Losing Channing Frye just as he was becoming one of the most important players on our team hurt. Losing Steve Nash, by far the most important player, bar none, was excruciating.
In a game that would have taken every healthy Suns player playing over their head, I guess the outcome of this game wasn't at all surprising. However, with the Suns down by only 9 at halftime, the game was definitely in reach for Phoenix. You can argue all you want about "momentum" and whatnot; we've all seen this team shoot the lights out and turn the game around faster than you can say "Memphis is only 1.5 games back."
Unfortunately, that version of the Suns didn't show up in the third quarter. Instead, we found an inspired and intense Dwight Howard, chasing shot after shot and battling for rebounds. If only we could find consistent production like that on a nightly basis from our starters...but then again, that's why he's Dwight "Fast Don't Lie" Howard.
More musings on what went wrong (plus a look at what the Suns' playoff picture looks like) after the jump.
First off, I'd like to say this: yes, this game was depressing. It's never fun to be completely manhandled on national TV. But does this mean the Suns' season is over? Absolutely not. I'll get to the playoff picture later, but the Suns, after this loss, are only 1.5 games behind Memphis for the 8th seed in the West. Not too bad.
Let's focus on the "game" we just watched, though. I only use quotation marks because really, this was never actually a game the Suns could have won. If the Suns had come out firing from the get go, maybe. If Vince Carter, Hakim Warrick, Mickael Pietrus and Zabian Dowdell didn't combine to shoot 27.7% from the field (10/36), we could have had a shot. There are a lot of "if" statements that could have changed the tune of things, but they just didn't happen.
As mentioned previously, the Suns were down only 9 points by halftime. And, if you recall, in my game preview, I said Aaron Brooks would have to have a big game to give the Suns a puncher's chance. For the first half, it seemed he was intent on doing just that. He put up 19 points that gave an otherwise stagnant Suns offense a shot.
Unfortunately, he didn't score in the second half. Perhaps he was too gassed from giving it his all in the first half, or maybe the Magic defense was really just that good. Despite the disappearing act in the second half, you have to give Brooks credit for bringing it to start the game.
As poorly as the Suns played tonight without Frye and Nash, the Orlando Magic definitely deserve credit for this win. Dwight Howard was amazing. Jason Richardson had no reservations throwing it down and playing a well rounded game against his former team. Heck, even Gilbert Arenas decided he was healthy enough to put up respectable numbers. The Magic were the better team, and it showed.
Not much else needs to be said about this game, so I won't say much else. However, with the rumblings around Suns-land (mostly manifest in the GameThread) about the Suns "not having a shot" at making the playoffs, I have a bit of a different tune.
The Playoff Picture
I mentioned earlier that with this loss, the Suns still sit at 9th place in the West, only 1.5 games back from the 8th place Memphis Grizzlies. However, aside from that, things are still looking favorable for the Suns to make a late season run at the postseason.
In the 18 games that remain in this season for Phoenix, only 10 remain against teams with a record better than .500. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), 9 of those games are against current Western Conference playoff seeds. That includes three games against New Orleans, two games against Dallas, two games against San Antonio, one against the Lakers and one against Oklahoma City.
I, for one, am on the optimistic side of those games. While yes, having to play teams as tough as the Mavericks, Spurs, Thunder and Lakers is an arduous task for any team, it could be beneficial to the Suns. With a couple of those teams looking forward to the playoffs (namely the Spurs, Mavs and Lakers), we'll likely see rest coming to their aging stars. That means rest for players like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. We'll also likely see Jason Kidd's minutes monitored. Heck, even Kobe might leave a couple games early.
With the playoffs, one thing is (generally) certain: teams that are safely secured in their spot in the playoffs will not take the risk of injury to a star (especially an aging one) just to gut out another victory. This is why I'm optimistic for the Suns' chances.
With Steve Nash getting much needed rest in a game that would have been tough to win even with him on the court and Channing Frye possibly returning as soon as late next week*, the Suns may have just enough time to squeak into the playoffs. It may not be the triumphant ride into the postseason we enjoyed last year, but every playoff appearance is a positive for the team. Even if it is a first round defeat.
So, while the Suns gave an incredibly lackluster effort in a disappointing defeat, it is not the end of the season for the boys in purple and orange. This site is called Bright Side of the Sun for a reason - so let's live up to it.
* Frye's original prognosis was to be out for 2-3 weeks. 2 weeks from the initial injury would put us around Thursday, March 24th. There is still no word on when Frye might be returning to the court.