Right when the Suns seem to be finding themselves by putting together “Seven Seconds or Less” and Shaq to form “Seven Seconds or Shaq,” their most brutal stretch of the season continues with the start of a four-game trip tonight in Orlando.
The Suns begin play today just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Dallas, and if they can tread water over the next six games then they’ve really got to like their chances of making a run.
“Other than the Lakers and San Antonio nobody’s really running away with this thing in the West,” head coach Alvin Gentry said last week. “From being out of the playoffs to fourth place is just a nice little winning streak.”
Including Sunday’s win over the Lakers, I would say a 4-3 stretch should be the goal, although 3-4 would certainly be manageable so long as one of those wins comes against Dallas.
Coming off back-to-back performances of 45 and 33 points, Shaq figures to play a huge role again tonight against a Magic squad composed much like the Suns, with a beast in the middle in Dwight Howard surrounded by a crew of wing players.
Shaq has boasted that the Magic better double team him if they want to prevent another big game from the Shaqtus, but that’s easier said than done against Mr. Howard and an Orlando defense yielding the fewest points in the paint in the NBA.
The Suns will also be aided by the likely return of Steve Nash, who has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle.
It will be interesting to see how Nash adjusts to Shaq’s recent dominance considering their struggles to coexist earlier in the year and Shaq’s crazy numbers with Nash out.
The Magic rank third in defensive efficiency (99.6 points per 100) and sixth in offensive efficiency (108.2 per 100), but the Suns know they can beat this team after taking them down in December during J-Rich’s Phoenix debut.