Suns fans were disappointed when Phoenix was blown out by the Knicks earlier this week because that was a team the Suns should beat, no questions asked.
Their 108-88 thrashing Sunday night at the hands of the Lakers, on the other hand, was about as expected as the sun rising tomorrow morning.
In theory you can offer up the tired excuse of the Suns being tired after playing the second game of a back-to-back following a lengthy Eastern road trip, as was also the case the last time Phoenix visited Staples.
But in reality the Suns could have all week off and the Lakers could be playing a back-to-back and all that I think would be different would be the Suns’ excuse for losing.
After watching the Suns’ hellish week end in this fashion, I think it’s safe to say that November’s results with Phoenix staying neck and neck with LA in the Pacific were more of a tease that the Suns could stay at the top of this division than anything legitimate.
Maybe this never should have been a question, but Phoenix’s hot start made you wonder, “What if?” All I’m wondering right now is if the Lakers will ever lose another game after they’ve started 8-0 since Pau Gasol’s return from injury.
Friday’s Kobe buzzer beater aside, the only thing Lakers fan seem to be worrying about in the fourth quarter these days is whether their team will hold the opposition under 100 so they can score some free tacos. That’s life for a team with length and athleticism up front in the form of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Gasol to go with that Kobe character, a defensive stopper to team him with in Artest and a steady point guard in Derek Fisher.
Trust me, I loved the days when it was Kobe, Lamar and the rest ain’t thrilling, but I just don’t see anybody in the West close to these Lakers.
“I think they’re a little bit better than us right now,” Suns guard Steve Nash told Suns.com in the “Oh really?” comment of the year. “They’ve been playing together a little bit longer and are bigger than we are. Probably have a little more talent overall. We got some ground to make up.”
What I do wonder is if this past week was just one of those weeks for the Phoenix Suns or if they’re regressing to the mean of preseason expectations after an otherworldly November start that included stellar clutch road play but, truth be told, only a couple of victories against good teams.
After shooting a league-best 50.7 percent in their first 17 games while racking up a 14-3 record, including 57.5 percent shooting in the last four games of that hot start, the Suns have shot a mere 43.3 percent in their first four December games, leading to a 1-3 mark. If the Suns were to have shot that bad on the season, they would rank 27th in the league in shooting percentage, but they were such a hot shooting team to start the year that they still rank second in the NBA in that department, just .001 behind Boston.
You can blame it on tired legs, teams figuring out the Suns, the full moon, the month turning to December or just chalk it up to being a bad week, but Phoenix’s defense is at the point that this team needs to be the best-shooting team in the league to have a chance at being elite.
After hitting the century mark in each of their first 17 games, the Suns have failed to reach that point in all three of their December losses, with tonight’s 88-point showing being the first time they failed to even reach 90.
Just like in New York when they nailed just 4-of-17 long balls (23.5 percent), Phoenix went 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) tonight. The Suns are a team that lives and dies by the threes, and just as they lived by the three Saturday when a barrage of triples finished off Sacramento, they died by the long ball in this one and the New York game. Their lack of long-range shooting was exacerbated by their inability to get to the free-throw line, as Phoenix only got to the charity stripe 11 times compared to the Lakers’ 26 attempts.
If you were to ask me to pick out a positive in this game it would be Amare Stoudemire. STAT suffered through his worst shooting performance as a pro when Phoenix last visited Staples Center back on Nov. 12 and Andrew Bynum and Co. forced him into a 2-for-15 disaster.
Amare followed that up by scoring at least 20 points and leading Phoenix in scoring in his next five games, and this time around he followed up that Staples stinker with 18 points on 9-for-16 shooting and eight boards (seven in the first half). Unlike the last game against LA, he actually looked like Amare in this one.
In closing, Suns fans really shouldn’t be disappointed about this loss. The Lakers are just the better team, and when you factor in the Suns’ fatigue to begin with you would have been pretty safe going to Vegas and betting on LA in this one. The effort wasn’t putrid like it was in some other losses, Phoenix was just beaten by a better team.
Mind you, it is disconcerting that the Suns have already lost as many games in December as they did in all of October and November combined, and the schedule isn’t getting any easier.
But every team will go through stretches in which they struggle, and when you factor out the embarrassing loss to the Knicks, all the Suns have really done this week is lose to the Cavs and the Lakers while playing the second half of a back-to-back.
(And to think I promised not to use that as an excuse!)