways Center last night. Sure, the Suns (now 31-22) finally came around on D, but it was too little to late, as two Suns head to the All-Star Game in Dallas and the rest go on vacation until next Tuesday's road game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Suns hadn't played since Friday night 's 114-102 whipping of the Sacramento Kings, and the mini-vacation apparently made them sluggish. Portland (now 31-24) led 60-44 at the half, and it only got worse in the third quarter when Portland -- without injured stars Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, plus journeyman center Joel Przybilla -- jumped to a 22-point advantage.
But in the fourth, Phoenix showed life, cutting the lead to seven with plenty of time left to take the game. Only Portland woke up, forced turnovers, and pushed the score up to double-digits again.
Phoenix made another run -- capped by a long three-pointer by Nash -- and came within four. But with only 19 seconds left and a Portland team that shot better than 58 percent from the field, the Suns went down before a disappointed sellout crowd.
The Suns killers on this night were: LaMarcus Aldridge, with 22 points, and guards Steve Blake and Andre Miller, with 20 points each and a combined 17 assists and nine boards.
Not much of a send-off for Nash and Stoudemire, the starting point guard and center for the West All-Stars on Sunday -- though both played well against the Trail Blazers: Nash, who's having his best season in several at age 35, had 15 points and 11 assists, and Stoudemire had 24 points and nine rebounds.
Against Portland, Amar'e wasn't that far off his killer average of 20 points and 13 rebounds during the recent four-game-winning road trip, but he definitely didn't play the same consistent defense he'd played against New Orleans, Houston, Denver, and the Kings. That is, he seemed to sleepwalk on D most of last evening, which arguably cost his team the game.
So what about that trade talk involving Stoudemire? As the February 18 NBA trade deadline approaches, it seems to have fizzled. Apparently nobody has come forward who's willing to offer the inconsistent Suns star a better deal than the $17 million he's set to earn from Phoenix next season during the last year of his contract.
Good thing for fans here, too, because the Suns don't seem poised (in this economy) to pay the big money that would be necessary to land a star of Stoudemire's quality (inconsistent though STAT certainly is). Also, the only name we've heard that might make sense for the Suns is the Lakers' Andrew Bynum, and that deal is about as likely as the Suns winning the title this year.
The All-Star Game will be broadcast on TNT from Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, beginning at 6 p.m. our time. The Suns' next game from Memphis will be Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m. TV: My45. Radio: KTAR 620 AM. For more information go to www.suns.com.