The Phoenix Suns were impressive against a good team Wednesday night, beating the New Orleans Hornets 105-100 on sterling play by their team leaders.
But it doesn't matter.
The Dallas Mavericks demolished the Utah Jazz 130-101 later in the evening and knocked Phoenix out of the playoffs.
Remember, going into Wednesday night's games, the Suns had to win all five of their remaining regular season contests and the Mavericks had to lose all five of theirs for Phoenix to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
We said the other day that it wasn't over 'til it's over. Well, it's over.
And our prediction's that it's over for this version of the Phoenix Suns, too. Look for off-season trades of Shaquille O'Neal, Amar'e Stoudemire (if anybody will immediately want him with his gimpy eye), and just about anybody else on the roster. Even the previously sacrosanct Steve Nash could be headed out of town after this sad finish.
There's not much else the Suns can do but start over.
A team that was once predicted to win it all sooner or later fell flat on their faces this season. It's an understatement to say that Suns players could never mesh after Coach Mike D'Antoni's angry departure last year. General Manager Steve Kerr made a terrible decision by bringing in Terry Porter and his turgid half-court offense/hard-ass people skills.
The Suns were meant to run and gun, and they improved under Porter's replacement, Alvin Gentry. But it was too little, too late.
Nobody should blame Gentry for the fizzle. He did all he could with this talented but ill-focused bunch. We hope he's given a chance to rebuild the Suns next year, because he's got coaching talent.
Now here's what happened in the game in New Orleans that didn't really matter.
Nash and Shaq had a spectacular night, and the other old guy, Grant Hill, was no slouch either.
The two-time league MVP had 24 points and 13 assists. The one-time league MVP and the largest man in the NBA (Yao Ming's five inches taller, but O'Neal's bigger) had 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists. As for Hill, he hit two clutch jump shots in the fourth quarter that kept Phoenix in the game during a New Orleans surge powered by phenominal point guard Chris Paul and forward David West.
Paul, the new Steve Nash (who also plays defense), had 29 points, 16 assists, and 7 rebounds. And West, who was virtually unstoppable in the final period, wound up with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
The difference in the game was that Nash and Shaq got more help from their supporting cast.
Hill finished with 10 points, and played his usual killer defense, super-sub Jared Dudley had 10 off the bench, Jason Richardson had 17, and Matt Barnes had 9.
Even though they clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night, New Orleans (48-30) played to win. They're two games behind fifth-place Portland in the West and would like to move up.
As for the Suns (43-35), they've got four more games for us to get through before much of this year's roster rides off into the sunset. More like out on a rail.
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