February 2008 - Posts
The Phoenix Suns are in a bit of a pickle... they couldn't beat the Western Conference powers w/ Shawn Marion, so they traded for Shaquille O'Neal. The result... two ass-kicking defeats in a row to Eastern & Western Conference powers - Detroit & New Orleans. Ok, so maybe the Hornets aren't a "power", but they are playing well and did hand the Suns a crushing defeat last night. The Pistons... well, they just ran up & down, played slow & generally played a perfect game in dismantling the Suns by 30 points on Sunday afternoon.
All is not bad, however, as the Suns have also scored wins over Dallas (pre-Shaq), the league's best team in the Boston Celtics, and a gimme against the Memphis "We Love the Lakers" Grizzlies.
In the last two losses, Steve Nash has scored a combined 19 pts - 2 above his per game avg of 17.5 pts. It seems clear that Steve is more willing to try and work Shaq into the system by shooting less and passing more. There are about 24 games left, so the Suns have plenty of time to find their groove and work on their low-post, half court game.
The defense for Phoenix has simply been horrible... they are giving up about 115-118 points per game since trading Marion away. Yes, the Suns are still scoring their typical 108-110 points, but that's a 5-10 point deficit in just about every game. The offense has also been turning the ball over at a very high rate, which has led to numerous fast break opportunities for their opponents, especially in the losses.
From what I can see, and the stat sheet doesn't lie either, the players who aren't carrying their weight right now are Nash (19 pts in 2 games) and Boris Diaw, who seems to have gone in a funk, despite the fact that his minutes are up and he's getting more opportunities. He played 22 minutes in the loss to the Hornets and only scored 2 points (on 2 shots), and 24 minutes against the Pistons w/ only 2 pts (1-4 FG) - that simply will not get it done.
The Suns are also giving good minutes to the recently signed Linton Johnson, who Phoenix had to sign in order to fill their roster. I can't imagine that the rookies are too happy w/ the time D'Antoni is giving Johnson (24 min last night), but Strawberry and Tucker aren't exactly showing they belong in the lineup either.
Phoenix will probably need about 8-10 more games before we really see how well they are going to be performing when the playoffs start. The Suns cannot afford to lose too many games though, because the 8th seed in the West only has 3 more losses than Phoenix currently does. A few more losses and they may find themselves on the outside looking in, or at the very least, chasing all of the other teams for homecourt advantage. At the same time that Phoenix is trying not to lose games, they also need to be wary of how many minutes that Shaq is playing... he's over the 20-25 minutes that the coaches anticipated he'd be able to play. Just hope that his body holds up and he's healthy when the playoffs start (cross your fingers).
Phoenix is getting ready to start their toughest 5 game stretch of the season on Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are currently the 8th seed in the Western Conference, but are capable of threatening any top seed in the playoffs.
Following the game tomorrow night in California, the Suns will return to Phoenix for 4 of the toughest games on the schedule. Fortunately the games are at home, so they have a good shot at coming out with a winning record.
There are rumors that Shaq will join the Suns tomorrow night vs. the Warriors, but because GS plays small ball like the Suns, he probably wouldn't be much of a factor anyway. What the team is really hoping for is that O'neal will be available against the Mavericks on Thursday, the last game before the All-Star break. (Buy Suns/Mavericks tickets)
Following the break, the team will face the LA Lakers on Feb. 20th - the game will be much hyped as Shaq and Kobe face each other as Western Conference foes. The acquisition of Pau Gasol in early February makes the Lakers a much stronger team - they are threatening for the best record in the West. Without Shaq, the Suns will not fair well in this contest, so it's essential that he's ready to go. (Buy Suns/Lakers tickets)
Next up are the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons on Feb. 22 & 24th, respectively. Kevin Garnett should be back in the lineup after an abdominal strain that's kept him out for a few games and likely the All-Star Game. The Pistons are no cakewalk either, so hope for the best from this extremely tough schedule. A 3-2 or even a 2-3 would be acceptable if Shaq doesn't start, but they'll need to do a bit better if they want to keep the #1 seed inthe West. (Buy Suns/Celtics tickets) / (Buy Suns/Pistons tickets)
Shaquille O'Neal has been a member of the Phoenix Suns for less than 3 days, but fans can already get a Shaq Suns jersey online at the NBA Store. Shaq is going to be wearing #32, which is the same number Amare wore before switching to the #1.
Get your hands on a Shaquille O'Neal Suns jersey.
For those that might not be able to afford a full fledged Shaq jersey, get yourself a Suns' T-Shirt with Shaq's name and uniform number on it. Suns Shaq T-Shirts
Updated 2/6/08.... The reports are true & the trade is a done deal. Shaquille O'Neal traded for Shawn Marion & Marcus Banks. O'Neal is reportedly a week away from joining the team (on the court).
If reports are true, the Miami Heat are apparently shopping future Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns for forward Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks.
The deal makes sense financially, but that's about where it ends.
Shaq's presence in the Suns' lineup would change the tempo of the game, the style of play and their overall performance (negatively). He can't keep up with Nash, Barbosa or Stoudemire, so what's he going to do all game, sit back and cherry pick? There are rumors that Shaq's performance this year is an attempt to force a trade, but I think he's just lost a step. While his post presence might offer some hope against foes like San Antonio and now the Lakers, he's not going to contribute enough to warrant the trade.
Seriously, the Suns would be making a huge mistake by acquiring O'Neal.
Let's just say the Suns do get O'Neal... what do they do during the offseason if they don't win the championship? No one will want Shaq's $20 million contract (thru 2010). He won't be worth that to the Suns... so Phoenix would be forced to trade one of it's other top players in order to avoid the luxury tax. That would mean both Marion and either Nash or STAT would be gone from the team.
Last night's Suns/Spurs game was pretty enjoyable for about 3 1/2 quarters of play. Phoenix played well enough to lead almost the entire game, but their weaknesses were highlighted in the last few minutes by a less than perfect San Antonio team. Missing guard Tony Parker didn't matter either... the Spurs harassed Steve Nash and forced two late turnovers on exchanges between he and Amare Stoudemire.
This was supposed to be a statement game for Phoenix... revenge for last year's cheapshot outing in last year's playoffs... winning on their homecourt against arguably their top rival... showing they belong among the NBA's elite when talking about winning a championship.
I can't say that last night's game erases all hope for a championship, but give me a break... if you can't beat the Spurs without Tony Parker, who usually slices & dices your defense, when can you beat them? True, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell all had poor games - Stoudemire's stat sheet doesn't jump out at you either. But you cannot lose at home, in a game you should've won.
The Suns are still in position to grab homecourt advantage in the playoffs, but the competition is heavy and seemingly getting better every day. With the Lakers acquisition of Pau Gasol today for chump change, I honestly don't even see Phoenix getting past them in the playoffs (if they meet). If Jason Kidd ends up in Dallas, as is rumored, they will also be on par (or better) than the Suns as well.
Is it time to consider breaking up the nucleus and bringing in another big man? Are there any available that can stay healthy throughout the rest of the regular season and playoffs?
What do you think is wrong w/ the Suns? (please, leave a comment)