Shaq isn't happy standing in Nash's shadow.

When you think of two super stars battling it out in a war of words with shots fired through the media, the first two guys that come to mind are Shaquille O`Neal and Steve Nash. OK, maybe only one of those guys comes to mind.

Here's how it all lays out.

In one corner we have One-Time MVP Shaquille O`Neal who had a fairly decent career and has done alright for himself financially and otherwise. But that's obviously not enough for the Big _____.

Here's what Shaq recently told Vibe Magazine about Steve Nash winning the MVP Award in 2005 and 2006:

Shaquille O'Neal believes he deserved MVP awards, not Steve Nash - ArizonaSports.com
Steve Nash is my boy, but I don't see how the f--- he got it twice. I was taught never to complain because you can't beat the system. People know who the real dominant guy was.

But Steve Nash, I don't want to say it because you might print it and it might cause problems. I don't believe he beat me out twice.

In the other corner we have the Two-Time MVP Award winner, Steve Nash.

"I didn't know what he said," Nash responded when asked to comment on Shaq's comments.

Told what Shaq said, Nash came out with with both barrels blazing:

"Well, I mean The Diesel's entitled to his opinion. I know some people feel like I shouldn't have won the MVP (and) some people feel like I should have won three. He's entitled to his opinion."

You can see the emotion on Nash's face and hear the fire in his voice as he gives his response.

Check out this nearly exclusive video.

There you have it, it doesn't get any nastier than that.

Oh, and in case you really care about the historic details, Arizona Sports.com has them:

Nash won his first MVP in 2005, after leading the Suns to 62 wins while averaging 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game. That same season, O'Neal averaged 22.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for the 59-win Miami Heat.

The second of Nash's awards came the following season, when he led an injury-ravaged Suns team to 54 wins while averaging a career-best 18.8 points per game and dishing out 10.5 assists. O'Neal, though, only played in 59 games that year due to injuries, averaging 20 points and 9.2 rebounds per night.

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The recent intermission in the frenzied compressed schedule has allowed us a moment to pause and reflect. There has been crackerjack analysis on the successes and failures (but let’s face it, mostly failures) of the season to date. There has been lively and spirited discussion about what changes need to be implemented. Plumes of smoke have billowed from ESPN’s trade machine.

I would like to take you on a slightly divergent path. The following will take a brief look at the Suns second half schedule as well as their main adversaries with respect to their current position. I know that some of you who have already given up on the season may not like this, but it is being written with the presumption that there is still some miniscule chance (no matter how insignificant) that the Suns can compete for the final playoff spot in the West. I will detail where the wars must be waged if the Suns are to maintain some semblance of their dignity and fight for a playoff spot or where the pitfalls await if the Suns are to resume their first half performance and nestle snugly into 14th place.

The schedule gets more parlous from here on out. The average winning percentage of Phoenix’s remaining opponents is .561%. In essence the Suns will be playing 32 games against opponents who are on average comparable to the Memphis Grizzlies (.559%). Contrast that to an average winning percentage of .486% for the first 34 games. One way to view the disparity – in the first half the Suns played against teams that on average would finish 32-34, in the second half it’s 37-29. The Suns play 21 games against teams with winning records. Contrast that to 8 games against teams with losing records. The final 3 games are against the .500% Timberwolves.

Capriole forward to view a copy of the schedule expressly developed for your scrutiny.

*All records as of 2/27

Date

Opponent

W

L

remaining against

winning records

Thur, Mar 1

vs

Minnesota

17

17

1

Fri, Mar 2

vs

LA Clippers

20

11

1

1

Sun, Mar 4

vs

Sacramento

11

22

1

Wed, Mar 7

@

OKC

26

7

1

2

Thur, Mar 8

vs

Dallas

21

13

1

3

Sat, Mar 10

vs

Memphis

19

15

1

4

Mon, Mar 12

vs

Minnesota

17

17

2

Wed, Mar 14

vs

Utah

15

17

1

Thur, Mar 15

@

LA Clippers

20

11

2

5

Fri, Mar 16

vs

Detroit

11

24

1

Sun, Mar 18

vs

Houston

20

14

1

6

Tue, Mar 20

@

Miami

26

7

1

7

Wed, Mar 21

@

Orlando

22

12

1

8

Fri, Mar 23

@

Indiana

21

12

1

9

Sun, Mar 25

@

Cleveland

13

18

1

Tue, Mar 27

vs

San Antonio

23

10

1

10

Wed, Mar 28

@

LA Clippers

20

11

3

11

Sun, Apr 1

vs

New Orleans

8

25

1

Tue, Apr 3

@

Sacramento

11

22

2

Wed, Apr 4

@

Utah

15

17

2

Fri, Apr 6

@

Denver

18

16

1

12

Sat, Apr 7

vs

LA Lakers

20

13

1

13

Mon, Apr 9

@

Minnesota

17

17

3

Wed, Apr 11

@

Memphis

19

15

2

14

Fri, Apr 13

@

Houston

20

14

2

15

Sat, Apr 14

@

San Antonio

23

10

2

16

Mon, Apr 16

vs

Portland

18

16

1

17

Wed, Apr 18

vs

OKC

26

7

2

18

Thu, Apr 19

vs

LA Clippers

20

11

4

19

Sat, Apr 21

vs

Denver

18

16

2

20

Tue, Apr 24

@

Utah

15

17

3

Wed, Apr 25

vs

San Antonio

23

10

3

21

593

464

Opponent's Average Winning Percentage:

0.561

%

So how does this minatory mélange break down for the second half? To me, it appears there are 3 divisible portions.

Between March 1st - March 18th the Suns play 9 of 11 at home. This includes 5 of their remaining 11 games against teams that are at.500% or below. If the Suns can’t find a way to win 7 of 11 here, I think we can safely call the fight (with the exception of those among us who have already thrown in the towel). This also gives the Suns their first chance to employ a powerful mechanic – winning games against teams directly ahead of them in the standings. These games have added importance because it’s not only a win for the Suns, but a loss for their opposition. They are swing games. I will address this more later. Here the Suns need to win both home games against Minnesota, home against Sacramento, Detroit, and Utah, and find a way to split the home games against Houston, the Clippers, Dallas, and Memphis. The more important games are against Memphis and Houston because the Suns still have an infinitesimal chance at catching them. I’ll concede the road games. 8-3 would actually be a better goal for the team, because this is the easiest portion by far.

The next stretch between March 20th – April 14th finds the Suns playing 12 of 15 on the road. 8 of those 12 road games are against teams with winning records. It starts at Miami, Orlando, and Indiana. Even 2 of the 3 home games are against the Lakers and Spurs. 8-7 over this stretch would probably be a miracle. If the Suns are still playing meaningful games (with respect to a possible playoff appearance- not lottery seeding) by the end of this stretch I will be surprised.

Finally, the Suns close out the season with 5 of 6 at home. They still play some quality opponents, so maybe even if the Suns are mathematically eliminated, Sarver and Gentry will still be placated by the solid home court advantage created by the fans. Portland, Denver, and Utah are games that might still have playoff implications. The Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs might be checked out by this point depending on positioning. Could the Suns finish strong?

Now for the final part of this look ahead, which involves, of course, a look behind.

Teams that will make the playoffs: Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, San Antonio, Dallas, and LA Lakers.

Barring some unforeseen cataclysmic set of circumstances, OKC should be the #1 seed in the West. They are actually my favorite to win the NBA title. I think the triumvirate of Durant (#3 PER), Westbrook (#11 PER), and Harden (#30 PER) compares favorably to Lebron (#1 PER), Wade (#2 PER), and Bosh (#41 PER) and I prefer the ancillary components of the Thunder’s roster.

Paul and Griffin should be more than enough to secure a playoff spot for the Clippers. That franchise has done a complete 180. I like them to win the division.

The Spurs have struggled through injuries so far this season, but as has seemed to be the case for some time now, they continue to set the standard the Suns can’t seem to meet. The Spurs, despite an aging and injured nucleus, appear primed to host another first round playoff series (which thankfully for Suns fans should be about the apogee for this year’s rendition).

The Mavericks scuffled out of the gate, but are 20-9 since a 1-4 start. Nowiztki appears to be rounding into form and is complemented by one of the deepest rosters in the league.

Despite clearly taking a step back amidst turmoil and turbulence in tinsel town, the Lakers core of Kobe, Bynum, and Gasol will undoubtedly land the Lakeshow back in the playoffs. The Lakers appear to be the most primed of the aforementioned teams to make a move before the deadline, however, because as it stands now, that playoff stint might not last past one round.

Which leads us to teams that the Suns can realistically possibly catch: Houston, Memphis, Portland, Denver, Minnesota, Utah, and Golden State.

Houston: 20-14 Games back: 6 Season series: Houston leads 2-0 Games remaining against: 2 - Sun, Mar 18 (home) Fri, Apr 13 (away)

The Rockets started 3-7 and are 17-7 since. They have no definable star, but a very well rounded team that is complemented by a deep bench. The Suns probably can’t catch them.

Memphis: 19-15 Games back: 5 Season series: Phoenix leads 1-0 Games remaining against: 2 – Sat, Mar 10 (home) Wed, Apr 11 (away)

The Grizzlies tend to be an up and down squad. Just when Randolph goes down and it looks like they’re finished they go through a resurgent phase. This team is a little schizophrenic. I don’t trust them. For this reason I would say it is within the realm of plausibility that the Suns can catch them.

Portland: 18-16 Games back: 4 Season series: tied 1-1 Games remaining against: 1 – Mon, Apr 16 (home)

Since a 7-2 start, the Blazers have been 11-14. That’s 25 games at a pretty underwhelming clip. One view is that the Blazers have Aldridge and bunch of nice pieces (Batum, Wallace, Camby, Felton, Crawford). The other perspective is that they have one great player and a bunch of underperforming role players… Why does that sound familiar? I put them firmly in the catchable category.

Denver: 18-16 Games back: 4 Season series: Denver leads 1-0 Games remaining against: 2 – Fri, Apr 6 (away) Sat, Apr 21 (home)

On January 27th, Denver was 14-5 and people were sounding off about how they had built a team of above average, but not great players, and had definitively won the trade with New York, which, had gotten exactly what they deserved (insert maniacal laugh). Subsequently, the Nuggets roster was decimated by injuries and they have gone 4-11 and are plummeting like a stone. What an ironic turn of events. What can we learn from this? If something this bad can happen to Denver, why couldn’t something inversely propitious happen to Phoenix? Don’t the scales of kismet require a countervail? The Nuggets appear to be extremely catchable.

Minnesota: 17-17 Games back: 3 Season series: haven’t played Games remaining against: 3 Thur, Mar 1 (home) Mon, Mar 12 (home) Mon, Apr 9 (away)

Minnesota is an interesting team. They have a lot of young talent and appear to be on the upswing. They have their own difficult stretch in the second half where they play 11 of 13 on the road against reasonably difficult opposition. The Suns also have 3 remaining games against the Timberwolves (2 of which are at home) which could prove important. I don’t see Minnesota falling apart (in fact, I’d be surprised if they don’t finish above .500%), but I don’t see them running away and hiding, either. I still think the Suns could catch them.

Utah: 15-17 Games back: 2 Season series: haven’t played Games remaining against: 3 Wed, Mar 14 (home) Wed, Apr 4 (away) Tue, Apr 24 (away)

The Jazz started off hot out of the gate (9-4), but I think most of us felt they were doing it with smoke and mirrors. They have been revealed. They are now 6-13 over their last 19 games. Not only can the Suns catch this team, it will probably be pretty hard to finish below them.

Golden State: 13-17 Games back: 1 Season series: GS wins 2-1 Games remaining against: 0

Yes, the Suns can catch them. The fact that I even have to mention them speaks volumes to the wretchedly pathetic performance the Suns treated us to in the first half. Thanks Robby!

So there you have it, a long-winded, tedious simple delineation of what we have to look forward to in the second half. Can the Suns still make the playoffs? Probably not - I definitely wouldn’t lay money on it. But stranger things have happened, and regardless of whatever incompetent bungling they may conceive, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be around to witness it. I still think at least 2 of the playoff spots are up for grabs, so why not the Suns? There are people who look at a cup and think it is half full, there are others who look at it and think it is half empty, then there are those who think the cup is twice as big as it needs to be, while still others just scream irrationally and unintelligibly at the cup for scheming against them. Our great forum is populated with all of these types and many others still, but all with a common interest in the Suns being successful and fun to watch. Let’s hope they are.

In the final analysis, I think one takeaway from the first half has been made abundantly clear. The Suns vastly underestimated the devastating effect that losing Vince Carter would have on this team. Happy second half Brightsiders!


SB Nation will launch a BIG TIME brand new YouTube channel on Thursday, March 1st featuring people like Amy K. Nelson and Bomani Jones as well as Matt Ufford and Dan Rubenstein. SB Nation's Jason Kirk and Spencer Hall will combine their talents to host "Shutdown Fullback" which promises to be unpredictable and entertaining.

This isn't just another YouTube channel. SB Nation built a TV studio in New York City, hired legit talent and has invested heavily in building out next generation video capabilities. In other words -- this is going to be awesome!

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The project will also feature local content as well. Here's a "test" of the type of reports I will be doing.

This one is pretty straight forward, but I hope to get better and will certainly get more creative. In the future, we would love to get more of our writers and community involved in these video reports and special features. Stay tuned...and don't laugh at me too hard.


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Wilson Chandler has spent the past several days frantically seeking clearance from FIBA to return to the NBA all the while flirting with teams everywhere from Toronto to Italy to create leverage for...

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The Suns need improved shooting from their wing players. Can Michael Redd provide it?

Every time the Suns have looked to be turning the corner this season, a disappointing loss has provided a slap of reality to the face. They started January winning 3 of 4 games, then a loss in LA to the Lakers initiated a 5-game skid. February began with the Suns winning 4 of 5 before a tough home loss to the Rockets sent them spiraling to a 5 losses in 6 games streak.

When the team is 14-20 two months into the season with no apparent major trades on the horizon, the die looks as if it's been cast: the Suns aren't playoff material and are destined to muddle around .500 (and probably below) for the rest of the season.

Five teams stand between the Suns and the final playoff spot in the West, but only four games. If the Suns could ever put together a serious hot streak instead of their standard one step forward, step and a half back pattern this season, they would be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.

For that unlikely scenario to play out, let's look at some key improvements the Suns will need, after the jump.

Coming out of the gate for the second half March 1 vs. the Timberwolves, the Suns play 9 of their first 11 games at home. There are some difficult opponents in there, most notably the Thunder and Mavericks, but if the Suns are going to make things interesting this season, now is the time. For that to happen:

More production from Michael Redd

Heading into the season, the Suns' wing players were a question mark. Jared Dudley was new to the starting lineup and Grant Hill, as ageless as he sometimes seems, is 39 years old. Dudley and Hill have held up decently in their roles but Shannon Brown and Josh Childress, slated to be their backups, have played so poorly that each has been banished to the end of the bench for long spells.

Enter Redd. A one-time all-star, Redd is currently the Suns leading scorer per 36 minutes at 18.2 but is shooting even worse than Brown in the process. Whereas Brown chucks up bad shots, Redd's taking open shots in the flow of the offense, but they're just not falling. Surely, a 38% career 3-point shooter can shoot much better than the 28% Redd is shooting from behind the arc this year, right? There's a lot of rust for him to shake off, as the 21 games he's played so far this season are his most since 2008-09. The Suns remain reliant on 3-point shooting, and Redd is their best chance to improve from their current #15 spot in the NBA in 3-point %.

Better play from the PF position

Ideally, Markieff Morris will continue his development and work his way into the starting lineup soon, and both players improve their rebounding. Frye's shooting has been erratic, though it has been improving lately, while Morris shows the inconsistency which is to be expected of a rookie. Rebounding from each will be most important, though, as the Suns sit at 26th in the league at offensive rebounding % and 24th at defensive rebounding %.

They're combining for 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, which is respectable, but each is too one-dimensional on offense, staying parked out at the 3-point line. Floor spacing is great, but can't the Suns feed these two in the post a little more, or give them some of the pick and roll opportunities? Markieff should not be playing like Frye 2.0. That's not why the Suns drafted him.

Backup PGs not screwing the pooch

We've been over this all before. From good Goran Dragic to bad Dragic to Aaron Brooks and now to Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price, the role of Steve Nash's backup is always a point of conversation. The Telfair/Price combo has produced about as poorly as what Dragic did last year before the Suns decided they must attempt to upgrade, and burned a 1st round pick in the process.

They've been terrible, and not significantly worse than they've played for the rest of their careers, so little chance for improvement here. It might be worth it to scour the D-League for a player, or hope for modest improvement from either Telfair or Price but, frankly, there's little chance this situation gets any better for the Suns this season. Well, unless you count on Aaron Brooks coming back at the end of March.

Continued good health

The Suns have been remarkably healthy this season. Nash has had a couple of dings, and Hill started the season with a balky knee, but injuries have not been a serious problem for this team so far. A serious injury to Nash, Hill or Gortat in the second half would make these other issues moot. With the backups struggling as is, moving a bench player into the lineup to replace an injured starter would spell doom.

It's actually quite discouraging that the Suns had such a poor first half and don't have injuries to blame for it. There's no player who they can look forward to coming back to give a lift and the only way this situation changes is for the worse. Not a good sign.

Overall

The Blazers currently sit in the 8th seed at 18-16, a 35-31 pace for the season. Let's estimate the Suns need to go 36-30 to make the playoffs. That will require a 22-10 record the rest of the way, unlikely unless the Suns strike gold on all of the above variables.

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