What do you get on a night when a very good home team that can’t do anything wrong meets a very bad road team that can’t do anything?
Very deceiving results. I mean, there’s no way this one was as close as that 117-88 score indicates.
Now I realize that beating the T-Wolves any place beyond the Minneapolis city limits is not exactly like beating a leopard in a tree, but even when you get past that disclaimer you have to be very impressed with how many levels the Suns have raised their game in the last few weeks (or even raised themselves from the dead if you listened to the way some folks were talking during the period of adjustment)..
Offense, defense, rebounding, chemistry, body language, you name it. And bear in mind the Suns weren’t exactly chopped liver BEFORE The Trade transformed this into the strongest playoff-type team in the Mike D’Antoni era.
Even those of us who climbed out on a limb (actually more like a strong branch) and proclaimed the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal was a great one never dared suggest The Big Difference would make THIS much difference.
It’s not all Shaq by any means, of course. It’s also a matter of Raja Bell getting healthy, Boris Diaw taking fewer naps during games, Amare going from All World to Other Worldly, Steve Nash playing back to his MVP form, and even the overlooked signing of Gordon Giricek giving Coach Mike another useful piece of the puzzle.
But No. 32 has clearly been the catalyst. And you don’t have to look any further than the four games against the T-Wolves this year to pinpoint statistically what a difference a Shaq makes.
In the three games without him the Wolves beat the Suns half to death on the boards, 153-99, with a lot of that damage being done on the offensive end. But last night the Suns had a 52-39 edge that could have been even greater if Coach Mike hadn’t emptied his bench. (And speaking of that, by the way, the seldom seen back of the bench delivered 15 points).
And it wasn’t just a one-night phenomenon. Since The Trade the Suns have clearly corrected what had been one of their most glaring weaknesses, namely frailty off the glass.
And as I mentioned earlier, they have managed to shore up their weakness, including alleged softness and defense, without sacrificing any of their offense.
And where all teams talk about hitting their stride at the right time (i.e., now), the Suns are walking that talk with a vengeance.
The bottom line: There is every indication the next few weeks will be among the most exciting in franchise history.