And now, Sunday matters.
Not many people expected the Mavs to lose a game like this, and it’s just what the doctor ordered after they pulled off a big win against Miami earlier in the week.
Leandro Barbosa returned to the lineup and Kings star Kevin Martin was out, culminating in a big 28-point blowout in which the Suns yet again broke the 130-point mark. Steve Nash led the team with 29 points and nine assists, and Jason Richardson chipped in 19 of his own. The two combined for five made threes.
“Good win for us and now we get to go on the road and we are 2-0 in our new season, so now we play our first road game and we will see how that works out,” head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com.
The Suns played more good defense in the fourth quarter, giving up just 18 points with all bench players. They allowed just 46 in the second half after yielding 40 in the second quarter.
Francisco Garcia led Sacramento with 29 and Spencer Hawes had a career-best 22 in the contest, which was tied early in the third quarter before the Suns pulled away with a 14-0 run.
But possibly the biggest storyline about the game itself was the rest the Suns’ starters got going into Sunday’s game. Only two starters played more than 25 minutes, Nash (31) and Matt Barnes (28). Shaquille O’Neal only played 23.
This was largely possible because the bench showed up. Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa each added 15 off the bench and Goran Dragic scored 11 of his own to go along with five dimes. Dudley showed some range, canning four threes.
Barbosa scored his 15 in just under 15 minutes. He only missed three shots in nine attempts.
“I feel good,” he told Suns.com. “ I didn’t feel any pain and I was happy to be back with my teammates. Just happy – my cardiovascular is not well, so hopefully I will be better.”
Robin Lopez played big minutes (21), scoring eight points, pulling down four rebounds, and blocking three shots. Louis Amundson also played over 20 minutes, time in which he scored six points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked two shots as well. This was definitely one of the better bench games the Suns have had this season, scoring 57 off the bench.
Meanwhile, in Memphis, four Dallas starters and Jason Terry all played over 30 minutes, including Dirk Nowitzki, who played almost 41. They’ll travel home to Dallas and prepare for a Sunday game against Phoenix that the Suns have earned the right to make matter.
Tonight’s turn of events showed there’s still some form of hope.
Without a win Sunday, that’s completely gone. With a win, the gap is cut to two games with five remaining. That’s not impossible, especially since the Suns got the big win against Houston, which is probably the toughest game they had left on the schedule entering this week, and because Dallas surprised us all and lost to a (now) 21-win Grizzlies team.
It really makes you wonder how much more interesting things would be if the Suns hadn’t blown the Kings game Sunday and had found some way to pull out that win in Utah. But, it is what it is, and what it is is a three-game gap.
With LB back, Josh Howard’s status shaky, and the Suns playing great ball right now, things could get interesting. Looking ahead, the Suns begin a four-game road trip Sunday. They’ll get two days off before the game in New Orleans, which is crucial, as the Hornets are the only playoff team left on the Suns schedule other than Dallas.
After that, they’ll go to Memphis Friday and make the long trip to Minneapolis to face the Timberwolves the very next day. Then they come home the following Monday to face the Grizzlies again and close the regular season Wednesday against the Warriors. Those are all very winnable games, but the team needs to take things one game at a time, and right now that’s Dallas.
As for the Mavs, after the Suns, they’ll host a Utah team Wednesday that is in desperate need of some wins for seeding purposes. Then they’ll host the Hornets Friday and travel to New Orleans Sunday. After a quick trip back to Big D they face Minnesota the following Monday before what may be a huge game to close the regular season out against Houston.
If the Suns can win Sunday and cut the lead to two, you’d assume Dallas drops at least one of the Hornets games and the Houston game, with the Utah game a big question for them. That could just open the door. Maybe.
All the Suns can and could do was keep winning and hope Dallas drops some games… and Friday was definitely promising in that regard.
Tags: Leandro Barbosa