Where was that all last month?
Anybody who watched the Suns destroy the Kings 129-81 on Monday night would be hard-pressed to believe this was the same organization whose players were holding team meetings, whose executives were plotting the future of the team and whose fans were deciding whom is most to blame the last few days.
The question now is whether this was more of a tease than the Cardinals’ late Super Bowl lead or actually a sign of a team that may still gel when it counts.
Even after the Suns beat the Kings worse than they had ever beaten another team at US Airways Center and worse than any squad has been beaten in the NBA this season, not everybody is ready to forget how Phoenix felt 48 hours earlier after a disheartening loss to Chicago.
“It was a good game, but it could also be fool’s gold,” Shaq told Suns.com. “I said that a couple of weeks ago – that if we could bottle this up, then we have a chance. It was a good game, but this is a team you’re supposed to do it to, so it’s good that we got the win, but now we’ve got to bottle it up and continue to play like that.
“If we play just like that, we have a chance – but if we play like we played the other day, we don’t have a chance. You can’t keep going back and forth – you have to bottle this one up and go forward.”
Added Grant Hill, “It was a good step. We just have to continue to work at it and work hard and not think that we’ve arrived but hopefully get some confidence from this and some belief and go out there and hopefully get another win in a couple of days.”
It is amazing how much better things feel after a victory like this. Suddenly trading Amare doesn’t sound so attractive, and you’ve really got to wonder what this team can do when it plays up to its immense potential.
But I love that a leader like Shaq said this performance could be “fool’s gold” because all the Suns really did was record a ‘W’ over one of the worst teams in the league, a team that entered the game 3-22 on the road and recently endured an eight-game losing streak. A win is still just a win, whether by one point or by 48.
At the beginning of the month the Suns seemed to have “found themselves” after dominating Dallas in the second half, beating the Clippers and taking down a solid Atlanta squad, after which Hill said something in hindsight he must regret by exclaiming, “I think we’re here now.”
After making that statement the Suns proceeded to lose seven of 10, with four of the defeats coming to losing teams. At that point, wherever the Suns were after their loss to the Bulls on Saturday wasn’t even on the same continent as the “here now” the Suns want to be at.
Still, the Suns needed a game like this. They didn’t need to just beat the Kings, they needed to smear them and inspire some confidence in their fans and more importantly in themselves that the demise of the Phoenix Suns may yet be greatly exaggerated.
I’m with Shaq and know this still could be a “fool’s gold” blowout, but it was great to see the Suns had it in them to run a team off the court like they did so many times over the past four years but so seldom by such a large margin of victory.
“I think it was definitely needed, I talked earlier about just for our confidence we needed a game like this,” head coach Terry Porter told Suns.com. “We can start believing again that we are a good team. I think when you lose in this league, there are always doubts. We just have been kind of hitting bumps in the road. We needed to win to kind of get us going.”
Phoenix pushed the tempo in this one, and the results speak for themselves. Jason Richardson in particular was greatly affected by it for the better.
His big day started immediately when Steve Nash found him cutting for a layup and things only got better from there. J-Rich finished with 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting, six assists, five boards and four steals, all in just 25 minutes. The Suns were plus 25 with him on the floor, and 10 minutes in the score was J-Rich 16, Kings 15.
This was bar none Jason Richardson’s best game as a Phoenix Sun. He was active on defense, cutting for hoops, hitting jump shots, finding teammates with fancy passes in transition and doing everything Jason Richardson was advertised to be able to do but hasn’t at times.
J-Rich had reached double figures in just five of his past 11 games and oftentimes looked all too content to stand around and watch his teammates. The Suns are a completely different team when he brings the energy he did tonight.
Also, Amare played with some of the aggressiveness he’s lacked in recent weeks by racking up 25 points and eight boards in just 28 minutes, and it’s awfully hard to justify trading a guy who just put up a plus 49.
Nash orchestrated the offense with nine assists, Hill continued to play well with 14 and seven and Shaq made the most of his opportunities with 10 points and nine boards. Everybody crashed the glass hard as Phoenix won the rebounding battle by a 59-35 margin, grabbing 21 boards on the offensive glass.
With the Suns leading by 48 going into the fourth, the final period looked more like a preseason game with the bench crew trying to impress their coaches to crack the rotation and fans getting a look at how the team’s youngsters are developing.
It was a little strange to see Matt Barnes playing with that group instead of Lou Amundson, but presumably Porter wanted to give Barnes some time to work through his struggles. Either that or Amundson has passed Barnes on the depth chart, and who would have thought that in November?
I really liked what I saw out of Robin Lopez. To put it bluntly he’s been pretty terrible this season, but by all accounts he’s been working hard and improving in practice, and that could be seen Monday night.
He even grabbed four offensive rebounds, bettering his January total in 14 February minutes, and showed an improved offensive game.
Goran Dragic also played with more confidence, and he looked awfully good canning a three that he just never seemed to make earlier in the season.
All the while the Suns’ regulars were yukking it up, and talk of trades, firings and the end of an era were nowhere to be found in US Airways Center for one night at least.
The Suns are still far from turning the corner, but after a win like this at least it feels like there could be a corner to turn somewhere in the distance.