An argument can be made that the Suns looked past the Knicks last night, but there’s no way the Suns will overlook this one.
A loss like the one the Suns suffered last night would get any team’s attention, and Phoenix has been particularly good after losses all season, reeling off a pair of four-game winning streaks as well as a two-gamer after their three previous losses.
In fact, the Suns have not lost multiple games since their three-game losing streak at the end of March that knocked them out of the playoff hunt.
If that weren’t enough, there’s one other reason the Suns will be getting up for this one. A Big reason.
Much has been made about that fact that, in a nutshell, the Suns were mediocre last season, swapped Channing Frye for Shaquille O’Neal and seemingly became an elite team overnight.
It wasn’t that simple, but on the surface that’s what happened, whereas Cleveland hasn’t been as dominant as last year with Shaq on the floor, including the Big Witness’ underwhelming minus 25 in an early-season loss at Toronto. On the season Shaq is averaging 11.1 and 6.9, missing six games (one fewer than he missed all of last season with the Suns’ famed trainers), whereas Frye is averaging a healthy 12.8 and 5.8 with no missed games.
Sure, one-on-one the artist formerly known as the Shaqtus would eat Channing for lunch, but aside from that Channing is a perfect fit as a floor spacer for the Suns whereas Shaq was a square peg in a round role clogging up the middle with an $18 million more expensive salary. Channing’s personality seamlessly meshes with his teammates whereas the Big Pain in the You Know What always had to be the center of attention and even stole his star teammate’s TV show idea when he wasn’t looking.
The biggest mistake Steve Kerr has made in his tenure as Suns GM was trading for Shaq in the first place, but you can’t give him enough credit for realizing the Shaq experiment was a failure and then dumping him in a deal that made him look like a complete moron for the original trade, on the surface at least.
But in doing so and re-energizing this Suns franchise Kerr looks like a genius for knowing when to cut his losses instead of sitting on a bad investment. If only the rest of the nation was as smart as this Arizona alumnus.
It will also be interesting to see if Shaq and Nash share any interaction, and I’m curious to see how Cleveland’s players are taking to the Big Witness as well.
Staying with the Shaq theme, I expect Robin Lopez to have a chip on his shoulder when he gets a shot at his practice mentor from last season. Robin won’t be afraid after spending a year worth of practices banging against the former superstar. It would also be fun to see RoLo matched up with Anderson Varejao in a Sideshow Bob lookalike contest.
If the Suns want to win this one they will have to do a better job of containing Mo Williams than they did last year when he went off for a career-high 44 points at The Q, hitting seven triples in Terry Porter’s last game, before pouring in 30 more in Phoenix off six long balls.
And then I heard Cleveland has another guy who’s an OK basketball player. LeBron something? I tried not to include him in this preview, but then I realized it would be sacrilegious not to at least mention his first name.