Preview: Suns (15-5) at Lakers (15-3)

Lakers 108, Suns 88

Suns

Suns

Lakers

Lakers

PHOENIX — When the Suns take the court in Los Angeles tonight, they’re probably going to look like a bunch of zombies. Fortunately not the flesh-eating, slow-shuffling kind, but rather the fast-running, basketball-dribbling kind tired from playing four of their last five games on the road and hopping on a plane right after a 115-107 win over the Kings last night in Phoenix.

The Suns face the Lakers, winners of eight straight games, in LA on the second game of a back-to-back for the second time this season.

“Our guys are a little spent right now,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after Saturday’s game. “The travel has been tough and now we’ve got to get on a plane tonight and fly to LA and play. It’s the way the schedule is, and we’ll just keep plugging away.”

The Suns have looked pretty tired, and it seems like it’s affecting their shooting. In their last two games, the Suns have shot 40.0 percent and 43.2 percent, respectively. Additionally, the offense hasn’t been clicking and it’s been harder for the Suns to find their flow early. But that isn’t really surprising when you’ve played 13 of your first 20 games on the road.

Taking on the Lakers will be even more daunting this time around. When the Suns went to LA last time, they had had the chance to rest their starters the night before in a blowout of the Hornets. But the Kings played them tough last night and the starters had to stay on the floor until the clock ran out.

The Lakers were also without Pau Gasol for that game, but he’s now back at full strength and averaging 18.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, and the Lakers have not lost since he returned. The matchup between Amare Stoudemire and Gasol should be a good one, as they are no doubt two of the best forwards in the NBA.

The Lakers have got to be riding high after Kobe Bryant’s game-winning three at the buzzer Friday night against the Heat capped a 33-point performance.

“They’re on such a roll right now,” Gentry said. “There’s a reason they’re the defending champs.”

Part of that reason is stellar play on both ends of the court, which you have to expect from a Phil Jackson team. With Bryant scoring 29.1 a game, Andrew Bynum adding 18.5 and 10.1 rebounds and Ron Artest 12.2, not to mention Gasol’s contributions, the Lakers clearly have no problems offensively.

“There were a few defensive letdowns last game,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes against the Lakers.”

Their defense is rock solid, too, as they rank third in the league in defensive efficiency.

The Suns will have to find something to spark the offense enough to make up for their sub-par defense against a team this good. Steve Nash seems a likely candidate after exploding for 32 points against the Kings, but it can’t be a one-man effort.

The Suns are missing Leandro Barbosa more than I originally expected. He is an explosive scorer who can give a starter rest and just get in the game and score points. But without him, the bulk of bench minutes are going to Jarded Dudley. Dudley has been very good, averaging 8.7 points per game on the season, but he’s just not Barbosa.

With defenders like Artest and Derek Fisher, the Suns won’t be able to rely on their fantastic three-point shooting. The Lakers limited them to 8-of-23 shooting (34.8 percent) from deep last time.

“They are the defending champs and they’re a great team, but we’ll be OK,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve just got to get out there and fight.”

With Artest on the floor there’s always the possibility of a fight, but we know that’s not what Stoudemire meant. The Suns will indeed have to fight if they want to leave with a ‘W,’ and a win in LA would certainly be a confidence booster in a crazy month like December.

This game will almost certainly not be pretty, but another ugly win would serve the Suns’ best interests. They head to Dallas after a day off and then get two days off before taking on the Magic at home later this week.

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