Lakers 121, Suns 102 — Not ready for primetime


J-Rich and the Suns were a bit off balance all night.

J-Rich and the Suns were a bit off balance all night. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

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.

  • Justin B.

    In a way, I don't think they're quite becoming "a different team" on these blowout losses. Gentry seems to have a mindset of "Ok, we're down by 15 pounds or so, let's just sit the starters." In both of the losses, the starters played around 20 minutes. Maybe he just realizes they'll be ineffectual all night, so what's the point? Not sure if it's a good plan or a bad plan to do that, but it does make it hard to fight back from deficits.

  • Justin B.

    Should have been "15 points or so" not pounds.

  • Paul B

    For being not "quite ready for primetime" I'd say the Suns are doing pretty good, with 8 W's and only 2 L's they are tied for first in the conference. Plus they have scored at least 100 points per game for all 10 games. What is it with you sports commentators and writers about saying the Suns aren't in the elite of elites. Who is I might ask? Boston, who lost to this Suns team at home? Or maybe LA who is tied with the same team they just beat for first in their conference?

    Give me a break, I think it's time you start paying attention to facts and stop blabbing your "know-it-all" mouth that seems disconnected from your brain. You know I seem to know more than you do and I am just a fan, not a sports analyst/writer. You make the statement that yes they just had a grueling 7 games in 10 days, then you don't make the exception that LA's loss was to Dallas by just 5 points less than their win over the Suns.

    It seems to me Michael Schwartz, that you need to go get another job, because simply put the one you're doing right now, it isn't putting up very good numbers….

  • Darlena C.

    i believe you Suns fans finally got your wake up call last night. my L.A.Lakers are still in charge of the NBA. and we are still not at full strentgth. another lost season in Arizona. the Finals run through Staples Center — as usual. so go choke in Denver cuzz we see choking victims everyday.

  • Jabari

    LOL Darlena…

    Maybe it’s not so fun to play back-to-back nights with travel in between on the road after all, is it?

  • The Z. Man

    Paul B. is VERY good.

    Look what then happened to the “champs” the following game.

    Back to back games set back the best. We are no different than the best. Gentry does need to learn from his mistakes by resting those tired legs. Suns had some players WITH lots of energy (Louis, J-Dud, Earl, and the Brazilian Blur). Game was already lost however before the energy gang had a shot to make a diff.

    MUST start and ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Pingback: Preview: Lakers (24-5) at Suns (19-12)| Valley of the Suns

  • Pingback: Suns 118, Lakers 103 — Back to November| Valley of the Suns

  • Pingback: Ranking the Suns' playoff competition| Valley of the Suns

  • Pingback: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- Season series in review| Valley of the Suns

  • Pingback: Channing Frye: the hidden X-factor| Valley of the Suns