LISA DILLMAN AND PHOENIX — The Suns' Louis Amundson, a woeful one for six from the free-throw line, joked about going to a higher authority for guidance.
"I told him after the game, you can give me some tips on the line, big fella," Amundson said with a smile.
That big fella would be the Really Big Fella, Shaquille O'Neal.
Get this: O'Neal was a silky smooth five for eight from the free-throw line in the Suns' 106-98 victory against the Clippers on Friday night at US Airways Center, and he missed all six of his shots from the field in the first half. It was the Clippers' sixth straight loss and they are 8-24.
Regarding O'Neal, of course, "silky smooth" is a stretch. But some latitude is allowed when this is about the historically free-throw-impaired O'Neal.
"I am impressed," Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "The one major flaw in his game. Whatever they figured out to change it, is major. It may add many years to his game."
The first half against the Clippers sliced a few years off O'Neal's life.
Not only was he playing against the undermanned Clippers -- without, among others, point guard Baron Davis and big men Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman, plus guard Jason Hart, who was lost because of an injury in the first half -- but O'Neal was up against his good buddy and former teammate Brian Skinner, who was inspired.
O'Neal recovered sufficiently enough to finish with 17 points and nine rebounds. Amare Stoudemire had a game-high 23 points. For the Clippers, rookie guard Eric Gordon had 21 points and Marcus Camby had 19 points and 23 rebounds. It was Camby's 16th double-double of the season.
"I really don't like to play bad," O'Neal said. "When I came in and saw that 0 for 4 [actually 0 for 6] in the first half, I just had to smack myself around at halftime, just wake up."
It was part drought by the man known here as Big Cactus, and part Clippers. Phoenix had led by 19 points in the first half before losing focus.
"Those are like the worst-type teams to play -- the ones that aren't doing very well," O'Neal said. "We came out like we were supposed to, but we just kind of played down to the level of our opponent. But we got away with a win.
" . . . Terrible first half by me. That was my worst first half in history. It was hard to get up for Skinner. That's my guy. He's been my guy for a long time. I know. That's what I'm saying.
"He knows what I'm going to do and I know what he's going to do."
Said Skinner: "Dominant player. One of the greatest players to play. He missed a lot of shots in the first half, hit some in the second and was making his free throws."
The Clippers' Gordon was playing against O'Neal for the first time as a professional.
"He clogs up the middle. He's just hard to get around, period," Gordon said. "He has quick feet. It's just hard to get around him."
The Suns (19-12) are seven games above .500 for the first time this season, and O'Neal was asked whether winning a title seemed more within the team's grasp than it did a month or two ago.
"I mean, it's in grasp," he said. "I've been in situations where we've been the favorite and won it, and I've been in situations where we weren't even talking about it and still able to win. Anything can happen."