The big news here's that the really big guy went 12 for 12 from the free-throw line in weekend wins against the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Shaquille O'Neal's been saying he's gone back to the basics his father taught him when he was a little boy of 6-9. Well, it's working. He was so good from the stripe in Friday's 128-100 home blowout over the Mavericks and in Sunday's 109-103 road victory against the Clippers that he could teach Steve Nash a thing or three.
Bye, bye hack-a-Shaq if he keeps this up.
And free throws weren't all he was good at in these games. Against the Mavericks, O'Neal had 25 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. Against the Clippers, he had 15 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes. Solid performances both, and the impact of his presence doesn't show up on the stat sheet. In the last 10 games, he's been the Shaq of old -- an intimidating force down low.
Coach Terry Porter's system seemed to be working (finally!) against Dallas, as Shaq and Nash were a well-oiled machine, instead of like oil and water. That is, the Suns (21-13) were hitting on all cylinders. For the first time this season, they looked like a team that could make it to the NBA Finals.
They had the largest-scoring single quarter of the season, with 30 points to Dallas' 18 in the third. It was the largest point total for a quarter that the Mavs (22-14) had given up all season.
They controlled the paint on both ends. Thanks to Shaq and scrappy sub Lou Amundson (who had 7 boards), Phoenix won the rebounding war 43-32.
A combination of Suns defenders, but mostly Grant Hill, guarded superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and it paid off. He was held to 19 points. You'll remember that the last time these teams met on December 4 in Dallas, Nash's best buddy from his Mavs days lit up the Suns for 39 points.
Speaking of Nash, he had 9 points and 12 assists on Friday, but (more importantly) no turnovers. Indeed, the Suns as a team logged just 11 turnovers, the lowest number they've had in a long time.
Turnovers were again a problem against the Clippers, though, especially since the Suns weren't playing the stellar defense they'd played against the Mavs. Their 15 turnovers almost cost them the game, until they turned up the heat in the fourth quarter and pulled ahead to stay.
New hire Jason Richardson had 21 points in both games, and showed off his impressive dunking skill against the Clips, including a thundering put-back late in the game after a teammate's miss.
Amare Soudemire got back on track after a 16-point game against Dallas, with a 26-point, 7-rebound performance. For a few games before the one at Staples Center, Stoudemire hadn't played up to his potential, getting annoyed over almost every foul call against him, and getting doubly inflamed over perceived fouls when he missed shots.
So it was one beat-down win for the Suns over a top Western Conference opponent and one just-enough-energy-to-survive win against an NBA doormat. We'll take it on a weekend when the Arizona Cardinals won the right to play in the NFC championship game.
Next up Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at US Airways Center.