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Similar? Not by a long shot

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The suspicion the Wizards and Suns would be able to fashion another gem turned out to be grossly false on Fun Street last night.

This one was over before many in the sellout crowd were finished with their first hot dog and beer.

The Suns sent the Wizards into early submission with a barrage of 3-pointers that blunted any thought of a comeback.

In stretching their winning streak to 14 games, the Suns defeated the Wizards 127-105 and punctured the notion that these are two teams of similar strengths.

This notion was established in Phoenix last month, when the Wizards outlasted the hosts 144-139 in overtime behind the 54 points of Gilbert Arenas.

The Wizards were aided then by a fairly effective sixth man called Mother Nature. The Suns did not arrive to the arena until about two hours before tipoff after being stuck in Denver for two days because of a snow storm.

Arenas has embraced the Wizards being the Suns of the East, both a style of play and mind-set that was encouraged by Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan in the offseason.

This is the Suns as defined down in the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards have executed the game plan with a modicum of conviction and success, although it helps appreciably that they are in the junior-varsity circuit of the NBA.

The latter was apparent as the Wizards found themselves buckling to the will of Steve Nash, who makes the game look so easy, so simple.

His numbers came with a startling efficiency, while Arenas labored much of the way.

Arenas worked way too hard. The combination of a big deficit and his competitive instincts intruded on his decision-making process and led to far too many low-percentage forays.

If Arenas was in the top tier of MVP candidates going into the game, he is not there any longer.

Nash thoroughly outplayed Arenas in never losing his sense of cool.

The Wizards and Suns started out a crisp pace, quick shot followed by quick shot, a pursuit that resulted in the quick demise of the home team.

The Suns led the Wizards 41-20 after 12 minutes, and that was pretty much it.

The Wizards could not even mount the obligatory run, at least one that threatened the Suns on some level.

"That's a very good team, and we didn't play at a high level," Jordan said. "We didn't have a good offensive flow early. They were very, very sharp, very motivated. They were fast and they executed. Steve Nash just picked us apart."

The Nash-led Suns put on a show.

Nash was as flawless as a player can be in finishing with 27 points and 14 assists.

He missed a total of two shots, none in the first half.

The numbers told the one-sided tale.

The Suns had 35 assists, the Wizards 14.

The Suns shot 60.8 percent, the Wizards 46.1 percent.

The Suns had 13 3-pointers, the Wizards six.

Seven players scored in double-figures for the Suns, while the Wizards had only three.

If the Wizards thought they were ready to play with the elite on a consistent basis, the Suns showed otherwise.

They came into the den of the Wizards and left no doubt who was the superior team.

The Suns turned a 6-6 game into 22-8.

Basketball traditionalists still question the championship worthiness of the Suns, even as the NBA lords have implemented rule changes that favor both.

Defense still may win championships, but it is a graded-down defense from the clutch-and-grab commands of the '90s.

Defense is a secondary concern to the NBA higher-ups who understand that their product is obligated to be entertaining.

In that context, a Wizards-Suns game on a cold night in January promised to be as good as it gets until the playoffs.

It was hardly that.

The brilliance of Nash and the Suns was merely another mismatch along the NBA's 82-game slog.