I don’t know how they feel about it (my guess is they probably don’t care), but if I were the Lakers I’d be doing some serious scoreboard watching the next few weeks and cheering AGAINST whatever team Dallas is playing and FOR whatever team the Suns are playing.
I’m not saying the Lords of the Western Realm should be quaking in their sneakers at the prospect of facing either contender for the eighth seed, but I AM saying that the Mavs would amount to a bye, whereas the Suns…
Well, I could be wrong, but I get the sense something special is starting to happen with the Suns, and I think they do too. And no matter how much you’re favored you don’t want to mess with a team that’s giving off that kind of vibe if you don’t have to.
It’s not just that the Suns have an offense that can cause anybody grief. They’ve always had that, and even without Amare and Leandro Barbosa they obviously still do. But where they were flunking chemistry just a month ago they are suddenly getting straight A’s in it. And while their defense will still keep them off the dean’s list, it is now good enough to make stops that matter.
Not only that, but where they have been notoriously lacking in depth the last few years they are now getting key contributions from reserves who were barely on the roster, let alone the radar a few weeks ago. And their confidence level hasn’t been this high since 2007-08.
And then, of course, there’s Shaq, who drained two clutch free throws to tie the score for the last time at 1:28, and then hustled back down the floor to block a shot and finished with 19 points in just 24 minutes. Grant Hill would give the Suns the lead for good with a short jumper off a perfectly executed play out of a time out, and the Suns would draw offensive fouls on the next two Denver possessions to seal the deal. In fact, the Nuggets’ only points in their last four possessions came on a two-shot foul the Suns wisely took to protect a three-point lead.
As for the reserves, Louis Amundson, Jared Dudley, and Goran Drajic all made significant contributions. The latter is beginning to look less and less like a mistake and more and more like a prospect, and Amundson plays the kind of defense and gets the kind of rebounds that obviously get under opposing skins, as witness the fact Nene was the second player this month ejected for assaulting him.
Last night’s game was advertised as a battle between the two hottest teams in the West, and lived up to that billing in a furious back and forth struggle so fast paced the officials almost couldn’t keep up. (Okay, scratch “almost”. I haven’t seen this much guessing since I last watched “Deal Or No Deal”).
The Suns went from 14 up in the opening minute of the second period to 11 down halfway through the third before their poise and execution kicked back in. And both poise and execution deserted Denver in the frantic final 90 seconds.
Obviously the road to the playoffs still runs up a pretty steep hill for the Suns, but their energy level is peaking, and the mostly favorable schedule is sort of like the wind at their backs.
The bottom line: During that six-game losing streak there was no logical reason to believe the Suns would make this kind of recovery, especially with two key pieces of the offense missing. And maybe this five-game winning streak is no more accurate a gauge of the team’s true identity than was the six-game losing streak that preceded it. Maybe the truth, as per usual, lies somewhere in between.
Maybe. But I don’t think so. Like I said, I’ve got this feeling this team is poised to do something special. (Of course, I also had the feeling I was going to win the lottery last week).