Shaquille O'Neal's 10-game tenure with the Phoenix Suns has been uneven, but things may finally be headed in the right direction.
Coming off a sorely needed win over one of the West's top teams, the Suns hope to build more momentum by taking advantage of a matchup with one of the conference's worst as they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.
Phoenix (41-22) went 3-6 in O'Neal's first nine games in uniform and was hearing some boos from the home crowd, having lost three in a row at US Airways Center. Heading into Sunday's home game against San Antonio, which entered with the conference's best record, the Suns were 5-14 against the other seven teams currently in the Western playoff picture - 1-6 over the past six weeks.
The Suns, though, came through with a 94-87 victory as O'Neal finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, two shy of his season high. He also played a big role in limiting Spurs star Tim Duncan to 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting.
"There's a lot of teams with size in the West," said Steve Nash, who had 19 points and 14 assists. "We added size, let alone a guy with championship experience. One win isn't going to say we're a finished product, but we're on our way, I think, to improving and getting to a place where we're going to feel confident once the playoffs come around."
O'Neal, who turned 36 last week, is averaging 11.4 points and 11.3 rebounds in 10 games for Phoenix.
He helped the Suns hold San Antonio to 34.9 percent from the field after they allowed their previous 11 opponents to shoot a combined 49.9 percent. The solid defensive performance - Phoenix had allowed 126 points in each of its previous two games - helped the team overcome a 3-of-14 effort from 3-point range.
"We need to smooth some things out and I think our shots will start dropping once we get all the pressure off of us," D'Antoni said. "This is a step forward."
The Suns are looking to win back-to-back games for the first time since beating Seattle and Washington in early February.
Phoenix has won six in a row over the Grizzlies (15-47), including a 127-113 victory at Memphis on Feb. 26 as O'Neal had his first double-double for the Suns with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Nash and Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 25 points apiece.
"We've got to be able to run with them and try to stop them as best we can," Grizzlies rookie point guard Mike Conley said Saturday. "We have to treat each possession like it's very special to us. Then, we can try to come out with that win."
The Suns are 20-4 at home against the Grizzlies, who are 4-25 on the road this season.
Memphis has lost 14 consecutive road games since winning 90-72 at Indiana on Jan. 2. The Grizzlies have given up an average of 106.6 points during that skid, their longest away from home since dropping 15 in a row during the 2000-01 season.
Memphis had lost nine in a row overall before beating New Jersey 100-93 on Wednesday, but the team did not play nearly as well at home on Saturday in a 119-89 loss to league-best Boston. The Grizzlies, who shot 39.7 percent from the field compared to 58.0 percent for the Celtics, fell behind 37-20 after the first quarter and trailed by double digits for most of the game.
The loss was the 16th in 18 games for the Grizzlies, who are one game ahead of Minnesota for the worst record in the West.
The Grizzlies have averaged 94.1 points over the last 18 games while allowing an average of 106.4.
Memphis leading scorer Rudy Gay, averaging 19.9 points, has been held to 13 in each of the last two games while shooting a combined 9-for-30 from the field - 1-for-9 on 3-pointers.
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