PHOENIX — Step back from the ledge, Suns fans.
No, the Suns did not lose to the now 3-38 New Jersey Nets. They even managed to maintain their first double-digit lead of 2010, pulling away with a 118-94 victory after the Nets kept things close in the first half.
Nobody should begin to think the Suns are back to November form after this one, but it sure beats the alternative, doesn’t it?
“It’s a big win for us not only because we lost four in a row, but this is a game you’ve got to have at home against a team that’s only won three games,” Steve Nash said. “While it doesn’t necessarily feel like beating the world champs, it would have been a disastrous loss. We came out and got it going and did enough to win.”
After blowing their first six double-digit leads of 2010, the Suns finally made one stick. That’s because Nash and Amare were Nash (12 points, 15 assists, five boards) and Amare (27 points, seven boards), but that’s almost what’s expected from those guys.
New starter Robin Lopez and new sixth man Jason Richardson also chipped in with big games in their new roles to help the Suns take this one.
Before discussing the birthday boy Richardson, this night was really about Lopez, who started against his twin Brook to become the first pair of twins to start an NBA game against each other in three years since their fellow Stanford alums from the Collins family did it in 2007.
With their family watching, both players starred. Brook led the hapless Nets with 26 and 13, but he’s been doing that all year. It was really something to see Robin set or tie a career high for a third straight game by going for 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting along with seven boards and just two personal fouls in a team-high 34 minutes of playing time.
“He did great,” said Brook, who sounds exactly like his twin. “He did exactly what he’s supposed to, bring energy, bring effort. A few of his dunks gave him momentum and he does a lot of the hustle things.”
It was truly a battle of brothers, not unlike what must have gone on outside the Lopez’s household for years. Brook would laugh when Robin was called for a foul, they’d dish out ever so gentle nudges when switching ends and overall you could see the intensity both played with while competing against his brother.
“I think you can see both those guys are going to be really good NBA players,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “Robin is just now getting time. He’s probably played more in the last three games than he played in the last 30 games last year. He’s done a good job, I think he’ll continue to get better the more he plays.”
Lopez recorded his fourth straight double-digit scoring game, a feat he only accomplished three times as a rookie. He hit that mark in this one midway through the first quarter.
As Channing Frye has struggled, the door has opened wide for Lopez. He’s always shown the aptitude to be a very good defensive player, but in this game he combined not fouling with some touch around the hoop to go with his natural athleticism.
“Robin’s capable,” Nash said. “Robin’s a good finisher and his touch is getting better, and the big thing with Robin is he needs time on the court just to get that feeling of picking and rolling and cutting to the basket and when to post up, when to cut to the rim, when to set a screen. As he gets more time on the court and more comfort, his athleticism, size and now his touch will improve.
“When a 7-foot guy is physical and plays hard, a lot of good things happen. He’s a real valuable piece to this team and the future of this franchise.”
The Suns’ newest starter returned the compliment.
“When you’re playing with Steve it makes it real easy,” Lopez said.
Playing without Nash seems to have liberated Richardson, if only for a day.
While celebrating his 29th birthday, J-Rich came off the bench and played like the starting shooting guard the Suns have expected him to be all season. He was aggressive and hitting shots, sparking the Suns off the bench with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go with seven rebounds.
J-Rich has not seemed happy about being relegated to bench duty, but on this night he gave the Suns more of an LB-ish lift off the bench than Barbosa has supplied all year.
“It’s tough,” Richardson said. “My whole career I’ve been a starter besides the first four or five games of my rookie season. It’s just a different adjustment. You’ve got to get yourself going. When you come in it’s kind of hard because you’ve been sitting on the bench. You’ve got to find ways to score, just get involved in the game.”
In reaching his career high off the bench, Richardson scored 26 points for the first time since Nov. 9 (feels like three seasons ago, doesn’t it?) and just the third time all season. This on the heels of a disastrous road trip in which he averaged only 8.8 ppg and failed to score in double digits for three straight games for the first time since December 2006 when he was coming back from an injury.
Richardson still played starter’s minutes (28), and he was counted on to shoulder more of the scoring load while playing a good chunk without Nash.
“It’s a little bit more freedom going in there, creating the scores,” Richardson said. “With Steve, he makes the game so easy that you don’t really have to do much. Going out there with the second unit, (I was) just being a little more aggressive, doing things that I’m normally doing.”
In all, it was a happy birthday for Richardson, a happy family reunion for Lopez, and a happy day for the Suns because for the first time in five games they left with the victory.
There are still struggling players (namely Channing Frye, who scored two points in 14 minutes while looking hesitant), but at the end of the day when you’ve lost four in a row a win is a win even if it’s against a team that hasn’t even reached Phoenix’s win total from Nov. 3.
“For us we just needed a win in the worst way,” Gentry said. “Hopefully we can start with this one and try to build on the next couple that we play at home.”
- On Thursday we will find out if Nash surged ahead of Tracy McGrady for a Western Conference All-Star starting nod after trailing by a couple thousand votes as of the latest update. Not that Nash is overly concerned about it. “Is that tomorrow? I’m not going to be able to sleep,” he said sarcastically, before switching his tone. “The truth of it is it would be a huge honor no matter how much I joke about it and no matter how much it’s not the most important thing in life. It is an honor to be recognized, so if it happens I’ll be forever thankful, and if it doesn’t my day will not be ruined.”
- Despite not playing in the fourth quarter, Nash racked up 15 assists, putting him two short of Rod Strickland (7,987) for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list. This was Nash’s best assist game since Dec. 21 against Washington, a game in which Nash also did not play in the fourth quarter.
- Nash, who doesn’t eat sugar, on Jason Richardson’s elaborate birthday cake that not too many Suns touched: “It looks disgusting to me.”
- Robin Lopez on playing against his twin: “It’s all business when it’s on the court.” Although Brook went for 26 and 13, Gentry lauded Robin’s effort in making his brother take 22 shots to get those stats. The one thing I would nitpick, though, is that Robin grabbed just three defensive rebounds and allowed his brother to collect eight offensive boards.
- After scoring 27 in this one, Amare has now scored 26 or more points 12 times this season, matching the number of times he accomplished that feat last year.
- Who cringed a little bit when Jamal Crawford missed a game-tying three at the buzzer as Atlanta lost to Oklahoma City on Monday? Also, who else took note tonight of Charlotte throttling Miami 104-65, almost the exact score at the worst point of Saturday’s Suns loss? That defeat was still ugly, but maybe the ugliness has been mitigated now that the Bobcats have won nine in a row at home, punctuated by such an emphatic victory. Gentry had the game on in his office before Phoenix’s contest and pointed out that these Bobcats aren’t bad by any stretch.