King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NBA playoffs: The Suns put a beatdown on the Lakers, and the Bulls pound the Heat. Plus: Yankees in the cellar.


Salon Staff
April 25, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

If the Phoenix Suns can spend enough time in the next two weeks playing anything like the way they played in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night, they're your new NBA champions.

I don't care about the Dallas Mavericks' 67 wins. I don't care about the San Antonio Spurs being the San Antonio Spurs. I don't care about any of those teams in the Eastern Conference, which I'm told has some teams. And I don't care if the opponent Tuesday night was a Lakers team that would have to catch fire to get to so-so.

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Already up 31-25 when the second quarter started, the Suns went on a 24-9 run that was way more lopsided than that sounds because the Lakers did manage to stop the bleeding momentarily with a 3-pointer and a couple of free throws sandwiched around a Phoenix basket. On either side of that, the Suns went on separate 9-2 and 13-2 runs, and even that doesn't really portray the extent of the blitz.

The Suns dominated in every way that a game can be dominated, including luck. At one point, Shawn Marion grabbed for an offensive rebound, and the ball bounced high off his fingertips and dropped right into the basket. The Suns were sneezing baskets. They won 126-98 to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

It was your basic Phoenix Suns show, with Steve Nash uncorking ridiculous passes of both the long alley-oop and the in-traffic, how'd-he-do-that variety, Amare Stoudemire having his way inside and Leandro Barbosa zipping past defenders as though they were at a different playback speed.

Nash had 14 assists in 24 minutes. Barbosa, honored as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year -- the top reserve -- before the game, scored a point for each of his 26 minutes. Stoudemire also played a mere 24 minutes and filled up the box score to the tune of 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, two of which came in the first quarter, helping to set the tone of the game. That tone being: Hmmmmmmmmmm -- Phoenix wins by KO in the second.

Garbage time commenced before halftime. I confess my mind had begun to wander when I noted a quarter was coming to an end with the Suns up 68-47 and found myself thinking it was the third quarter. No such luck. It was the second. I got coffee.

Now, it's easy to be impressed by a team putting on an offensive show against a Lakers defense that isn't that good on its good nights, and this was clearly not one of those good nights. But Stoudemire's interior presence makes this a different team than the defenseless bunch that tried to make a hollow, all-offense run to the Finals last year, falling to Dallas in the semis.

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It's also easy to be impressed by a team playing well defensively against the Lakers when they're trying the amusing gambit of having people not named Kobe Bryant shoot, given that those people not named Kobe Bryant are also not named, just for instance, Shaquille O'Neal, but carry monikers more along the lines of Maurice Evans, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Brian Cook, all of whom took at least eight shots.

Bryant took 13 of the Lakers' 87 shots, about 15 percent. Do you think Bryant represents about 15 percent of the Lakers' firepower? Bryant took 28 percent of his team's shots in the games he appeared in this season. That would have been about 24 Tuesday.

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Thirty shots would have been more like it. If he'd done that, the Lakers ... still would have had no chance. But the Suns defense might not have looked so formidable. The Lakers -- or at least Bryant -- not the Suns, were responsible for Bryant's shooting shyness.

Not that it matters for this series, the outcome of which is not in doubt, but the Lakers might have been a little more shy about Bryant's playing time. He rolled his ankle with about eight minutes to go and the Suns leading 107-79. Coach Phil Jackson's lame excuse after the game: "It was 8:59 [when Bryant was reinserted into the game]." Actually it was 8:52, not to be pedantic. "It's not that late in the ballgame." He also said he wanted Bryant to try to recapture his shooting rhythm.

Coach, here's a tip: Down by four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, in Phoenix, isn't late in the ballgame. It's early in the post-game.

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So yeah, the Suns will win the championship if they can keep playing the way they did in the second quarter. And I'd have been a millionaire by now if I could have kept being as funny as I was for three minutes one night in 1996 when I just killed my friends with the joke about the three-legged chicken. It's not a reasonable expectation.

But it's also -- I'm talking about the Suns winning it all, not me being funny -- within the realm of the possible, or something like it is.

Can't wait for the Suns' playoffs to begin in earnest. Game 3 of their series with the Lakers is Thursday night in Los Angeles. The San Antonio Spurs or Denver Nuggets await them in the still-distant second round. The heavy-underdog Nuggets won Game 1 of that series, with Game 2 Wednesday night.

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Bulls whack Heat [PERMALINK]

Also impressive Tuesday, and also to be taken with a dab of saline: the Chicago Bulls. They belted the Miami Heat 107-89 to take a 2-0 lead in that series, which doesn't figure to go long.

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I like the Bulls. They're fun to watch, a high-energy, defensive-minded team that has some shooters. A nice mix. But these are not the 2006 Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade is operating at about, eyeballing it, 50 percent, Shaquille O'Neal has settled at 35 into a dotage of often-very-good but rarely great play, and the stellar supporting cast from a year ago has gone pumpkin.

The Heat can continue to insist there's nothing to worry about because of coach Pat Riley's old saw that a seven-game series doesn't really start until someone loses a home game. That figures to happen Friday or Sunday in Florida, if not both days. The Bulls figure to play the Detroit Pistons in the second round, failing a huge rally by either the Heat or the Orlando Magic, who trail Detroit 2-0.

That's another one to look forward to.

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The mystique of the cellar -- or is that must? [PERMALINK]

Give yourself a treat and have a look at the American League standings. Quick, before this changes.

The New York Yankees' 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Tuesday night dropped the Yanks into last place in the A.L. East, half a game behind Tampa. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest in the season the Yankees have been in last place since 1997.

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It's also the first time the New Yorkers have been behind the Devil Rays in the standings since never. That's according to me, but I looked it up and everything.

And yes, looking at the standings should even be a treat for Yankees fans. Aren't they supposed to have a sense of history?

Previous column: The Warriors bandwagon

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