The Blazers found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place on Saturday night, but then that’s where they usually stay when they’re in town these days.
With Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire dominating inside and assorted snipers dropping five treys on them from outside in the last six minutes of the third period to open a 10-point lead, the Blazers suffered their 11th straight loss to the Suns in a venue they haven’t won at since March of 2006.
Shaq and Amare each blocked two shots in the first period to send an early message the paint was closed to Blazer traffic. They also established total superiority on the boards, which pretty much left the visitors to cast up threes. And while the Blazers really don’t mind doing this (in fact, they are among the league leaders in both three-point attempts and accuracy), they hit only 11 of 34 this night under the pressure of some of the most consistently solid defense the Suns have played in a home game this year.
O’Neal was especially powerful with 19 points and 17 boards, and earned a standing ovation after a dive for a loose ball sent him sailing over the first row of courtside seats. And considering what the Big Whatever (as in, whatever he wants to be called) has been doing so far this year, it’s not too early to place his name in nomination for Comeback Player of The Year — which would only be fitting considering he’s won and done just about everything else in his Hall of Fame career.
Considered over the hill (way over it by some), he’s been a lot closer to the top of the mountain he used to own back in the day. In fact, there are nights when it seems like he still is back in the day. And this was one of those nights, i.e., when the opposition seemed to be totally overmatched.
He’s had two or three of those nights already this year, and has been a major factor in the Suns managing to keep their heads well above .500 water while struggling to learn to swim all over again under the guidance of Coach Terry.
This was a good night for the Suns in a lot of ways. They still had 18 turnovers, but they generally moved the ball with more confidence and consistency as they snapped their longest losing streak in two seasons — two games. And they also made fewer glaring defensive mistakes while holding an opponent under 100 points for the eighth time in 14 games.
The bottom line: With games against Oklahoma City and Minnesota (there), and Miami (here) straight ahead, prospects for a happy and prosperous Thanksgiving week seem bright.