This one was kind of predictable. An Eastern Conference team on the wrong side of the lottery line comes into town without its best player, and meets a well-rested Suns team fresh off a stinging loss to one of its biggest rivals. This had to end badly for the Eastern Conference team, right?
The Bobcats just about played the Suns to a draw in the first half, despite being at the end of a five-game road trip and being without Gerald Wallace. The Suns took a three point lead into halftime thanks to Shawn Marion's buzzer-beating, three-point runner launched somewhere between half court and the arc, but the overall numbers at the half looked a little topsy-turvy. The Suns shot 44% to the Bobcats' 53%, yet had a slight edge on the offensive glass (yes, really!) to go with their usual edge from the three point line. But as srp predicted via his Blackberry from the arena, the Suns took over in the third quarter, outscoring the Bobcats by 10. A couple more threes in the fourth quarter stretched the lead out to 20, and brought the "fitness club" in to finish it off. In the end those numbers straightened themselves out, resulting in a routine blowout by the Suns over a team they were "supposed" to beat. The Bobcats will have to try again next year for their first win over the Suns. Meanwhile, the Suns re-take the #1 spot in the West thanks to the Hornets' loss to Utah. Let's hope they can keep it on Wednesday!
Player of the Game: I'm going with Leandro Barbosa on this one. Amare Stoudemire could get a mention with his 24 points, 11 rebounds, and several highlight dunks. So could Shawn Marion for an efficient 6-of-7, three steals, and a healthy dose of his usual hustle plays. Raja Bell led the way by a mile in the plus/minus category with a +30, and if he had started the game as well as he finished it, he'd probably get the nod. But I'm going with LB because (a) he provided an excellent example of how to come in off the bench and contribute right away (take that, Boris Diaw!) and (b) he really helped turn the momentum around earlier in the game when the Suns were having problems scoring. All those three-bombs and cunning back door cuts really took the wind right out of the Bobcats' sails.
Runner-Up: The "little league" award goes to Jason Richardson. Led his team in scoring with 25, and seemed like he couldn't miss from three. He was kind of the LB of the Bobcats, except he started and he didn't get the win.
Up Next: The Suns take on the Hornets at home on Wednesday. Revenge wanted.