Take LeBron and Mo Williams off the Cavs, KG and Paul Pierce off the Celtics and Kobe and Pau off the Lakers and those teams will struggle.
For a team like the Suns that was on the outside looking in at the playoff race even at full strength this season, they certainly weren’t going to beat the Lakers in Staples Center without their two best players, Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
Not in a building in which the Lakers have won 27 of 31 and probably not even in the friendly confines of US Airways Center if Nash can’t return by Sunday.
The Suns will have to learn to live without Stoudemire, but they won’t win many games when Nash joins him on the sidelines, and if the Suns ever rest Shaq may they will feature a front line so weak everyone will be clamoring for the days of Joe Kleine and Danny Schayes.
As it was, the Lakers’ 132-106 victory featured little Hollywood drama.
With the Suns trailing by 15 points at the half, a very make-up-able margin on most nights, head coach Alvin Gentry told TNT’s Craig Sager that he would see if his starters could make a run and if not he would pull them to save them for tomorrow’s contest against Toronto, not because it’s a showdown but since it’s a winnable game.
The Suns trimmed the lead to 11 a couple minutes into the half on a nice driving layup by Grant Hill, but then the Lakers went on a 9-0 run to extend it to 20, and with over eight minutes left in the third quarter the game was over.
About three minutes later at the 4:54 mark when the Suns trailed by 23, Gentry pulled Hill and Shaq to save them for another night.
The sad thing is I couldn’t agree with him more. You weren’t going to win this game, so why not save the vets for a game the Suns can actually win, like say Friday against Toronto?
It’s kind of sad that it’s gotten to this point.
The Suns used to crush teams like Toronto so they could rest up their starters for showdowns against teams like the Lakers. Now it’s the other way around, and you can’t blame Gentry because the Suns really, really need to beat the Raptors before facing the gauntlet of seven consecutive games against winning teams, starting with another tilt against the Lakers on Sunday.
Phoenix just couldn’t defend the Lakers and you can’t blame them when Hill is trying to check either Gasol or Lamar Odom. The Suns just can’t match up, and that led to Los Angeles hitting 57.4 percent of its shots.
“We can’t try to run by taking the ball out of the basket all the time, we have to come up with some stops and we didn’t come up with any,” Gentry told Suns.com. “When you don’t have any stops and you take it out of the basket you put a lot of pressure on your offense, and as good as we feel we are offensively we can’t go down there and try to match basket for basket every time. We’re not good enough to do that.”
The Suns, on the other hand, shot just 42.9 percent and turned the ball over 19 times to fuel 31 Los Angeles points.
They were legitimately in this one really only for the first half of the first quarter, taking a 20-17 lead six minutes in. The Lakers promptly reeled off a 22-4 run, as Lou Amundson entered for Shaq a minute into the burst and Matt Barnes took Hill’s place a minute and a half into it.
Alando Tucker got his first career start in place of the injured Nash, with LB switching over to the point guard spot.
The move made sense to give the Suns more of a defensive chance against Kobe and the Lakers, and Tucker responded with one of his better games despite not being a part of Gentry’s rotations the past few contests. Tucker poured in a career-high 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Speaking of Tucker, the TNT announcers made it a point to say he looked nothing like the inside college player he was at Wisconsin, and I found this YouTube clip to prove it. I remembered him as a banging forward, not the sleek guard he is today, which makes it strange that Craig Sager reported he’s actually put on 10 pounds since his collegiate days.
Goran Dragic added a career-high 14 points in 17 minutes, but he turned the ball over four times, and LB didn’t shoot terribly well (7-for-18) although he still found a way to go for 18 points, seven assists and six boards.
But nobody found a way to fill Nash’s playmaking void, surprise, surprise.
“It’s tough getting guys touches when we don’t have Steve out there,” Gentry said. “He creates a lot of easy stuff for everyone, easy shots for guys on the perimeter. He’s able to get the ball to Shaq on the inside so it’s tough when we don’t have him out there.”
Although it’s doubtful the Suns can keep up with the Lakers’ of the world even with Nash at full strength, at least they’d have a fighting chance.