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2007, Feb. 12: HOOPSWORLD.com – In Phoenix: Suns Overrun By Bulls

June 24, 2008

The Suns are hurting.

Reeling, for all intents and purposes, if you go by their usual high standards and expectations.

Not just Steve Nash’s right shoulder.

Nor Kurt Thomas’ subluxated elbow.

Not even Boris Diaw’s back spasms.

The Suns are hurting because — without these guys, especially Nash —
they’re a man or two short of a championship caliber team.

To be honest, even with Nash, Diaw, and Thomas healthy and raring to
go, they’re still a man or two shy of putting this thing over the top
once and for all.

That man could be a Nazr Mohammed-type of player, a banger who plays
intelligent defense and doesn’t worry whether or not he’s No. 1, 2, or
3 on the team in scoring. He could be the Bobby Jackson-esque guard
that’s capable of starting somewhere, but content to back Nash up for a
shot at a title.

Hell, that guy could be a Jalen Rose-style baller, but we’d never know
because Jalen never gets off the bench anymore other than to go to the
locker room at halftime and the final horn.

Okay, he gets up on times out … but, hey, everyone needs to stretch their legs now and then.

Then should have been last night, when Rose’s former team — the
Chicago Bulls — was in town, intent on avenging Leandro Barbosa’s
dagger-like trey that butchered the Bulls on their own court back on
January 2nd.

Barbosa wouldn’t get the opportunity to steal another win on Sunday
evening, fouling out with 2:14 left in the fourth quarter and his Suns
down by 11 to the Unbelieva-Bulls. Chicago would go on to win behind a
combined 85 points from the Bulls’ Big Three — Kirk Hinrich, Ben
Gordon, and Luol Deng — two of whom are embroiled in trade rumors to
this very day.

None of the Suns’ names have surfaced as often as Gordon’s or Deng’s
(Marcus Banks has been whispered about, but in reality no one wants
that contract in return). But should they be? The team seems to be
slipping and their weaknesses are not only exposed, but are becoming
common knowledge to each and every team that either wants bragging
rights, the opportunity to improve their seeding, or simply eliminate
the Suns from advancement in the playoffs.

The Suns’ 116-103 loss was their third in a row at home and their first double-digit loss in their last 51 games.

Going into the night, the Suns played short-handed, not having Nash and
Diaw, and many pundits and locals inside the arena expected the
inevitable loss.

It was the perfect opportunity to get Jalen Rose some playing time and evaluate what he can offer the team during a playoff run.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but if the team doesn’t dig deep
into both their gut and their line-up, there may only be one round for
the championship hopefuls, as tough as the Western Conference is.

Sunday will mark a rarity for Mike D’Antoni when, as All-Star coach, he
will be forced to go more than seven or eight deep into the bench.
Granted, the All-Star bench is an abyss of depth compared to the Suns
wading pool that sits stagnating in chairs 9 – 12. There’s no Carmelo
Anthony or Josh Howard or Dirk Nowitzki from which to choose.

But there is a Pat Burke, a Jalen Rose, a Jumaine Jones, a Sean Marks,
and even Eric Piatkowski dons a jersey and trunks now and again.

Seven or eight simply won’t get it done.

Ask Joe Johnson. Ask Ben Gordon.

Heck, ask anyone who’s been watching the past 25 games, where the Suns
have given away leads and/or spotted opponents with teasing leads of
their own.

"We came out with energy, but at times we got a little
discombobulated," explained Shawn Marion. "We had some rotating and
different lines out there that don’t play together a lot, so
communication wasn’t where it should be. We did great in spurts, but we
couldn’t get over that hump."

Last night, that ‘hump’ was the fourth quarter, where the team seemed
to run out of gas. The ‘hump’ in the post-season is the fatigue that
stops the Suns a game or two short in the last two Western Conference
Finals, Nash or no Nash.

Marion and Raja Bell played over 40 minutes while Amare Stoudemire put
in 39 on the night. The Bulls’ Big Three each put in over 40+ as well,
but were able to do so because Scott Skiles went deeper into his bench
than D’Antoni did.

"I was all the way around, pretty proud of the way we played tonight,"
said Skiles. "It would have been easy for the guys to look forward to
going home (from a seven-game road trip) and not bring it, but we
brought it. I thought our guys were great today."

Skiles was wise to seize the opportunity to salt the wound of not
having a Steve Nash to go up against. Hinrich, Gordon and Deng were
just there to grind the salt in with the heels of their sneakers. After
all, it was Hinrich who was M.I.A. when the Suns ruined Chicago’s New
Year celebration on Barbosa’s downtowner with 1.9 seconds remaining.

"It’s a known fact. When Steve doesn’t play, it’s not the same," noted
Skiles. "The guy’s a two-time MVP. He is the style that they play. But
that’s why you’ve got to win the game."

Hinrich and Deng took advantage, tying one another to lead all scorers
with 29 points apiece. Deng added 12 rebounds (10 on the defensive end)
while Hinrich popped for 11-of-16 from the field. Gordon added 27,
getting to the charity stripe 14 times and connecting on all but two.
Chris Duhon came off the bench to notch 11, the only other Bull in
double figures.

Yet the Bulls got balance from their teammates. Occasional starter
Tyrus Thomas took advantage of the opportunity and had nine points,
four rebounds and three key blocked shots. Ben Wallace only got five
points, but was his usual self on the glass, grabbing 10 rebounds and
blocking three more shots (the team had nine total).

For Phoenix, you can’t fault the effort put forth by the eight who played, though.

They scrapped.

They were in it.

A 34-18 third quarter gave the sellout crowd of 18,444 a glimmer of
hope … and yet they handed it all right back in the fourth, when the
Bulls outdid the Suns, 37-19.

Maybe last night’s game was a good measuring stick on how Burke will
get in there and bang when called upon. The fan favorite went in and
changed a few things for the confident Bulls offense.

But it was Barbosa and Stoudemire who paced their team, scoring 26
points each and Stoudemire netting 10 rebounds. Marion followed up with
11 points and 18 caroms and Bell, a tad tired from chasing Johnson
around two nights earlier, struggled to go five-for-18 for 16 points on
the night.

James Jones contributed 11 points before fouling out while Marcus Banks
went for eight points and seven dimes in place of Nash on the night.
Rose had three in six minutes of action and Burke finished with a deuce
in a dozen ticks.

"I thought it was completely different this time in a sense that I
thought we played hard," said D’Antoni. "Chicago plays hard and they do
tax you, even with our guys. We put up 34 third quarter points and that
is because of our defense and the way we were active. That is
encouraging and that is what will win in the playoffs. We just have to
pick up on this and get better."

At least we’re not still saying, "It’s early," though the "we have to
pick up on this" window is closing with every game over the next 30.

The eternal optimist says that’s simply two more 15-game winning streaks waiting to happen.

But the realist will tell you, the Suns need to make a move.

It doesn’t need to be a big one, but one that will serve them in the
present as well as the future. They need a Mohammed, a Reggie Evans, a
Michael Sweetney. We might even settle for an Etan Thomas-type about
now.

Or, give Jalen Rose some minutes in the next couple of games and
determine whether or not even the league minimum paycheck is worth your
while.

A guy of his talent and caliber simply sitting on the bench, barely
getting garbage time … that just means he’s already gotten enough of
the fertilizer.

Just add the sunshine and cultivation and watch him bloom.

If not Rose, then whom?

We have 10 days left to find out …

By Tracy Graven