Down three players, the Phoenix Suns played toe to toe with the Los Angeles Lakers for four quarters before losing 115-110 at Staples Center.
With the usual assortment of show-biz types in attendance Wednesday night, the Suns, with just eight players available, looked much better against the powerful Lakers than they had in the first game against Kobe's Gang this season.
It made us wonder how the team might look when scorer Jason Richardson, acquired from the Charlotte Bobcats in Wednesday afternoon's monster trade, is in the lineup at shooting guard when the Pacific Division's two top teams butt heads again on February 26.
In the first game on November 20, the Lakers crushed the Suns 105-92. Not so in this second of four meetings. The Lakers, with all their major players suited up, only held a one-point lead at the end of three quarters.
The main reason: A 10-rebound, 25-point performance by tatted-up forward Matt Barnes, starting in place of Raja Bell, who along with Boris Diaw and Sean Singletary, was traded to the Bobcats. The Suns also got a second-round draft pick (hmmm).
Other reasons: an 11-rebound, 21-point night by Amare Stoudemire, a 7-rebound, 23-point night by Grant Hill, and an 18-point night off the bench by Leandro Barbosa (pictured).
There were fast breaks and highlight-film dunks by the Suns, and more importantly, just 14 turnovers. We never thought we'd say that 14 turnovers is a positive (the Lakers also had 14), but for a team that has committed 21 in a game, trust us, it's good.
Rookie center Robin Lopez, starting in place of Shaquille O'Neal (who'd traveled to North Carolina for his grandmother's funeral), had a respectible 8-point game. The 7-footer's most memorable moment was when he missed a slam dunk, but was fouled, in the third quarter. With his wild-haired lankiness elevated above rim, we had to give him style points.
As for the big trade, General Manager Steve Kerr had to do something! The deal for Shaq's looking like a dud (save for a couple of huge games against Milwaukee this season, where the mostly out-of-gas Diesel scored big points), and Bell and Diaw weren't blowing anybody's minds
An 18.8-points-per-game career scorer, Richardson should be a good addition to the Suns. He's a 40 percent three-point shooter and a two-time NBA slam-dunk champion. Talk about style points. We don't know much about the other player obtained in the trade, Jared Dudley, except that he wears a headband and is touted as a good defender off the bench.
Steve Kerr keeps talking about how the team needs to continue featuring Shaq but also pick up the pace. Richardson will certainly help the Suns liven things up, but we wonder how the first part of Kerr's plan can ever work. Shaq just ain't what he used to be.
Kerr also sings the praises of Lopez; we're hoping the Stanford rookie gets more and more playing time, and eventually starts over O'Neal. Shaq needs to face the fact that, at 36 and with a lot of wear and tear on that big body, he's a role player. -- Rick Barrs