Before the game I wrote this would be a measuring stick game, a statement TNT reported that head coach Terry Porter uttered as well.
If so, we learned that the Suns are more or less miles behind the Lakers rather than a couple of steps after their 105-92 defeat.
But that could go for the entire Western Conference as well.
You hate to make a statement like “the Suns need not worry about the Pacific Division anymore,” but based on how this game went and how the Lakers have played in their first 10 games, that’s kind of what I’m thinking.
That’s not to say I think the Suns suck, because that’s certainly not the case. I still feel a top-four seed in the West is more than reasonable, but the Lakers are just that good.
In this one Vladimir Radmanovic hit all five of his 3-pointers, and nobody is going to beat the Lakers when that happens.
Six different Lakers reached double figures, while Pau Gasol uncharacteristically scored just four and Kobe Bryant suffered through an 8-for-23 shooting night. Just imagine what would have happened if those two were on.
The Suns only lost by 13, but it felt like a hell of a lot more, and after the first quarter and an early second quarter run, it never felt like the Suns were in this one.
The knockout blow to me came with under four minutes left in the third when Shaq made a nifty pass to Amare, only to see him blow an easy bucket at the rim. Then Radmanovic went down and drained a 3, Amare missed another bunny, and Derek Fisher hit a 3 to up the lead to 14 and essentially end the game.
The turnover bug bit again as well, as the Lakers tallied 21 points off 15 Phoenix turnovers while only committing seven TOs themselves.
“We have to really take a long look at our turnovers; that’s something we have to get under control,” Porter told Suns.com. “We have been fighting that since Day 1, we just have to solve that problem. We can’t go into games giving up (21) points (off of turnovers) and expect to win against quality teams, playoff-caliber teams. We have to do a much better job in that area.”
We’re lucky the playoffs are still five months away because if these two teams met in a seven-game series tomorrow, the Suns would be lucky to extend the series to five.
But if the Suns find the right balance between being the running team of the D’Antoni Era and the throw-the-ball-into-Shaq team they’ve shown shades of being this year, maybe things will be different by then.
“We’re just still a work in progress and we’re still trying to get better, and tonight was an indication that we have a ways to go,” Nash told Suns.com.
Aside from the fact Leandro Barbosa is still missing, tonight was a perfect opportunity to see what kind of rotation Porter would use in a game that felt more like a playoff affair than just one of 82.
First off, he went with a strict eight-man rotation until garbage time, something I expected and honestly hoped for going into the contest. In games like these, you can’t afford to go 10 deep.
I wonder if that would have been a nine-man rotation with Barbosa or if Barbosa would have been one of the eight, combining with Grant Hill as the second unit’s point guard. If neither rookie point guard plays well enough to deserve the role, I wouldn’t mind that option in games like this.
It was also terribly interesting that Sean Singletary received Goran Dragic’s backup point guard minutes in the first half. Singletary played well enough, draining a 3 and dishing two assists, one a nifty bounce pass to Barnes for a fast-break hoop, but he’s still a rookie point guard.
I wonder if Porter will alternate his backup point guard based on who he feels is playing better at the time. I also wonder if Dragic’s confidence is shaken by his coach not trusting him against the Lakers (and frankly, with the way they pressure the ball I don’t blame him) and for not playing him in overtime against the Kings with Nash out.
Just like in the Houston game, Porter rode Nash until waving the white flag with 4:37 left, when he also took Amare out for the first time in the half with Phoenix down 15.
Then the bench cut the lead to 10 with 2:35 left, which might be insurmountable against the Lakers but not against most mortal teams. I remember a game a few years back when the Suns came back from a 10-point deficit in the final minute.
Maybe resting Nash and Amare earlier in the quarter would allow them to return for one final stand, but maybe Porter thinks the game wouldn’t even be that close if he didn’t ride them hard to begin with.
In any case, the backup point guard issues and Nash playing so many second-half minutes certainly doesn’t jive with the “let’s limit Nash’s minutes this year” plan. But, of course, overplaying Nash is the apple in the Garden of Eden for Suns coaches the past five years.