The Other Side: Phoenix Suns
Remember when Fun 'N Gun got buried? Terry Porter came in this season, eliminated Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds Or Less" offense and brought a more predictable offense that took the joy out of the Suns players, fans and media members who loved covering them. Then, the Suns made one of the more bumbled firings at the all-star break and replaced Porter with D'Antoni disciple Alvin Gentry, who immediately brought back the high-octane offense with a catch: No more seven seconds or less, it's "Seven Seconds Or Shaq."
The Suns scored 140 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in their first game under Gentry, then 142 again against the Clippers, then 140 against Oklahoma City - the day after realizing that Amare Stoudemire was going to miss the rest of the season with an eye injury. In the 17 games since Gentry replaced Porter, the Suns are averaging 120.6 points and could possibly be the most efficient offense ever. On Sunday, the Suns blazed through Golden State for 154 points, the highest point total in a regulation road game since Houston scored 156 in 1991. Gentry already has a really big supporter in O'Neal.
So, the fun is back, right? Sort of. The points haven't equated to more wins, necessarily. A six-game losing streak earlier this month essentially stuck a fork in them this season. Even after winning their past three games, the Suns appear lottery bound without Stoudemire and now Leandro Barbosa, who suffered a bone bruise in his left game during the Suns' 126-116 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday. Barbosa is expected to miss one to three weeks, which severely damages an already flimsy roster that trails Dallas by 3 ½ games for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Suns (37-31) are 7-0 against below .500 teams under Gentry, who is only 9-8 since taking over. They defeated the Wizards. Wizards on Jan. 26, with Shaquille O'Neal going for 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and one smooch on Caron Butler's temple. Here's what else you should know about the Suns as they prepare to host the Wizards tonight at US Airways Center:
1. Shaq Ain't Done Yet
The coaching change and the loss of Amare Stoudemire has contributed to a much better Shaq. In his past 17 games, O'Neal is averaging 20.5 points, up from his his average of 17.3 points before sharing the all-star game MVP with Kobe Bryant. His 61.4 field goal percentage is a career high and his 61.7 free throw percentage is close to a career-high. The Big Shaqtus is playing so well that the 37-year-old said recently that he will continue to put up big numbers until he's 40; which is pretty interesting since his current contract expires at the end of next season.
Tonight will likely be a historic evening for O'Neal. He needs just 12 points to pass Moses Malone for fifth on the NBA's all-time scoring list (No need to worry about fourth. Shaq needs more than 4,000 to catch Wilt Chamberlain). O'Neal has been a bit grumpy of late, as he recently blasted Chris Bosh and Stan Van Gundy. But his comments have only made him more relevant as he moves closer to a rocking chair. His quick wit and ability to fill a notebook has also sparked a new nickname: Shaqspeare. O'Neal will likley miss the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season. But whenever Shaq leaves, he surely will be missed, so we should cherish moments like this:
2. Grant Hill Is Gunning For 82
Hill was held scoreless on March 6 against Houston, but since then, he has averaged 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in his past six games. At age 36, Hill has played all 68 games this season, which is the longest streak of his career. His previous best was 50 in 1999, but Hill hopes to play all 82 games for the first time in his career. His durability this season has led Gentry's daughter, Alexis, to call him "Benjamin Button," because the Virginia native appears to be getting younger. Hill had a recent interview with Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick, in which he said, among other things, that Christian Laettner is "a jerk" and that O'Neal is the "50 Cent of the NBA" because "if you say something bad him, he will have a mix-tape response the next day."
3. Steve Nash Is An MLS Owner
Steve Nash's passion for soccer is well-documented. He likely would've played the sport professionally if not for basketball. But now Nash gets to live out his passion as part-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps, a Major League Soccer expansion team that will begin play in 2011 in Nash's home province. Nash once explored ownership of his favorite English Premier League club, Tottenham. As for his day job, Nash has also excelled under Gentry. He is averaging 20.2 points on 55.3 percent shooting (114 of 206), 47.2 percent from behind the three-point line, and 9.6 assists.
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