Dwight Howard was huge for the Orlando Magic as they defeated the Suns 111-88 in Phoenix. He led all players with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.



Without Steve Nash, Shorthanded Suns No Match For Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic - SB Nation Arizona

"We didn't say to each other one word," Gortat said. "We didn't shake our hands, we didn't talk to each other, we didn't say anything. And that's fine, at the end of the day he's on a different team, I'm on a different team, and I'm a grown-ass man, I don't need him any more."


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PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash will miss this afternoon’s game against Orlando with pelvic instability after gutting out the last few games despite being hampered by the...

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Orlando Magic 111, Phoenix Suns 88 PHOENIX –┬áThere’s no shortage of hype and story lines surrounding the Phoenix Suns’ afternoon matchup with the Orlando Magic. Marcin Gortat will...

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With Steve Nash listed as questionable to play, the Suns will need Aaron Brooks to forget his cold streak and step up in a big way. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In a season replete with ups and downs, positives and negatives, victories and losses, the Phoenix Suns have been anything but predictable. However, there is a major difference between unpredictable and inconsistent. Unpredictable can be the Indianapolis Colts offense, built on Peyton Manning's ability to read defenses and call audibles. Inconsistent usually means showing flashes of brilliance, yet displaying even more moments of ineptitude.

Choose for yourself what the Phoenix Suns are to you, but one thing is certain: just when we think we know this team, the rug is pulled out from underneath us. While the recent blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets wasn't the end of the world, as we were playing with a gimpy Steve Nash and without Channing Frye. But frankly, if the Phoenix Suns are to make a playoff push, these are the games that need to be won.

The Suns are still a respectable 6-3 in their last nine, with a 4-game winning streak thrown into that mix as well. However, when you consider that the Suns are just 2-3 in their last five, we find the more telling statistic: the Phoenix Suns are still figuring out how to play together.

The Suns will have to do more than pray for a Hakim Warrick explosion or a late game Jared Dudley parade in order to beat the visiting Orlando Magic, who are the exact kind of team that gives the Suns fits: a rebounding team.

The Orlando Magic currently rank 6th in the NBA in total rebounds per game (43) while the Suns stand at 24th, pulling in just over 40 (40.1). Not too bad, right? A differential of 2.9 isn't too bad, given the apparent lack of rebounding we as fans have come to expect from anyone not named Marcin Gortat.

However, that's just total rebounds. The differential between rebounds pulled in versus rebounds allowed for opponents is a bit more troubling. The Suns pull in 40.1 per night, but allow their opponents to pull in 43.8, a +/- of -3.7. The Magic, on the other hand, pull in 43 and only allow their opponents to grab an average of 40.1, a +2.9 for the Magic Men.

Undoubtedly, Marcin Gortat will be everywhere on the court during this matchup. He's playing against his former coach, team and mentor, Dwight Howard. And if there's one thing we know about Marcin, it's that he's not lacking in confidence, especially on the defensive/rebounding side of things. However, even he was quoted as saying, "I'm starting from the worst position: he's supposed to kick my ass."

The Magic also have Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, two guys that have the exact formula to beat the Suns. A rebounding big man who can shoot the ball.

Injury Report

  • We all know Channing Frye is still out with a separated right shoulder. Old news.
  • Steve Nash is listed as questionable for the game, saying the he "can't move ... [there is] just too much pain and immobility." Personally, I think Nash will probably gut it out. Realistically, however, it is probably safe to assume that he'll likely sit this one out. Updates to come, as we get them.
  • From the Magic side of things, JJ Redick injured himself in Friday's shootaround at Golden State. The diagnosis is still uncertain, but the Warriors' team doctor mentioned the possibility of a sports hernia. If that's the case, he will likely miss a good deal of time. Count him out for tonight's game.

Keys to the Game

  • Aaron Brooks is going to have to find a way to shake off the rust and start hitting shots again. Especially with the possibility of Steve Nash missing the game, the Suns will need Brooks in a big way. Look for Brooks to be more assertive on offense, and if not, well...the Suns don't really have a chance in this one.
  • Play some (or a lot of) defense. The Magic love funneling opposing teams' guards in to their human eraser, Dwight Howard, and the Suns need to try and counter their defensive attack. Marcin Gortat is going to need a solid game from Robin Lopez to help counter the defensive deficiencies of Hakim Warrick.
  • Keep the Magic off the three point line. When the Magic are hitting their threes, it's nearly impossible to beat that team. It's as simple as that.
  • Limit the turnovers. I won't name names, but Hakim Warrick's two turnovers to end the first half were the worst consecutive turnovers I've ever seen in a basketball game. Did I say I wasn't going to name names? Oops.
  • Don't accept excuses. This isn't really a key to the game as much as it's a key to the rest of the season, but after Thursday's loss to Denver, Vince Carter had all the right excuses going. "They gamble," Carter said. "When they're on, they're on. They're very good in transition. They rebound the ball extremely well so they make you take one shot and they're out. As far as the turnovers are concerned, they have quick guys who are in the passing lane constantly. When they gamble correctly, they're tough to beat." Carter should take a page from Gortat's book of accepting blame and promising to improve.

As per Paul Coro, Suns center Marcin Gortat will begin to start the second halves of games. Said Gentry, "I probably will do that because I think it helps him (Gortat) some. I just think it's hard. You're guarding Dwight Howard. You're not going to be able to bang with him 18-19 straight minutes." Read the full story here.

The Suns are going to need big effort from everyone on the court in order to pull off a victory. There can't be any extended defensive lapses. There can't be many (or any, if it can be helped) unforced turnovers. The Phoenix Suns are going to need every player to have 100% focus, 100% of the time. The Magic may have just come off an overtime loss to Golden State and are a pedestrian 2-3 in their last 5, but this team wants this game. The only question is, do the Suns want it too?

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