Leandro Barbosa shot 58% and scored 18 points in the Suns’ win over the Grizzlies.
(NBAE Photos)

Or, to put it another way, when you’re playing a team as poor as the Grizzlies, the book says to jump on them very early, and the Suns went by it – building a 41-22 lead on 68 percent shooting and a 14-6 edge in rebounding in the first quarter.

And although he took no shots, Shaquille O’Neal was the catalyst with four rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in less than 10 minutes. And perhaps as meaningful as those numbers are, what’s even more encouraging is the enthusiasm he has pumped back into the fans with his hustle. In fact, he got one ovation for diving after a loose ball.

The Suns also played some solid defense as long as it mattered for a second straight game, holding the Grizzlies to 41 first half points. True, Memphis scored 70 in the second half, but intensity is the key to “D”, and nothing drains intensity like a 39-point lead in the third period. Also, Coach Mike gave his starters the fourth period off.

And if you want to know just much the mood has changed around here, consider that just two games ago the Suns were fighting misperceptions that they were deader than a broken doorknob, and now Coach Mike is cautioning the faithful against overconfidence.

“We don’t want to get oversold because of what we did tonight,” he warned. “We’re still not there yet, but Shaq is getting better with each game, and I was real happy with our defense. We’ve got a chance to be a real good team.”

Also, while he’s not making any predictions or issuing any guarantees, Coach also thinks that although they are still the sixth seed slot in the West right now, the Suns still have a realistic shot at climbing back to the top in the West, and that the Suns have as good a shot as anybody as winning the NBA title.

And while I don’t want to make any predictions either, I’m with him on both of those points. The Suns haven’t solved all their problems by any means, but the other contenders have problems too, and the thing is there is no 900-pouind gorilla out there in the West, or the East either for that matter.

Another plus in this rout is how well the Suns seemed to mesh offensively, and how much more comfortable they seemed to be with each other in their “new” skin. Granted, it’s easy to mesh when you’re playing Memphis, but even so this is the kind of familiarity that definitely breeds content.

The Suns also had to be pleased with the play of recently acquired Gordan Giricek, who delivered 18 points in 30 minutes, and looked athletic and aggressive at both ends of the court.

The bottom line: Nothing gets a team to smiling as much as a laugher.