Heading into the second game of this brutal five-game road trip, I was anxious to see how the red-hot Suns would perform against a member of the NBA’s elite.
Well, tonight Dwight Howard and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic showed exactly why they were playing in the NBA Finals last season while the Suns were sitting at home.
Even without Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, Orlando’s size and depth proved to be too much for the Suns en route to a dominating 122-100 Magic victory.
The Suns were bound to lose a game this road trip, and the fact that it was to the Orlando Magic was far from surprising. But after playing so well down the stretch last night in Miami, I expected the Suns to show a little more fight in this matchup.
They actually played a decent first half, going into the locker room down 56-52 after fighting back from an early deficit. Amare Stoudmire was everywhere the first two quarters — putting up 19 and 11 at the half — and Dwight Howard was sitting for the final four minutes of the quarter with three fouls.
Sounds like a recipe for a very competitive game, right? Wrong.
The Magic came out in the second half firing on all cylinders, as they scored 16 points in the first 3:30 of the third quarter and opened the period on a 20-5 run, giving the Suns little hope for a comeback.
Both Channing Frye and Jason Richardson picked up their fourth foul early in the third, leaving the Suns shorthanded with no Leandro Barbosa (wrist) and Robin Lopez (foot) to fill the void.
The Magic exploited the Suns’ lack of interior defense with the physical specimen known as “Superman.” Howard scored 17 points in the third quarter alone when Orlando took a 23-point lead and never looked back.
The entire NBA world knows the Suns can put up points in a hurry, but this game proved once again that they can give up buckets just as quickly as they can score them. In a matter of minutes, the Suns were completely eliminated from this contest. The game got so ugly that Steve Nash and Grant Hill didn’t even play the final quarter and a half.
The Magic simply mopped the Amway Arena floor with the Suns tonight, sending a Phoenix Suns team that appeared to be taking the NBA by storm back to the drawing board.
Less than 24 hours after gutting through defensive stop after defensive stop in the fourth quarter against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, the Suns reverted back to old ways tonight, allowing the Magic to do virtually whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted on the court.
While opponents scoring over 120 points on the Suns is certainly not a rarity, the Suns gave up 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 52.2 percent shooting from distance. It is impossible to win when you allow your opponent to shoot over 50 percent from both inside and outside the arc.
As has been the case thus far this season, the Suns did a decent job on the glass, only allowing the Magic to win the battle of the boards by three, but their terrible perimeter and interior defense nixed the rebounding effort.
The Suns’ atrocious defense combined with an off night from Nash and his running mates offensively resulted in a slaughtering of Phoenix. Aside from a few bright spots, the offense just wasn’t clicking. Most notably J-Rich and Hill combined for a whopping zero points on 0-for-9 shooting in a combined 39 minutes.
Channing Frye got into some early foul trouble and has yet to be effective on the road, as he posted five points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. That brings his averages in three road games to 8.7 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game.
The Suns’ offense as a whole was out of sync, as they shot 45.5 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from long range and 65.0 percent from the charity stripe.
It is nice when your offense can still put up a C-Note on an off night, but when they give up 122 points, the offensive output means nothing. The Magic played like the Eastern Conference champions, even without Carter and Lewis, and the Suns played like a team with some serious holes defensively and down low.
Although the Suns were absolutely dominated, there were a few positives to take away from the game:
- Amare Stoudemire looked more aggressive and explosive than he has all season. He finished the game with 25 points and 14 rebounds on 10-for-21 shooting. He was dominated down low on defense, but if he can combine his defense from the first four games with his offense from tonight, he may finally become that complete player the Suns need him to be.
- Goran Dragic looked very confident and aggressive. He was constantly weaving in and out of the defense and rarely hesitated on an open jumper. Although a solid portion of his minutes came in garbage time, he finished the game with 15 points and six assists and more importantly hoisted 10 shots in 30 minutes. If he can get 30 minutes every once in a while, he should be comfortable and confident when called upon in big spots.
- Jared Dudley’s solid performance was finally reflected in the box score. Suns fans are used to Dudley posting seven or eight points with five or six rebounds and two or three steals, but tonight he took his effectiveness to the scoring department. Dudley finished the game with 17 points and two steals on 7-for-14 shooting. If he can bring an offensive punch in addition to his hustle play, Dudley should earn even more minutes this season.
- Earl Clark was finally able to get some run, seeing a combined 13 minutes in the last three games. Although they were all in garbage time, Clark made the best of his 17 minutes by scoring nine points on 4-for-6 shooting.
- When the Suns were struggling to contain a versatile big man like Ryan Anderson, they continued to run Amare Stoudmire out on him. Anderson torched the Suns early, scoring 10 first-quarter points. This is why the Suns drafted Earl Clark, right? To be the versatile defender to come in and guard multiple positions? Why not go with Clark there and see what he can do?
- Suns head coach Alvin Gentry didn’t play Steve Nash or Grant Hill for about the final 18 minutes of the game. The Suns cut it to 14 at the end of the third, and Dwight Howard picked up his fifth personal with 11 minutes left in the fourth. Why not bring the veterans back in and see if this team, which I hear has a pretty decent offense, can give it one more run? I understand that it is a long and grueling road trip and the elderly Suns need as much rest as they can get, but I really think Gentry should have given the starting unit one more shot.