Pretty telling as these kinds of thing go: The Bulls just destroying the defending champion Heat, and the Kobe-less Lakers punching holes in the Suns. It’s never too early to start jumping to conclusions, so here goes . . .
|Nash loses the handle.|
Amare Stoudemire. That the Suns are going slowly with Stoudemire is obvious. When it’s the day before the season and you’re bubbling over because a guy makes it through two successive practices, there is a long road ahead. But how long? I keep thinking of Antonio McDyess – a different kind of player, true, but a Sun of recent vintage whose mind-bending potential was diminished by surgically-repaired pins.
Stoudemire played almost all of his 11 1/2 minutes with Steve Nash. Included was a short but pivotal third-quarter stretch of just under two minutes, the Suns yielding the last pieces of a lead that had once been at 19 points, and Stoudemire was:
- Stripped in a postup by Lamar Odom cheating down
- Back on defence, Andrew Bynum spins on on him for an easy 2 (the kid, but 19 years old, was very good in his first career start)
- Losing his dribble for a turnover
- Slow to get back on defence, then after a Barbosa too-quick chuck that missed, slow to jump out on a none-too-crisp L.A. pick and pop, Odom stepping back and hitting a 3 in his face
Just like that, Suns’ 71-70 had been debited to a 73-79 deficit, and Stoudemire was back on the bench and stayed there. Paired with Nash he looked decent running the pick and roll, getting two wide-open 3-pointers and a Nash layup out of it. A Nash penetration led to a Stoudemire jam. But when the game ratcheted in the third period, he was just not up to speed. No surprise, really, but what happens from here and how this develops will tell the tale of Phoenix’s entire season – with a healthy Stoudemire, the Suns have a chance to go deep. Without, they’re a fun team to watch but not a playoff success story.
(Related: Marc Stein - Without Kobe, Lakers Shine).
The Heat. A long time ago, old pal Larry (The River) Humber postulated the Ceremony Theory - never bet on a team being honoured, and actually proved its effectiveness with a number of examples, one of which I even remember (Lawrence Taylor’s farewell, in which the Giants got whupped and River cashed large).
He would have made a ton out of this one. The TNT crew called it the worst ring ceremony defeat since 1982, but there was one they missed – the Bulls of November 1993, without Michael Jordan in the brand-new United Center, scoring just 71 and losing to the Pacers. By the second quarter I was flashing back to that one, having covered it 13 years ago.
This was a pretty large red flag – championship teams don't roll over like the Heat did last night. Wade got his offence but didn’t play a lick of D, Shaq looked leaden, Antoine Walker was in full chuck mode – and the Bulls were simply livelier and far more dangerous. I can see them going all the way to the Finals. I can’t say the same for the repeat-hoping Heat. They're not nearly this bad, of course, but they sure don't look like champion timber.
Related: Ring Night Roundup. In the past 20 home openers of defending champions, the ring-bearers have won 14 times. The losers – the Nov. ’06 Heat, the ’02 and ’00 Lakers, the ’98, ’93 and ’92 Bulls.
Related: Sam Smith to Dwayne Wade - "Guard someone, Hot Shot!"