High-rising Sun

Steve Kerr
Shawn Marion – The Phoenix Suns' multifaceted forward has thrust himself onto the short list of MVP candidates. During the team's 4-0 record last week, Marion's numbers were nothing short of spectacular: 26.3 points, 56.4-percent shooting and 13.8 rebounds. His rebounding and defense have helped keep the Suns atop the Pacific Division without Amare Stoudemire.
San Antonio SpursTim Duncan and company won their biggest game of the year against Dallas last Thursday while going 3-0. The Spurs are winning games with relentless defense and the knifing penetration of Tony Parker. The extending of San Antonio's win streak to six games was even more impressive when you consider Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili struggled with injuries and didn't play well.
16 – That's the total number of points the New Orleans Hornets scored in the entire second half of an 89-67 loss to the Clippers. New Orleans followed that up with a nine-point fourth quarter in Monday's loss to Phoenix.

If Phoenix Suns forward Boris Diaw didn't already have the league's Most Improved Award locked up, he does now.

His play the past couple of weeks has been amazingly efficient.

In his last six games, Diaw is averaging 22.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists and, perhaps most impressively, has committed just 12 turnovers. Also, during Phoenix's 11-game win streak, the 2003 first-round pick from France recorded the first two triple-doubles of his career.

His ability to defend centers at one end has given him the ultimate mismatch at the other: no big man can guard the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Diaw. His jump shot has improved, but it is his passing ability that has made him so good.

Between Steve Nash and Diaw, the Suns have two players who can break down a defense late in the shot clock and create good looks for teammates. Not bad for a guy who barely got off the bench in Atlanta.

Horry was suspended two games, while Stackhouse got fined $30,000. The two got tangled up on a rebound in the fourth quarter, and while no punches were thrown, the aftermath of the play led to the league's punishment.

Horry pretended to bite Stackhouse on the arm while the two were being pulled from each other by teammates, and when referee Dick Bavetta arrived to intervene, Horry grabbed Bavetta by the shoulder in an attempt to show him what had happened. Stackhouse, meanwhile, went on a postgame tirade with the press, cursing Bavetta and questioning his officiating ability. The NBA wisely has strict rules regarding the abuse of referees, either physically or verbally, hence the harsh penalties for both players.

A couple of days earlier, however, the league made a mistake with its light punishment of Rasheed Wallace after a flagrant foul of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Wallace clubbed the Cleveland Cavaliers center over the head after Ilgauskas had driven around him, opening a wound that needed five stitches. The NBA fined Wallace $5,000 and upgraded the foul to a "flagrant 2" call, but the league should have suspended Wallace for at least a game.

Just as officials should be protected in the NBA, players must be protected as well. And Wallace's elbow to the head of Ilgauskas was blatantly purposeful and dangerous. A $5,000 fine was not at all acceptable, particularly compared to the harsh penalty Horry received for doing something much less egregious. Wallace will not be deterred from doing something like that again, making the fine useless.

  • The Seattle SuperSonics aren't going anywhere this season, but their two trade deadline deals for Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson have dramatically improved the team. Each player gives the club some much-needed defense and toughness.

Wilcox was traded for Vladimir Radmanovic, who didn't want to be in Seattle and didn't want to defend, and was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers. Wilcox provides strength and an edge that the Sonics haven't had since last season. Watson's on-the-ball defense provides a nice complement to Luke Ridnour's offensive skills.

Seattle now has a chance to build some momentum for next season with hopes it can win the weak Northwest Division again.

  • Speaking of the Clippers, their recent slide in the West brings to mind the question of whether or not a team might "tank" a game or two down the stretch to drop from the fifth playoff seed to the sixth. No one is accusing the Clips of doing this; they were simply in a funk dealing with Radmanovic's arrival and Corey Maggette's return before beating the Spurs on Tuesday.

But now that L.A. is just 1½ games ahead of the sixth-place Memphis Grizzlies, wouldn't it be better for the Clippers to finish behind the Grizzlies? No one in their right mind would want to play Dallas or San Antonio in the first round, but that's exactly what will happen to the fifth seed. The sixth seed, meanwhile, will face the winner of the Northwest Division, most likely Denver.

If I were coaching and I had the opportunity, I would have to seriously consider the idea of "subtly" losing a game on purpose in order to drop from fifth to sixth. It doesn't seem right, but as a coach, you have to put your team in the best possible playoff position.

  • As good as the Spurs' trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is, Bruce Bowen is one of the most important players on San Antonio's roster. He comes to work every day – he now has a streak of 332 consecutive games played – and routinely locks up opposing offensive players.

Last week's dismantling of Dallas would not have been possible without Bowen harassing Dirk Nowitzki the entire evening. Bowen's relentless defense sets the tone for the Spurs and allows them to function the way they do. Oh, and by the way, he ranks second in the NBA in three-point percentage.

No wonder he has been invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team. He'd be the perfect role player on a team full of stars, but he'd be just as important as most of them.