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2008, March 14: ESPN.com Daily Dime – Stoudemire Takes Charge For Phoenix

June 24, 2008

March 14, 2008 — This was another great night in the West. We saw the NBA’s two top-scoring
teams, the Golden
State Warriors
and Phoenix Suns,
deliver an exciting meeting of Western Conference contenders.

This latest chapter in the best playoff race I can remember showed us how
Phoenix is progressing 12 games into the Shaquille O’Neal era in Phoenix.

The West’s top seven teams are separated by 3½ games, and it’s not because
teams are playing bad basketball. What a race: Houston is on the second-longest
win streak in history, Manu
is having a career year, Chris Paul’s been outstanding and I think
this is the year Kobe
will be the MVP.

Suns big man Amare
, meanwhile, is now the most versatile big man in the game. He’s
the difference maker for Phoenix, which is now the No. 6 seed in the West. His
36 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots gave the Suns their third straight
win, a 123-115 victory over the Warriors.

We saw how he can play small ball, and how he can be just as effective when
the Suns go big on the floor. While there’s no doubt losing Shawn Marion’s
versatility hurts, having Shaquille O’Neal does help in another way, allowing
Stoudemire to do more things.

He can make the 15- to 17-footer, but is also the best overall finisher in
the game. He gives the Suns a different dimension. Stoudemire is going to
benefit the most from the trade, which allows him to face up at the 4 with Shaq
in there, or play with his back to the basket at the 5.

O’Neal’s foul trouble in this one allowed Stoudemire to show his versatility
once again. Also of note, Shaq’s 14 minutes meant fewer chances of seeing
another episode of the Diesel flying in the stands, or stopping just short,
scaring the entire Suns bench into flopping out of the way. That’s some classic
material worthy of the Three Stooges.

Golden State can make opponents look like stooges, too, with its small-ball
approach. Baron
is playing at an All-NBA level, and this game was no exception with 38
points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Monta
is making a name for himself, and has a great demeanor out there — no
technical fouls for him.

However, I don’t think playing small ball is a winning style to advance in
the playoffs. You need a player who can be a double-double threat in the middle.
Golden State’s center, Andris
, is still learning — you see how he often goes down the court on
multiple trips without touching the ball. That’s not a post presence. Chris
hasn’t developed for the Warriors as they would have liked, and it’s
hard for coach Don Nelson to try to get him out there when the West race is a
win-or-go-home proposition every night.

As for Phoenix, it’s premature to make too many declarations based on these
regular-season games. It’s going to come down to how the Suns do in the

Whether it’s as the No. 1 seed or No. 8, the seeding ultimately won’t be much
of an indication of how a team fared in this wild West. That’s how tight this
race is. Judgment days are still a ways off for Phoenix, no matter how well or
poorly things go on any given night as the Shaq adjustments continue.

The early returns on Stoudemire, however, are very positive.

By Jalen Rose – ESPN.com

ESPN analyst Jalen Rose is a regular Daily Dime contributor. For more
about Jalen, visit his Web site: JalenRose.com