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Friday, March 30, 2007

You Can Definitely Spell "Suns" Without A "D"

Supposedly, Kobe Bryant's recent string of five straight games of 40-plus points was diminished in value because they came against teams with losing records, including the Golden State Warriors. Well, those Warriors ran two-time MVP Steve Nash and his vaunted Phoenix Suns up and down the court in a 124-119 win on Thursday. The Suns trailed 109-86 going into the fourth quarter and were still down 10 with about two minutes to go, but a Boris Diaw three pointer with two seconds left made the final score deceptively close (the margin had not been five points since the 9:53 mark in the first quarter). Golden State scored 45 points in the first quarter and led 77-63 at halftime, prompting TNT's Charles Barkley to ask, "Seriously, do you really think that a team that gave up 80 points in a half is going to win a championship?" Ernie Johnson retorted, "Well, they gave up 77." Barkley said, "You round up. Don't you remember that from school?" The Warriors shot 60% from the field and outrebounded the Suns 25-17 in their highest scoring first half since April 1994. Jason Richardson led Golden State with 36 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 8-13 from three point range. Stephen Jackson had 29 points, seven assists and six rebounds and Baron Davis contributed 21 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Leandro Barbosa led Phoenix with 27 points, while Steve Nash had 14 points and nine assists.

The Suns are now 3-4 since their win against Dallas, including blowout losses to Denver and Detroit; the Suns' three wins are against Minnesota, Sacramento and Memphis. Contrary to what Bryant's critics bleated last week, the whole schedule is significant, not just the games that the pundits single out, and any NBA team can pose a threat on a given night. Bryant's ability to carry the Lakers to five wins, particularly at a time when the team was reeling and in danger of falling out of the playoff hunt, is very meaningful.

A couple weeks ago it looked like Phoenix had a chance to make a run at the number one seed but the Suns are falling apart down the stretch and are now just two games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the third seed. Dropping one spot in the standings would be very significant because it would mean that the Suns would likely have to beat both Dallas and San Antonio to make it to the NBA Finals and would not have home court advantage in either series. The Suns have spent most of the season beating up on the weaker teams while losing to Dallas, San Antonio and Utah but now, with the playoffs looming, some of the lesser teams are revealing chinks in the Suns' armor that the stronger teams will be even more equipped to exploit in a seven game series. The Warriors showed that it is possible to run against Phoenix if you have enough athletic players; they showed that with the right kind of lineup on the court there are all kinds of matchups that can be exploited on the post, including Steve Nash.

Of course, it would be just as wrong to read too much into this one game as it is to simply dismiss the Lakers' wins--but this is not just one loss, it is part of a most unimpressive seven game run since the Dallas game. That should concern anyone who roots for Phoenix. If the Suns do not greatly tighten up their defense and rebounding they will again fail to make it to the NBA Finals.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:37 AM

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