PHOENIX -- You could have distilled it to a duel of MVP favorites. Or you could have taken a far broader leap and billed it as a potential NBA Finals preview.
Suns beat LeBron five-on-one
There was a wide range of possibilities Thursday night, when two pretty hot teams convened in the desert.
"Two teams," LeBron James said, "feeling good about themselves right now."
At least that was the feeling early in evening. When he met the media some two hours before the opening tip, sporting a light tan blazer with a gold CAVS pin placed neatly in the lapel, James couldn't have known what was coming.
This was no duel. This resembled nothing you expect to see in June. This was Phoenix 109, Cleveland 90 ... and it really wasn't that close.
This was a team crying out for a facilitator, someone who can make LeBron's life a little easier, pitched against the team with the best facilitator going.
This was lonely LeBron, reduced to going one-on-five more than he ever should, running into the best team performance all season from Steve Nash's Suns. The best because -- get this -- it came with no shortage of defense from the hosts.
Said Cavs coach Mike Brown: "They had their way with us."
I came to the PHX to watch Cleveland, actually. I haven't seen the Cavs in person since last season and this seemed like a fine time, with LeBron and Co. in the midst of an 8-1 surge and having opened their seven-game slog through the Western Conference with a fine comeback two nights earlier in Sacramento.
I came to see signs that LeBron's Cavs are ready to fill the gaping void of best team in the conference that could badly use a beast ... and came away more impressed by the Suns' improving D than anything else.
The Suns are no defensive juggernaut and realistically never will be, but they're getting better whether you wish to believe it or not. They showed up in Thursday morning's stats placed right between No. 11 Dallas and No. 13 San Antonio in opponent field-goal percentage and promptly lived up to that standard by aggressively denying Zydrunas Ilgauskas and even Drew Gooden in the post, luring Cleveland into two ill-advised modes.
1. Long shots, quick shots, jumpers of all kinds.
2. LeBron with the ball in his hands for entire possessions and only stagnation around him.
That didn't prevent James from racking up 34 points, six rebounds and six assists, but you scarcely noticed with the Suns amassing a ridiculous 34-3 edge in fast-break points ... and with the Suns turning turnovers and the Cavs' misses into 19 unanswered points in the final five-plus minutes before halftime ... and with the Suns sharing the ball so flawlessly that they came within 2:27 of completing the first half without a single turnover.
"We go in there for rebounds and as soon as they get it, they pass it to halfcourt ... one pass and it's a layup," James said. "It's something that almost no team in the NBA besides Phoenix does, so it's something you can't really work on."
Nash, meanwhile, submitted what has to be one of the more dominant four-point games you'll ever see. He had 14 assists by halftime and finished with a tidy 21 in just 30 minutes, suggesting that he could have made a decent run at Scott Skiles' single-game record of 30 dimes if the Cavs could have stayed close.
If the Cavs could have -- no misprint -- handled the hosts' defensive pressure.
"The whole first half was great and maybe the best we've played," Nash offered.
"We really made it difficult on [James], I think."
Said Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, offering some sympathy for his Team USA comrade: "We just have so many weapons and so many things thrown at [LeBron] and the ball moving, it's just not a good matchup for him."
Without someone to ease his offensive burden?
On a night that the defense-first Cavs get schooled defensively by the run-and-gun Suns?
Not a good matchup at all.
Of course, no one was going to tell you that in advance.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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The wheels are finally coming off the former Fab Five, but they're hanging in there. After the Sixers and Knicks paid Chris Webber (right) and Jalen Rose (center) big money to go away, Rose ended up in Phoenix and Webber is looking for a contender. Meanwhile, Juwan Howard (left) is in the Rockets' rotation. So one of them might finally get the title they couldn't quite grab at Michigan.
On Thursday, Charlotte Bobcats rookie Adam Morrison stopped by to chat with SportsNation.
Kellen (Vista, CA): What is the toughest part of adjusting to the NBA? Is it the 3-point line? The speed? The physicality? Or something else?
Adam Morrison: I think it's the travel and the number of games. Those are the toughest things to adjust to.
Alex (Miami): Who are your top five favorite players in the league?
Adam Morrison: In no particular order: Wade, Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, and Dirk. Steve Nash too, just to make it six.
Tim (Cleveland): Adam, what kind of music do you listen to?
Adam Morrison: I listen to rap and classic rock the most. A little bit of metal too.
It's a weekend of noteworthy anniversaries in the NBA, starting with one of the most tragic events in league history:
January 12, 2000
January 12, 1966
January 13, 1962
January 13, 1999
-- ESPN Research
Suns rout Cavs on 21 assists by Steve Nash
AP Photo/Brian Kersey
Jason Kidd's personal problems have altered neither his free throw line routine of blowing kisses nor his production. His triple-double in New Jersey's 86-83 win in Chicago was his seventh of the season.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
SWEET RELEASE: Too many young players, from 6th grade to the NBA, try to shoot every shot in the classic jump shot manner -- releasing the ball at the top of their jump. This style requires excellent timing, as releasing it just a fraction of a second late translates to shooting it on the way down -- which means the leg power that should help the shot is gone. Everyone should watch Ben Gordon, who releases the ball often on the way up, giving him a quicker release and requiring less perfect timing.
DOCTOR DENVER: The Denver coaches can't be entirely happy, as with Melo still out they now have to account for Earl Boykins' points after finally adding J.R. Smith back to the mix. I'm sure they would have loved this trade had it occurred after Melo's return, as they know the playoff race might come down to a single win. Still, Steve Blake is just what the doctor ordered, a pass-first (and pass-second) lead guard that can help A.I., Melo and their bigs get good shots.
-- David Thorpe of Scouts Inc.
Excerpts from Thursday's chat with Bobcats star Emeka Okafor, which included a couple of questions from north of the border:
Brandon (Toronto): You are such an amazing presence in the paint on defence. As an aspiring power forward, I would like to know, what is your secret to rebounding and blocking in such high volumes?
Emeka Okafor: As far as rebounding, it's just wanting it. It's a tough-guy stat. You don't have to be the quicker guy, you just have to position yourself in the best way possible.
Blocking shots is strictly about timing. Again, body positioning, making sure you block it as soon as it comes off the hand, because you won't need to jump as high.
Joe (Halifax, Nova Scotia): What do you to stay properly conditioned for an 82-game season? This season your back has held much better, What do you for your back to keep it feelin' good? Thanks, and stay healthy ... please.
Emeka Okafor: Proper weight training, get your rest, and proper nutrition. For my back, I do a lot of core exercises.
Last Friday, New Jersey trailed 18-0 and rallied to beat the Bulls 91-86.
Over the last 10 seasons, there was only one other instance in which one NBA team beat another twice in one season in games in which the losing team held a lead of 18 or more points. That was in 2003-04, when the Lakers beat Orlando in that manner twice.
It was the 15th time that Kidd fashioned a triple-double in a game in which his team scored fewer than 90 points.
No other player in NBA history has had as many as five triple-doubles in sub-90-point games.
Only three of Magic Johnson's 138 triple-doubles came in games in which the Lakers scored fewer than 90 points, and none of Oscar Robertson's 181 triple-doubles came in games in which his team didn't reach the 90-point mark.
-- Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias