Gortat needs to fight hard against Howard. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Chow)

The Suns' loss to the HEAT last night was frustrating for all of us, but most likely for the Suns' players more than any fan watching from his couch. The Suns went 7 minutes without a point - six of those with all the starters back on the court, the same starters who lead the NBA in plus/minus while on the court together - while the HEAT turned a 90-80 deficit into a 97-90 lead.

Some would say that the HEAT finally started playing hard and turned the game around on their own terms. Some would say the Suns tightened up and/or turned the game back over to players who just didn't play their best games of the season. Either way, a 17-0 run is a 17-0 run. Game over.

The big question today is: How will the Suns respond tonight against the inconsistent Orlando Magic?

The Suns could decide that last night's loss was worth avenging against the next opponent, regardless of the quality of that team. The Suns could come out with an iron will, a laser focus, and drag out a win no matter how well the Magic play.

Or, the Suns could come into tonight's game with a rattled confidence, crossing their fingers and hoping the Magic will just roll over and give the Suns a win they don't necessarily deserve. While it's certainly possible that the enigmatic Magic will do just that, it's not a proper game plan for a Suns team fighting to make the playoffs.


Which Suns effort will pervade against the Magic?

I am betting on the former. The Suns will be pissed at themselves for losing the game to the HEAT. They will play the game like Rocky Balboa fought Ivan Drago in Rocky 5. They take the body blows from Howard's rebounds and inside play. They will shake off the 3s dropped by Anderson, Richardson and Turkoglu.

And they will prevail with a furious 4th quarter, started by the resurgent bench and ended with emphatic play by Gortat (against his former nemesis in practice), Nash, Hill, Dudley and Frye.

Boom chakalaka!


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Dwight Howard 47 38.5 7.9 13.7 57.6 0.0 0.1 0.0 5.2 10.7 48.3 3.7 11.1 14.8 1.9 3.3 1.5 2.2 2.9 21.0
Ryan Anderson 46 31.2 5.3 12.1 43.4 2.7 6.7 40.6 2.4 2.8 85.9 3.6 4.1 7.7 1.0 0.8 0.8 0.4 2.3 15.6
Jason Richardson 36 29.2 4.5 10.9 41.5 1.9 5.0 37.8 0.9 1.6 56.1 0.6 2.7 3.3 2.0 1.2 1.1 0.3 1.7 11.8
J.J. Redick 47 25.9 3.6 8.6 41.9 1.7 3.8 43.3 2.1 2.3 89.8 0.3 2.0 2.2 2.4 1.0 0.3 0.1 1.4 11.0
Hedo Turkoglu 44 31.3 3.9 9.7 40.1 1.7 5.0 34.9 1.4 2.0 69.0 0.5 3.3 3.8 4.6 2.7 0.8 0.3 2.7 10.9
Jameer Nelson 40 30.1 4.0 9.4 42.0 1.3 3.5 36.9 1.2 1.5 79.7 0.4 2.5 2.9 5.4 2.3 0.7 0.1 2.2 10.4
Glen Davis 44 21.6 2.9 7.6 37.8 0.0 0.2 10.0 1.5 2.1 69.6 1.2 3.3 4.5 0.6 1.2 0.5 0.3 1.7 7.2
Von Wafer 23 13.0 2.1 4.6 45.7 0.4 1.2 33.3 1.0 1.4 72.7 0.1 1.0 1.0 0.6 1.0 0.2 0.1 0.9 5.6
Quentin Richardson 34 16.9 1.4 3.5 39.2 0.9 2.3 39.7 0.4 0.5 93.8 0.3 2.0 2.2 0.8 0.5 0.6 0.1 1.4 4.1
Chris Duhon 47 19.8 1.3 3.2 42.0 0.8 1.8 41.9 0.3 0.4 78.9 0.2 1.4 1.6 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.1 1.2 3.8
Ish Smith 13 8.2 1.2 3.1 37.5 0.2 0.5 28.6 0.4 0.5 83.3 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.5 0.3 0.6 0.0 0.8 2.8
Earl Clark 28 9.8 0.9 2.5 34.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.4 66.7 0.8 1.5 2.3 0.3 0.6 0.2 0.6 1.4 2.0
DeAndre Liggins 9 7.0 0.6 1.2 45.5 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.4 0.7 66.7 0.2 0.6 0.8 0.4 0.4 0.6 0.0 0.2 1.6
Daniel Orton 4 2.5 0.3 0.5 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.5 100.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.0
Justin Harper 7 2.3 0.0 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0


Suns vs Magic coverage

Orlando Pinstriped Post


Orlando Magic 103, Phoenix Suns 93 Marcin Gortat has gone from being the best backup center in the NBA to perhaps the best center not to make an All-Star Game in the 15 months since the Suns acquired...

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Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash (13) celebrates his game-winning shot with teammate Grant Hill (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in Milwaukee. The Suns won 107-105. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

For all the talk of rebuilding and roster turnover, neither the Suns' front office nor Steve Nash nor Grant Hill have ever even hinted at a parting of the ways. Only handful of Suns are under contract for the 2012-13 season, leaving most of the team - including team leaders Nash and Hill - as unrestricted free agents.

National media and local media alike have been begging for years now for these vets to join a "contender" so they can be showered with diamond-studded rings to cap off their Hall Of Fame careers. Yet neither player has indicated any real desire to "chase a ring" that is no guarantee to be won.

The rumors kicked into high gear in the summer of 2009 when last these two were unrestricted and free to sign with any NBA team while the Suns were fading into the sunset. The failed Shaquille O'Neal/Terry Porter experiment was fresh meat, and Nash and Hill were begged and pleaded to sign with "contenders". Instead, without even posturing beforehand, each re-signed with the Suns at relatively bargain rates.

Now, in the summer of 2012, both players are free to chase that ring again. Both are free to sign with any team in the NBA. So what are they saying when the question is posed to them over and over again?

Just like Steve Nash has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay with the Suns, so did Grant Hill yesterday to Chris Tomasson, a reporter prepping for the Suns' Florida swing:

Hill, 39, is in his fifth season with the Suns, and the seven-time All-Star said he plans to be back next season.

"I definitely think I can go another year, maybe two," Hill said before scoring a team-high 19 points in Tuesday's 99-95 loss to Miami at AmericanAmerican Arena. "If the season were to end right now, and I would sort of evaluate the season, I would definitely want to come back and play next season."

Hill, averaging 10.6 points, signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal before the season. He hopes to end his career with the Suns and says "Hopefully, they feel the same way."

So, it looks like the Suns' core will return next season (Nash, Hill, Gortat, Frye, Dudley, Morris) with enough cap space remaining to sign 1-2 high-quality NBA players to join them in the quest back up the mountain of the Western Conference.

For all the angst over the Suns owner and front office, you've got to consider the possibility that all is not bad in the Valley of the Sun if two of the most highly respected and revered players in the NBA continue to choose Phoenix over every other NBA city.

Yipee!

[Note by Seth Pollack, 03/21/12 7:34 AM MST ]

It's worth noting, again, that the Suns have more cap space than any other team this offseason. ESPN's Larry Coon estimates $26m and that's without using the amnesty on anyone.

More importantly, none of the contenders discussed by outsiders as possible destinations for the ring-chasing captains have anything close to the cap space to offer them more than the Suns can.

Dallas is the possible exception and if they don't land Deron Williams, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dirk and Cuban try and lure Steve back.

The Knicks, Bulls, Heat and Lakers will all be both over the cap and over the tax. Teams over the luxury tax can only offer the mini-MLE which isn't enough for either of these guys. Not to mention the likely desire for these teams to start shedding contracts in order to avoid the massive new tax bill coming in 2013-14 season.

See, the new CBA is making a difference....I think.

My money is on both Steve and Grant returning to the Suns next year. They are established here with their families. They are having fun and have great chemistry with this group. They are competitive. They can be fairly paid.

It makes sense for the Suns to tie up $10m $15m on these two stars for another two years and still have another $10m to $15m available for free agents. They can throw a big offer sheet at a guy like Batum or Gordon but it's unlikely their teams don't match. That leaves a very thin class of unrestricted free agents.

So why not spend that money on Steve and Grant, have enough to keep Robin Lopez, and still go into the season under the cap. Add this year's rookie and an older Markieff and you can see how the "rebuild on the fly" thing might work out.

Also, how many times have we seen teams under the cap take on a bad contract from a team and grab an extra pick in the process? Having cap space, especially when there's going to be some teams desperate to get under the luxury tax, can have some unexpected benefits.

Poll
Should the Suns spend about $15 million of their $26 million this summer on Nash and Hill?

  515 votes | Results


The Phoenix Suns thrust themselves back into the playoff picture by taking care of business at home, winning 10 of 12 in the Purple Palace while playing all but two games in their building the past...

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Photo

It's no wonder the the Miami Heat have won 14-straight at home. Down 10 points with about seven minutes left, the Heat came out of a timeout and looked like another team. They ramped up the defensive energy and went on a 17-0 run to put the Phoenix Suns away.

The Suns shot just 28% from the field in the fourth quarter after shooting 53% through three. Miami put on as impressive a defensive performance as I've seen all season.

Overall, it was a good game and just like a few weeks ago in Oklahoma City, the Suns had a chance to steal a road win over one of the league's best. You can look at a few blown lay ups from Robin Lopez and Channing Frye, but the reality is, the Heat had too much fire power when they decided to finally go full bore.

"The moral victory thing is long gone. We have to have wins. We put ourselves in a position to win the game and we let it slip away. Obviously, you've got to give them some credit. They made some plays down the stretch, but we also had an opportunity to make plays that we just didn't complete," Alvin Gentry said after the game.

"The biggest disappointment is that we did come up with stops and they got the ball back on the offensive rebound and that just can't happen in the guts of the game."

The Suns bench definitely gets a game ball.

Shannon Brown continues to play under control and Michael Redd and Robin Lopez mostly played well. Markieff Morris (12 points, four rebounds) had some horrible plays but also dazzled with a block on a one-on-three breakaway and followed that up with a three-point play. He played hard and tough and seemed to rise to the occasion with was a positive sign.

42 points overall for the bench who all were in the positive in the all important +/- category while the starters were all in the negative. The Heat are vulnerable but the ability to crank up the defense to close games is a pretty nice safety net to have.

The starters were led by 19 points from the ageless Grant Hill. Steve Nash had nine points and 10 assists. Only Channing Frye didn't contribute. He had a team-low two points in 25 minutes. It wasn't his night.

Moral victory or gut busting defeat?

Whatever. Tomorrow is the Magic.

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Bonus stat of the night: The Heat were 13-19 from the line through the first three quarters and then 13-16 in the fourth.


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