PHOENIX – If the glass is half full, Alvin Gentry’s 4-1 start ties Scott Skiles for the best five-game beginning in franchise history.
If the glass is half empty, the Suns have beaten the Clippers twice, the Thunder and the Bobcats while getting worked by the Celtics.
Although it sure beats the alternative as Phoenix has found out too many times this year, such victories don’t really get the Shaqtus’ juices flowing.
“The true test will be against the good teams,” Shaq said. “I’m not really impressed with beating the teams that you’re supposed to beat. We have to beat the good teams, and we have to stay consistent at whatever we do. This game on Thursday is going to be a good test for us.”
Shaq will certainly be impressed if the Suns go into LA LA Land and take down a Lakers squad that’s 26-4 at home and has won five in a row and 16 of 18.
The Lakers lead the NBA in offensive efficiency, averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions (the Suns rank fourth at 109.6 Terry Porter or no Terry Porter), and they rank seventh in defensive efficiency.
Los Angeles has been playing some higher-scoring games since Andrew Bynum went down, so expect the scoreboard operator to be busy in this one.
Just like last time when the Suns made a valiant effort that came up short on Dec. 10 in Staples Center, the day of the J-Rich trade when the Suns did not have available any of the players they were dealing or receiving nor Shaq (funeral), Phoenix will likely be very shorthanded.
Of course, Amare Stoudemire is still weeks away from a return if he does at all, and The Arizona Republic reported that Steve Nash missed Thursday’s shootaround and according to Gentry is “90-10″ that he won’t play.
It’s always a good idea to play it safe with Nash, who hurt his ankle in Tuesday’s win, especially in a game that doesn’t look that winnable anyway.
The thought of Goran Dragic starting and playing heavy minutes in this one scares the hell out of me. It may have worked to play Dragic and former guard Sean Singletary in a win Nash missed at Sacramento, but this isn’t exactly Sacramento.
Tonight is also one of those games in which I can’t see how the Suns will rebound against the Lakers’ tall front line of Paul Gasol and Lamar Odom, who has always killed the Suns on the boards. Especially when Shaq rests, it could get ugly.
Then you have to worry about a potential defensive matchup pitting the 6-foot-3 Leandro Barbosa on Kobe or a small forward, and it’s hard to see how the Suns can win this one.
Of course, who would have expected the Suns to make a game of that last one in LA with really just five guys who were rotation players at the time, and it can’t be understated what a win against this team would do for the psyche of a Phoenix club trying to figure out if it’s a playoff team.
“They’re the best team in the West,” Shaq said. “If we want to take it somewhere we have to go through those guys. It’s a good test for us.”
For more on the matchup, check out my appearance on a Lakers podcast for 710 ESPN in Los Angeles.