I’ll start with the good news.
Lou Amundson hustled the Suns over 100 points in the final minute, leaving Lakers fans taco-less and Suns fans with two free tacos. Grant Hill applauded this outcome on the bench, possibly because free tacos don’t mix with his macrobiotic diet.
Not much else went right for the Suns, though, in their 121-102 loss to the Lakers in a game that proved Phoenix isn’t quite ready for primetime at this point of the season, hot start or no hot start.
“They are great, they are the world champs and there is a reason why they are the world champs,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “Like I said I don’t know where their weakness is really. They are going to be a handful for whoever plays them.”
There’s no shame in losing to a better team on the road in a back-to-back and four-games-in-five-days situation when that squad has had three days off. I’m not making excuses, I’m just stating the situation.
At the same time, I was disappointed the Suns didn’t at least make this a ballgame, and much of that can be attributed to Los Angeles’ front line.
First off, Andrew Bynum and Co. took Amare Stoudemire out of his game, as STAT finished the evening with eight points on 2-for-15 shooting. That’s a career 54 percent shooter missing 13 shots, something that definitely doesn’t happen every day. In fact, it was Amare’s worst career shooting performance among games that he’s put up double-figure shots. It got to the point that misses begat more misses, as Bynum clearly frustrated Amare.
At the other end, Los Angeles scored 76 points in the paint with Bynum crushing the Suns for 26 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. The Suns somehow outrebounded the Lakers, but that says more about the fact that Phoenix had a lot more shots to rebound for a change, shooting 36.5 percent to the Lakers’ 57.6 percent. The Suns had previously never shot lower than 45 percent, and part of that had to do with only running out to two fastbreak points.
I don’t mean to take credit away from Los Angeles’ defense, because it was plenty fierce, and the Lakers took away Nash’s passing lanes better than any team has all season.
But the Suns just flat-out missed shots they normally make.
Amare missed a pointblank dunk, LB missed a layup that would have tied things up in the second quarter and those threes that have been so plentiful just never dropped.
Call it tired legs, great defense or a combination of the two, but the Suns just didn’t shoot the way they have. If they shoot anywhere close to as well as they normally do, we have a ballgame.
Nobody likes excuses, but just give me one more minute. Not only was this a back-to-back but the Suns had played four games in five days and seven games in 10 days, all in different cities. It’s the kind of killer stretch that doesn’t mix well against a rested, hungry team eager to show the Suns nothing has changed in the Pacific Division.
“We were a tired team, you know, seven cities in 10 days,” Nash told Suns.com. “We need to not make excuses and be mentally tougher. We were flat and we didn’t find a way out of it tonight.
“We had tired legs. We missed a lot of easy shots; missed layups, dunks; missed shots we normally knock down. Usually when your legs go that’s what happens. There’s no excuse, though, we need to find a better way to step up defensively on nights like this and we didn’t stop them tonight.”
Added Gentry, “We ran out of gas, we really did. The bottom line is that we missed shots that we normally made. I am not sure we quite had our legs. I am not making excuses because they are a great team, they defended the heck out of us, but we can usually stay in and make some of those shots.”
If you would have told any Suns fan in the world that this team would be 8-2 after such a grueling stretch, any last one of them would take this in a heartbeat. Personally I would have been impressed with 6-4, and it’s truly amazing that they stole a win in Boston and finished off a 4-1 road trip.
But what is disconcerting is that they really haven’t competed too well in their two losses, which were both over not long after halftime.
I know those losses have come against the 2009 NBA Finals participants on the back end of back-to-backs, but the Suns can’t suddenly become a different team when they play a good squad on a second consecutive night.
All in all what we learned tonight is that the Suns are still probably a level below the elites of the elites, and just typing that sentence proves how far the perception of the Suns has come in the early going of the season.
The Lakers’ combination of size plus Kobe make them a pretty tough matchup for Phoenix (and that’s not even counting Pau Gasol), but the Suns look to be a team that can compete for a Nos. 3-6 seed in the always bunched up Western Conference.
“Well two weeks ago we weren’t supposed to make the playoffs,” Nash said. “You know, our team needs to look at this as a project. We are just trying to get better every day, and I think we are improving.”
The Suns return to Staples Center on Dec. 6 for a rematch against the Lakers. That gives them more than three weeks to become closer to finished product than project.