Look at the list of players who didn't score a single point in the second quarter of Monday night's Phoenix Suns-Denver Nuggets game: Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups. Each a superstar; not one point among them.
Of course, it's difficult to score from the bench, where Nash and Stoudemire resided during the entire second quarter. Anthony and Billups, however, were on the floor and getting shutdown by the Suns' second-stringers. By the time the buzzer signaled halftime, the Suns had outscored the Nuggets 33-11 in the period. They used that momentum to power through the second half to an unexpectedly lopsided 101-85 win against the team that was number two in the Western Conference heading into Monday's game.
In the first quarter, the Phoenix Suns' starters looked hungover from Sunday's heartbreaking loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Alvin Gentry must've noticed it, too, so he let Nash, Stoudemire, and Robin Lopez ride the pine after the Nuggets took a 33-24 lead. That's when guys like Goran Dragic and Channing Frye got down to business: Nash's backup, Dragic, scored 10 huge points and clamped down on Billups, the Nuggets' second-leading scorer. Frye contributed seven.
Of course, Stoudemire and Nash returned for the second half and wound up with 19 and 11 points, respectively, and Stoudemire had another big night on the boards, pulling down 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, the old-timer, Grant Hill, scored 19 points (including 7-for-7 from the free-throw line) and had seven rebounds. Frye finished with 16 points, and Dragic and Jason Richardson each finished with 12.
Heading into the game, the Nuggets had the number-two seed in the West, but with their loss Monday and Dallas' eighth-straight win, the teams traded places in the standings. Meanwhile, the Suns, who have the number-five seed, find themselves just two games behind the Nuggets. The Suns have won seven of their last 10 games and look like one of the hotter teams in the league.
There's not much rest this week, though, as the Suns travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday to play the Clippers, come back home for a game against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, and then host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. The Clippers' 25-34 record doesn't appear intimidating, but they are an improving team who just helped the Suns out by upsetting the Jazz 108-104. The Jazz are the number-four-seeded team in the West, one game ahead of the Suns. That makes the Clippers game a must-win before the Jazz game on Thursday. The Clippers are led by Chris Kaman's 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. TV: My45 (channel 9). Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.suns.com