Phoenix Suns Still (Barely) Alive in the Playoff Race After 114-109 Win Over Tough Houston Rockets

The most lopsided statistic in the Phoenix Suns' 5-point victory over the powerhouse Houston Rockets Wednesday night was fast-break points. The Suns had 18 and the Rockets had 4.

It was run-and-gun basketball as only the Suns can do it (when their heads are in the game).

But the Suns also beat one of the best rebounding teams in basketball -- which features 7-foot-6 Yao Ming -- on the boards. Phoenix had 44 grabs to Houston's 40.

In fact, it was a battle of the behemoths in the paint at US Airways Center. At one point in the third quarter, Shaquille O'Neal saved the ball from going out of bounds on the Suns by bouncing it off Yao's face and into the crowd. At another point, Shaq knocked Yao on his behind under the goal, and Yao grabbed onto O'Neal's shorts to pull himself up as Shaq  headed the other way.

O'Neal finished with 10 rebounds, 22 points, 3 steals, and 2 blocked shots. Yao wound up with 14 rebounds, 20 points, and 1 block.

But the difference-maker in this game was Steve Nash, who contributed to most of the fast-breaks. He had 17 assists, 25 points, 3 steals, and just 1 turnover. He was a perfect 2 of 2 from the three-point line.

Interim coach Alvin Gentry's been saying that the Suns have started a new 8-game season at the end of the regular season, and that they need to win all 8 to have a chance at the final seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Nash quipped in the locker room after the game, "Well, it's good to get the first win out of the way." 

It would take a miracle, since the current eighth and last seed, the Dallas Mavericks, beat the Miami Heat by 2 points Wednesday night to remain 4 games ahead of the Suns with those 8 games to play (for each team). The 48-27 Rockets, by the way, are currently fourth in the West.

Up next for the Suns are the Sacramento Kings at home Friday night and then the Mavericks in Dallas Sunday afternoon.

Nothing's at all certain for these Suns, who lost to the Kings -- the worst team in the NBA this season -- 126-118 four days ago in Sacramento. This after losing an overtime heartbreaker to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City the night before.

The Suns have had a tumultuous season, with two coaching changes since last year, but they're in the predicament they're in because they lost to 9 games to sub-.500 teams.

If they had those games back, the 41-34 Suns would be 50-23 and in second place in the West. With or without Amar'e Stoudemire, gone for the season since late February with an eye injury, and Leandro Barbosa, out for the past 7 games and expected to return any game now with a brused knee. Most of the losses to bad teams came with both stars in uniform.

The Suns have come together as a team under Gentry, despite that 6-game losing streak against good teams in early-to-mid-March. But they need to make drastic changes in the off-season, whether or not they make the playoffs.

If it were up to us, we'd trade Stoudemire and Shaq. We'd miss the Big Cactus for the fun he inspires. But despite his great individual season, the Suns are in the toilet and need to get what they can for hm so they can rebuild.

They have some promising young players.

Jared Dudley sparked the Suns against Houston (as he's done for the past five games) with 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in 21 minutes. Lou Amundson had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 16 minutes.

As for who else to keep... Despite his 36 years on the planet, we'd also bring back Grant Hill, who's been playing like a 22-year-old lately. Against the Rockets, he had 23 points and, along with Dudley, had to guard the tough-as-nails Ron Artest, who finished with a game-high 28 ponts.

Nash, of course, is a keeper. He has another year on his Suns' contract, but we hope the team continues to develop Goran Dragic so that Nash can finish his career in purple and orange. (If the team continues to play Nash huge minutes next season, he may have only one year left in him.)

Matt Barnes had a good night against Houston: 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals. But the Suns should trade him, too. Way too inconsistent.

As for the rest, bring back Jason Richardson, who had 18 points against the Rockets. He hasn't been with the team a whole season (having come in the mid-season trade with the Charlotte Bobcats for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw). We think he'll mesh better next season after gong through a training camp. Keep Barbosa, the fastest guy in the NBA and a dangerous scorer when he's on his game, and Robin Lopez, who hasn't been as good as we'd hoped this season, but he's a rookie who'll develop into at least a good backup big man in years to come.

Oh, we also hope Gentry's allowed to stay on as head coach. The guy's got the touch.

As for GM Steve Kerr... If we were owner Robert Sarver, we'd see what he can get in the NBA draft and in off-season trades. The Suns need a couple of new stars, and it's up to Kerr to get them. Or get out.