The Suns played well in Portland. They actually demonstrated some cohesion.
It looked for this game like the running Suns, returned suddenly from the old Mike D'Antoni days, could actually work Shaq into the offense. It wasn't his best night; the big man had 19 points and six rebounds, but he dominated inside.
It was a high-scoring game, with Amare Stoudemire putting in 23, new Sun Jason Richardson 17, and Steve Nash 15 and 11 assists. Looking energetic and (cough...) like a championship contender, the Suns combined for 119 points.
And Matt Barnes, wow! He had his best night as a Sun, hitting five of six three-pointers in a 22-point scoring surge off the bench.
An even bigger wow! goes to Portland shooting guard Brandon Roy (pictured), but we're not finished talking about the Suns.
They even played decent defense.
Turnovers and rebounding (especially offensive) continued to haunt them. The team had 16 botches to Portland's six. And only seven of the Suns' 32 rebounds were offensive (The Trail Blazers had 15 of 35).
Yet the Suns led for most of the game, by double figures on several occasions. They were in it right up until the end.
But they had a lot to overcome. Namely the cyclone named B. Roy, who lit them up for 52 points. And overcome they could not.
The second-year pro out of the University of Washington hit almost everything he threw up. Looking like Kobe Bryant, he put on a jump-shooting clinic, hitting myraid off-balance shots, five of seven threes.
It was a career game for Roy, and there wasn't much the Suns could do. When a guy starts hitting impossible shots from long range with hands in his face, the strategy is to wait until he cools off. Well, Roy never did.
The Suns, winners over Portland nine straight times before Thursday night, wound up losing to the Trail Blazers by five points. The Blazers' 124 points came also on scoring by Steve Blake (22) LaMarcus Aldridge (16), and Travis Outlaw (14).
Number-one draft pick a couple of years ago, Greg Oden, wasn't a factor. O'Neal got the seven-footer into foul trouble early (he'd accumulate five), forcing him to sit out more than half the game. At one point, Oden gives Shaq a slight push and the 350-pounder goes flailing out of bounds -- in a performance worth of an Oscar.
O'Neal took the burly kid to school.
Watching the game, you had to feel sympathy for the Suns, who played the best they have all season and lost. It certainly marred Suns Coach Terry Porter's homecoming to the city where he starred as a player, where his number 30 was ceremoniously lofted into the Rose Garden's rafters the other day.
But you also felt you were watching the birth of greatness. Brandon Roy may have taken a first step into an elite NBA realm. This season, only a 55-point night by San Antonio's Tony Parker tops Roy's performance Thursday night. -- Rick Barrs