In a season gone sour, sometimes the little things are all there is left to enjoy.
For New Orleans, tonight’s 109-97 victory was about Willie Green canning his first 12 shots to help the Hornets keep pace with the Blazers and Grizzlies in the race for playoff seeding.
But for the Phoenix Suns, their biggest achievement came two minutes into the game when Jared Dudley stole a pass and dished it ahead to Grant Hill, who passed it to Aaron Brooks, who whipped a slick behind-the-back pass to Dudley, who was streaking down the lane in perfect rhythm and slammed home his 10th dunk of the season.
Robin Lopez raised his arms to the heavens, Garret Siler let out a primal yell and Zabian Dowdell danced around on the sidelines after the throwdown and when Dudley returned to the bench at the next timeout he got high fives all around and lots of smiles during his hero’s welcome.
I’m not quite sure why Dudley dunking 10 times this year became so important. In essence it’s a rather trivial circumstance, a stat that doesn’t matter in the big picture during a season that ended two weeks ago.
It started during the preseason when the so-called unathletic Dudley vowed to reach 10 dunks before failing to throw down even once during the first 49 games. At that point he promised to start dunking and he has steadily added a dunk here and a dunk there every few games.
Dudley’s quest for 10 dunks has grown almost a cult following with a US Airways Center graphic keeping track of how many dunks JD is at like the old career strikeout tallies for Randy Johnson at Chase Field, and reporters asking JMZ about his progress toward this feat after every slam.
Dudley originally said during the last homestand that he wanted to get his 10th dunk during the season finale on Wednesday in San Antonio, but he woke up on Friday in New Orleans and decided he could not risk waiting. Tonight would be the night.
After shootaround he told Paul Coro, “I’m promising No. 10 tonight. Put it in the books. Get it over with. I don’t want the Mark McGwire stress on me.
“It’s like when Floyd Mayweather does a fight and he says, ‘I’m gonna win.’ He’s letting the other fighter know he’s going to win, but it doesn’t matter because his mind is already made up. My mind-set is that I want to get it done with.”
In theory an NBA player dunking 10 times in a season is no monumental feat whatsoever. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake Griffin dunks 10 times in a single game at some point in his career if he hasn’t already.
All the hype over Dudley reaching 10 dunks is really about the camaraderie it creates, be it three of his teammates holding up a “No dunk” sign after a recent weak dunk he was credited with in the stat sheet or Steve Nash tweeting that the 10 dunks tripled the odds set in Vegas or the over the top way JMZ has had fun with this “chase,” making it bigger than it really is.
But Dudley is much more than a dunker, if you would even call him that. Buoyed by some Snow Cones in New Orleans that Grant Hill was talking about before the trip, Dudley played another fine game as a starter with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with seven boards in 39:29. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact the Suns were outscored by 11 points during the 8:31 he sat in a 12-point game.
Since becoming a starter eight games ago, Dudley has averaged 15.3 points and 5.5 boards, taking full advantage of the opportunity to become a long-term starter for Phoenix going into the future with his combination of outside shooting, gritty defense, hustle and yes, even dunking.
Playing without Nash due to a right hamstring injury, the Suns jumped out to a 23-13 lead but couldn’t sustain it as the Hornets led by one after the first on a Chris Paul buzzer beater. After New Orleans surged ahead in the second the Suns came back to knot things up at 51 before yielding a 14-2 run they never recovered from in a game in which they trailed by as many as 19 in the second half.
In Nash’s place Brooks struggled with his shot in going for just nine points on 2-for-7 shooting but he did dish nine assists, and Zabian Dowdell added nine points as well.
Hill played another solid game with 15 points, and Marcin Gortat once again stood out as a bright spot along with Dudley with 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Gortat’s plus-minus was even more pronounced as the Suns gained 14 points in his 29 minutes, meaning they lost 26 points in the 19 minutes he was not on the floor. Kind of makes you think the Suns really would have won the game between these squads two weeks ago in Phoenix if not for Gortat’s late fractured nose.
Robin Lopez once again provided zero impact with no points, two boards and two fouls in just 6:45. Alvin Gentry clearly has lost all faith in Robin being that he’s not even getting burn in a meaningless game. In fact when Lopez picked up two fouls in 5:05 of the first quarter after Gortat picked up a quick pair, Gentry pulled him for Garret Siler time in the first quarter and then played the big rookie until it was time for the Polish Hammer to return in the second quarter.
Lopez has played very poor basketball, but if nothing else for his trade value I’d like to see him get a little more action. That is unless Gentry thinks he’s helping Lopez’s trade value by not allowing opposing teams to see him play.
Overall the Suns — who won’t have a winning record for the first time in the Nash Era — shot well (50.0 percent) but could not defend (55.6 percent for New Orleans). They hung around for a half before tapering off against a quality West team once again, as Phoenix has not beaten a Western Conference playoff squad since taking down these Hornets back in January.
There’s nothing funny about Phoenix losing its 11th straight game to a West playoff team and seventh game in nine contests overall, but at least Dudley’s successful run at 10 dunks provided a bit of comic relief in The Big Easy.
Tags: Jared Dudley