Preview: Lakers (24-5) at Suns (19-12)

Suns 118, Lakers 103





PHOENIX — With the Suns struggling through a 5-9 December, the last thing they need is a date with the NBA-leading Lakers.

And a Wednesday visit from the road-best Boston Celtics won’t be too timely either, but the Suns of course have no choice but to play the schedule put in front of them and hope for the best.

Thus far in December they’ve struggled with all the good teams put in front of them — save for a gritty win over Orlando and a game they almost blew against San Antonio — and frankly they’ve struggled with some of the bad teams as we saw Saturday in Oakland.

“The schedule that we’ve had nobody has had in the league,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “…. The way we look at it is if we can survive this we feel like we can compete with most of the other teams in the league. That’s not a given, but we feel like it.”

Gentry says that because by the time the ball drops in Times Square the Suns will be finished with Cleveland, Boston and Orlando, will have gotten in a road game against Denver, Dallas and Portland and a home game against San Antonio and they also will have played three of their four scheduled games against the mighty Lakers.

The Suns have already made a pair of Eastern road trips and have encountered the kind of early schedule that can bury a team. It will get easier from here on out, although if the Suns play defense and turn the ball over like they did on Saturday against the Warriors, they might not be able to handle a Pac-10 schedule as Gentry alluded to.

Although the December win-loss total isn’t going to look pretty, it would give the Suns a big boost to win one of these next two games against the NBA’s finest before 2010 begins.

Besides the fact that 5-11 is just an ugly record for a team that entered the month 14-3, the momentum from such a victory would surely carry into the new year, especially if it’s against their old nemesis from Los Angeles.

The Lakers have dominated the Suns on two different occasions earlier this year in Staples Center. Phoenix didn’t have much of a chance in either game, although the Suns did have the back-to-back excuse in both of them.

This time if anybody is tired it will be the Lakers after they outlasted the Kings in a crazy double overtime affair on Saturday night.

Rebounding will be a HUGE key for the Suns in this one. Although that’s always the case, its importance is magnified by Los Angeles’ long front line.

The Suns are 11-1 when they win the rebounding battle (although that one came against the Lakers) and 7-10 when they lose it, which has more often been the case of late after a solid gang rebounding first month of the year.

“We have taken care of that for the most part, we’ve just had slippage in the last two weeks where we’ve got to make sure we take care of it,” Gentry said of the rebounding. “We’ve got to go back, we’ve got to rebound by committee. That’s what we were doing early on, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The Suns have also now yielded seven 30-point games to opponents this month after not doing so at all before December, including 30-point performances from both Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette last time out, which is certainly not a good sign with the Black Mamba in town.

In all, the Suns know what they’re up against in this one against the defending champs, who may be even better this season.

Their offense is lethal and their defense ranks second to only Boston in efficiency, even if it should be hurt a bit by Ron Artest’s likely absence. The Suns have struggled with Los Angeles’ length inside on both sides of the ball, and that Kobe character adds something as well.

This is just one game out of 82, but if the Suns can pull it out it will likely feel like something more.

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