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Many of the Suns bench players were required to contribute to Thursday’s win against Dallas.

(NBAE Photos)

span>The victory over the Mavericks left them only 8 percentage points behind New Orleans for the top spot, a game and a half ahead of the Lakers, two games ahead of both Dallas and San Antonio, and three games ahead of PMah. And this despite the face the Big Punctuation (either exclamation point or question mark, depending on which of the wildly divergent national views you have of the Shaquille O’Neal deal) has yet to make his first appearance.

Under ordinary circumstances the victory over the Mavs would have had much greater significance. But with the depleted Mavs minus ANY point guard, never mind Jason Kidd, who is still a Net, and Devin Harris, who is still a Mavs but is hurt, not to mention Josh Howard and his 20 points and 7 rebounds, it was marked down to just a nice win.

That the Mavs had only eight assists underscored how badly they need a point guard. And that the Mavs had 20 offensive rebounds was yet more proof how much the Suns need a Shaq.

“We’ll both be better the next time we meet,” said Coach Mike. “They’ve got some guys missing and we’re still not where we’re going to be when Shaq is ready, but I was pleased with our energy tonight.

Speaking of point guards, the Mavs were again tortured by the one they let get away, as Steve Nash had 13 assists and 24 points. But the Suns also got 26 points each from Amare and Leandro Barbosa, and some outstanding defensive work from Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, and Raja Bell.

Diaw and Hill were surprising effective rotating against Dirk Nowitzki and Bell did an outstanding job of slowing down Jason Terry in the second half.

“I think this is the best job we’ve ever done on Dirk,’ said Coach Mike. “I’m not saying we stopped him, just that we did a good job.”

And while Nowitzki finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds, he needed 31 shots to get his points, and was pressured into several bad passes.

The bottom line: It should be a fun four days off for Coach Mike.

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