Shaq deal puts pressure on West's elite

PHOENIX – Sometime between Steve Nash burying a three-pointer to force the second overtime, Leandro Barbosa seemingly pushing everyone into another five minutes of fun with his own catch-and-fire 24-footer and Peja Stojakovic throwing in the final dagger to end the entire thrilling, breathless affair, Chris Paul knew he was involved in something special.

"I was like, man, this is a blockbuster right here," Paul said. "An instant classic."

Welcome to the wild, wild West. Big shots. Big games. Big trades.

It says something about the state of the Western Conference that the New Orleans Hornets' 132-130 double-OT victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night was only the second-biggest story at US Airways Center. Paul goes for 42 points, nine rebounds and eight steals. Nash totals 32 points and 12 assists. Stojakovic sends both teams home with a 22-foot rainbow at the buzzer. All of them relegated to agate type to make room for this banner headline: "Shaq traded to Suns."

The Suns' decision to acquire O'Neal from the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks further shifted a West landscape still trying to settle from last week's Pau Gasol trade between the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers.

"This just throws down the gauntlet – again," one Western Conference GM said of O'Neal's trade.

With only 6½ games separating the conference's top 10 teams entering Wednesday, no one expects the phone lines out West to go quiet anytime before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Said another West executive: "I had more calls today than all of last week."

The Dallas Mavericks haven't given up trying to land Jason Kidd. The Hornets need to shore up their bench. The Spurs, having spent previous weeks looking for perimeter help, may now feel need to add some beef to their roster to better match up with O'Neal.

League sources said teams were lining up to make bids for Memphis guard Mike Miller and Los Angeles Clippers swingman Corey Maggette even though neither the Grizzlies nor Clippers have decided whether to make either player available.

Even the Suns, who owned a conference-best 34-14 record at the day's beginning, felt uneasy enough about their position to gamble on O'Neal. The reason for the trade, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said, was simple: "It gives us a better chance to win."

Suns officials admit they're anxious to see how much O'Neal has left in his tank. New Orleans coach Byron Scott is wondering the same thing. After his Hornets clipped Phoenix, Scott summed up the feeling of many in the conference when asked his reaction to the day's trade.

"My reaction," Scott said, "was, 'Damn.' "