1. Making a statement
Phoenix finally got what it wanted out of the Shaquille O’Neal trade…defense. The normally run-first, think-second Suns relied of their defense in crunch time on Sunday afternoon and knocked off the defending champs as a result. O’Neal had his best all-around game as a Sun with 14 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in a 94-87 victory. Phoenix still needs more time to fully gel with their new centerpiece, but this was defiantly the confidence boost it needed after starting the Shaq era 3-6. Despite Steve Nash’s team-high 19 points and game-high 14 assists, the rivalry game belonged to the Diesel. O’Neal came roaring out of the gate and collected a double-double by halftime, showing a little extra spring in his step all game long. The Daddy also joined Kareem-Abdul Jabaar and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to accumulate 26,000 points, 11,500 rebounds and 2,500 blocks in their career.
2. Lakers letdown
The Lakers let a perfect opportunity slip right through their hands. In a contest against the lowly Kings, Los Angeles watched in the final seconds as Beno Udrih converted a pair of free throws to give Sacramento a 114-113 victory over the best in the West. So, instead of putting a small buffer between themselves and the Spurs, the Lakers still sit just ½ game ahead of San Antonio. LA had a good showing, shooting 48 percent from the field and hitting eight 3-pointers, but Udrih’s double-double (25 pts, 10 ast) helped Sactown bounce back from an embarrassing loss to Minnesota. Kobe Bryant had a shot to win the game, but his jumper wasn’t true and he finished with a game-high 26 points.
3. Putting in work
Somehow Philadelphia managed to resurrect its season from the dead and now they are sitting in the seventh spot in the East. After losing to the Hawks on Feb. 4, Philly was a miserable 18-30, but since then the franchise has been straight ballin’, winning 12 of 15 games. On Sunday they extended their current win streak to four games by whooping the Bucks by 22 points, 119-97 in Milwaukee, bringing their record to a respectable 30-33. But the 76ers impressive streak could be coming to screeching halt. Tonight Philadelphia kicks off an 11-game stretch in its schedule that includes two games against Boston as well as contests against Detroit, San Antonio, Denver, Orlando, Phoenix and Cleveland.
Sunday’s Player of the Day: Pau Gasol vs. Sacramento 42 min, 25 pts (FG: 9-18, FT: 7-8), 7 reb, 9 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk
Monday’s Game to Watch: Denver (37-25) @ San Antonio (43-19)
Just a day after playing in a hard fought, highly competitive game against Phoenix, the Spurs have to turn around and line up across from a team desperate for a win. That’s just how it goes in the `must-win’ Western Conference. The Nuggets have some big wins under their belts recently, but they also have some painful losses; in all, it adds up to a non-playoff team at the moment. Denver knocked off San Antonio just a few days ago and they will need to repeat that performance if they plan to close the two-game gap between themselves and eighth place Golden State. Meanwhile, the Spurs aren’t sitting pretty by any means as they are dangerously close to being overtaken in the Southwest Division by either the Hornets or the red-hot Rockets.
Buzzer Beater: Hopefully Dwyane Wade fans aren’t sick of his commercials with Charles Barkley yet because that is the only place they’ll be seeing their favorite player. Wade is scheduled to undergo a procedure on his left knee this Tuesday, ending his season of gloom. At this point it really doesn’t matter anymore, but the question of throwing the season still has to come into play. The Heat are a horrible 11-51 which is just slightly worse than Minnesota (14-48) and Memphis (15-47). They’d probably finish with the league’s worst record with or without Wade, but we can’t blame Miami for doing an obvious tank job; after all, the freshman phenom Michael Beasley will most likely be the top player available in the draft.