Suns 128, Wizards 96 – A milestone affair

Shaq slammed his way into fifth place on the all-time scoring list. (AP/Darryl Webb)

Shaq slammed his way into fifth place on the all-time scoring list. (AP/Darryl Webb)

If you need any further proof that the 2008-2009 Phoenix Suns have been defined by mediocrity this season, look no further than this stat: the Suns won their fourth game in a row for the first time all year in Saturday’s 128-96 victory over Washington.

And it’s March 21.

And it followed a six-game losing streak.

Such streaks used to be commonplace on Planet Orange, but five times this season Phoenix won three in a row and five times this season Phoenix lost the fourth one before Saturday night.

Case in point the Suns reeled off an 11-gamer, a nine-gamer, two six-gamers and two five-gamers in 2004-05, an 11-gamer and a nine-gamer in 05-06, a 17-gamer, a 15-gamer a six-gamer and a pair of five-gamers in 06-07 and an eight-gamer, seven-gamer and five-gamer last season.

That means the Suns won at least five games in a row 17 times under Mike D’Antoni, whereas the only such elongated streak they’ve sustained this year was the recent six-game losing streak.

If the Suns, now 3 1/2 games behind Dallas, hope to reach the playoffs, they better extend this streak to the kind of crooked number D’Antoni’s teams were famous for.

As for the real reason this was a milestone night, Shaquille O’Neal passed Moses Malone for fifth on the all-time scoring list and even had time to send a halftime tweet minutes before reaching the achievement just to see if he could get away with it.

THE_REAL_SHAQ sent out a “Shhhhhhh” over Twitter minutes before joining the pantheon of all-time NBA scorers. Not sure if the old school Malone would have appreciated that one.

It’s kind of fitting that Shaq tied Malone’s 27,409 by hitting his first free throw before missing the second. That delayed the inevitable until the next possession when Shaq slammed home a feed from Jason Richardson.

Just like it took Shaq just a couple seconds longer to break the record due to his below par free-throw shooting ability, how long ago would the Daddy have passed Moses if he were at least a passable NBA free-throw shooter?

“It was pretty good, but I’m kind of still disappointed in myself,” Shaq told Suns.com. “Mathematically, I’ve missed three years worth of games and I missed 5,000 free throws. If I was there, I’d probably be No. 2 or No. 3 right now.

“However it’s still a pretty good accomplishment. It shows I’ve been consistent at what I’ve been doing and the next guy is my illegitimate father – Wilt Chamberlain – so just like in Star Wars, hopefully I can catch up to my father.”

Because of the free-throw struggles that have plagued his career – the one major weakness from a player who will likely go down as the most dominant big man to ever play the game – and his age, fifth likely will be where he will wind up on this list until some Kobe or LeBron passes him.

It’s seems like Shaq has passed a new name on the scoring list every couple of weeks this season, but he will have to score over 4,000 points to reach Wilt. Considering O’Neal has scored 1,112 points this season and only has one more year on a deal that will likely be his last, this will be it unless the fountain of youth he has seemed to discover this year is real and he plays another couple years after his contract expires.

“I would say it was really important (to move up the list), but my thing when I first came into this league, I always said to myself, ‘When I leave, I will be remembered,’” Shaq said. “I’m up there with some pretty good company.”

Kareem, the Mailman, MJ, Wilt and Shaq? I’d say.

Although basketball isn’t a records sport like baseball, this has got to be the best individual record for a player to rank among the top five players in history in, the basketball equivalent of the home run record.

Shaq has now etched his name on the top-five of that list, and there’s no need to talk about asterisks.

Besides Shaq, there was an actual game tonight, and it wasn’t always the cakewalk you might presume it to be if you only saw the final score.

The Suns led by 19 early and looked to run away with this game, only for the Wizards to charge all the way back to cut the lead to one early in the third quarter.

From there on it was all Phoenix in a game the Suns ended up winning by 32.

J-Rich spearheaded the third-quarter run with 17 of his season-high 35 in the third, including five threes. He was on all night from deep (6-for-7 before two late misses) and made a couple creative forays to the hoop, including a reverse dunk that got the crowd on its feet.

“I just felt like every shot I threw up was going to go in,” Richardson told Suns.com after putting up a plus 30 in his 37 minutes. “A couple of them, when they left my hand, I called it that it was going to miss and I kind of shocked myself when a couple of them went in.”

The Suns put up some more gaudy offensive numbers, hitting 55.4 percent from the floor, while assisting on 32 of their 51 baskets. Six players recorded at least four dimes and seven finished in double figures in the points column.

Meanwhile, the Suns held Washington to 40.0 percent shooting while no Wizard assisted on more than three baskets. Aside from a 37-point second quarter explosion, the Wiz scored only 59 points during the rest of the game, starting with a 16-point first quarter.

For Phoenix, Jared Dudley had another Jared Dudley-esque game off the bench with 11 points and six assists for a plus 27 in 26 minutes, and Stromile Swift came out of nowhere to put up 10 points and 12 boards (four offensive) in 21 minutes, providing exactly the kind of presence Phoenix needs off the bench down low.

Their first four-game winning streak of the year, their star center moving into the pantheon of the all-time scoring list and their starting shooting guard going for a season-high 35 in a 32-point win.

It almost makes you forget the Suns are still a long shot to reach the Western Conference playoffs.

Tags: Jason Richardson

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