In the second quarter, the crowd broke into a roaring cheer after a timeout. That was because, for the first time since February 12th, the Phoenix Suns played Shannon Brown in a game. He was on a run of 28 days and 10 games of non-action.
The result was insignificant as the Suns fell to 22-42 on the year with the 108-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
This game was reminiscent of nearly every game since the All-Star break, as they hung tough nearly all game and it came down to which team was going to make plays down the stretch. He came in and hit his first jump shot, but did nothing else to impact the game in any way. But hey, the fans won.
Early on, the ball funneled through Kosta Koufos as he rattled off 11 straight points and 15 in the first quarter. He and Hamed Haddadi teetered with a career-highs in points all night. Late in the fourth, Koufos found his 22nd point at the free-throw line and Haddadi topped his previous career best in points with 13 points on an offensive rebound early in the fourth.
When a team is entrenched in a season like this, those are the types of factors that are available to keep the fans engaged.
Each quarter, the Nuggets added a few points to the lead until it was insurmountable. Marcus Morris and Wesley Johnson led the way with 16 and 18 points respectively, pacing the Suns throughout the game. Marcus had 10 of those early in the first quarter as he was the team's only scorer out of the game.
"I don't think anything you do can actually prepare you to see the emotions of a child, your child, going into surgery."
That was the world of Phoenix Suns center and 17-year veteran Jermaine O'Neal for the past week, as he was bedside with his daughter as she went through heart surgery to repair a "leaky valve." The emotions and stakes are a lot higher there, at her bedside, than they have ever been for O'Neal sitting court-side.
O'Neal took time away from the team to be with his 13-year old daughter Asjia as she spent four days in the hospital and two days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), before being released and sent home.
She is walking now and rehabbing to get back on the court as doctors were very impressed with the rapid improvement she has gone through over the past two days before her release. Being away from the game she loved took more of a toll on her than the surgery itself, at least mentally, as she wanted to be on the court as her team went out and won a major tournament in her name.
Thankfully, volleyball will be in her future. She will be able to step out on the court again and play the sport she loves thanks to the successful surgery, as well as some physical rehabilitation.
Now that is what the elder O'Neal is trying to do now.
He came back into Phoenix yesterday and had what he described as, "probably one of the top 5 worst workouts in NBA history, it was pretty bad." Getting back into physical shape after not lifting, running, or having any basketball activity will be the easy part. Being with his teammates is therapeutic, as he talked about getting back on the court with his teammates.
"Trying to emotionally get your mind right and physically get your body right, you expect that," said O'Neal about getting back into a basketball rhythm. "Coming off of a six hour flight from Boston back to Phoenix, to basically put your bags down and come here, you expect to be winded."
Having that veteran leadership and toughness, to go from a hospital bed back to basketball, that is the type of person that can help mold the younger big men.
Living that life and the grind of being in the hospital for 23 hours a day, only to run to the house for a shower and then run back, is something unfortunate to deal with. You do not watch basketball or follow the news wire. O'Neal was told two days ago of Marcin Gortat's injury and the play of Hamed Haddadi.
"I didn't even know he went down until two days ago. When you are living that life, when you are in the hospital, you are not watching sports."
Those things are trivial under the circumstances. The support and outcry that O'Neal and his family received was emotionally overwhelming.
"I wasn't thinking of basketball to be honest. I had great support. I really have to compliment the Boston Celtics for their support, they showed a lot of support in so many different ways. Phone calls, care packages, Kevin Garnett and those guys sending flowers. The Phoenix Suns, Lon Babby, Lance Blanks, Robert Sarver and those guys showed a lot of support."
The NBA truly is an exclusive community that takes care of their own with the best FMLA package possible when these situations occur. O'Neal reaped those benefits while tending to what matters most in life, his family, while his other family tended to him from afar.
The Denver Nuggets are 44-22 on the season, but only 14-19 on the road.
The Phoenix Suns are 22-41 on the season, but at least they are 15-16 at home.
Yet, it's difficult to imagine anything but a blowout in favor of the Nuggets tonight. Denver has topped 100 points in 22 of their last 23 games for an average of 104. The Suns average about 10 points less than that on the season.
Even factoring in the Suns' improved D (keeping opponents to 4 points below their season average of late), you've still got a clean victory for the Nuggets.
Add in the fact the Suns topped 100 points on Saturday night for the first time at home in 2013 (the hadn't scored 100+ points at home since before Christmas), the outlook looks even bleaker.
Not to be a pessimist, but...the Nuggets have won 9 consecutive games (18 of their last 22), while the Suns are feeling pretty about a 5-5 record since the All-Star break (9 of of their last 22).
In a part-time matchup of 2011 draft picks, the Suns trot out Markieff and Marcus Morris ("the Morri") - who were drafted #13 and #14 overall - opposite the Nuggets' Kenneth Faried who went #22 overall.
It's easy - and proper - to bash the Suns' front office for this oversight, but don't forget to throw 20 other teams into the same fire. Faried has exceeded pre-draft expectations of pundits, scouts and front office personnel alike.
Faried starts at PF for a winning team, bringing the kind of fire and energy that new Suns coach Lindsey Hunter absolutely craves. He grabs 9.6 rebounds a night despite being only 6'8", and drops 11 points in the bucket each night as well.
Marcus and Markieff Morris bring less to the table - about 9 points and 4 rebounds per game, each.
Don't expect the Morri to outplay Faried, but it will be interesting to see how they fare.
Here is a better matchup to watch. Both point guards will dominate the ball, trying to score first and pass second.
Lawson's stats (17 points, 7 assists on the season, but 23 and 7 over his last 10 games) are gaudier than Dragic's.
Dragic has season averages of 14 and 7, with 15 and 9.8 in his last 10 games.
Expect one of these guys to set the tone, while the other takes a back seat in comparison. Could be either of them.
Some have looked at Marshall's physique and skills and tried to peg his ceiling as Andre Miller. Well, Suns fans get to see a first-hand comparison tonight when each steps into his team's second unit, even pairing with the starter for stretches at a time.
My guess is that you won't see a lot of similarities once you see them facing off.
Marshall is a better passer and even slightly better at shooting open 3s (33% now on the season). Marshall sees the floor better, but as a rookie he struggles to predict the speed of the NBA game at times.
Andre Miller is a good passer and a pretty good defender, but still a terrible shooter after more than a decade to work on it. Miller defends better than Marshall ever will.
Neither is good at creating their own shot anywhere on the court, so there's that.
Denver is the poster child of winning without a superstar. They have a lot of pretty good players, but no one guy who can carry the team. Not one guy made the All-Star game this year, even.
Can they win a championship without a superstar? Probably not. But they are a darn good team regardless.
The Suns did beat Denver at home earlier this season. It was Phoenix's first win of the year against a winning team (only 4-3 at the time).
So take that for what it's worth.
I wish I could say the Suns will win this game, but don't count on it.