Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (24-11) at Phoenix Suns (14-18)

Los Angeles Lakers 99, Phoenix Suns 95


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PHOENIX — Oh how far the mighty have fallen.

It was just seven months ago the Lakers and Suns were battling it out in the Western Conference Finals.

Now, one team is still struggling to find continuity while staying afloat in the playoff hunt and the other has spent the early portion of its campaign underachieving its way out of home-court advantage.

“Having a short memory is part of being a professional,” Steve Nash said. “We all need to play a little bit better. Everyone needs to contribute.”

Since Nov. 24, Los Angeles is just 10-9 while the Suns are 7-11.

“The world champs are coming in and they are struggling a bit so you know their focus is going to be better than it’s ever been,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “Our defense is making strides and our turnovers are really down. Now the area we have to get better in is the rebounding department.”

In their last game, a 94-89 loss to Sacramento, the Suns were out rebounded 60-32 and 18 of the 60 were offensive boards.

“We’re getting better defensively, holding our last two opponents to [around] 40 percent,” Nash said. “Obviously we can’t give up that many offensive rebounds though.”

Unfortunately for Phoenix, Los Angeles isn’t exactly the best team to get healthy on the boards against.

“We have to find a way to box out and put bodies on people,” Gentry said. “They play a three-man that’s seven feet tall.”

The Suns and Lakers have met twice this season already with each team having won on the other’s home court.

In those two games combined, Los Angeles has outrebounded Phoenix 95-75. The Lakers have 11 more offensive rebounds as well.

“They’re big, experienced and they’re capable,” Grant Hill said. “As much as they’re struggling you know when they get to the playoffs, they will be fine. With that said, they are big rivals of this organization and this city.”

Phoenix won in Los Angeles mainly by sinking a franchise-record 22 3-pointers.

Now, however, the Suns have upgraded their size with the addition of Marcin Gortat for games just like Wednesday’s.

Although Gentry said he won’t make any final lineup decisions until closer to game time, the coach did say he would most likely start with a bigger rotation.

“It’s pretty tough to ask Grant [Hill] to guard Pau Gasol,” Gentry said. “It’s a pretty tall order, even for him. Gasol is probably the best low post player with his back to the basket in the game.”

In their last win, a 92-75 victory over Detroit, Goran Dragic played 29 minutes, 10 more than Nash. That recipe for success is something Phoenix would like to continue.

“We need someone to be able to step in;  the less minutes I can play Steve and save him for the fourth quarter, the better off we are,” Gentry said. “And when Goran plays well we can do that. With him, it’s all about who he’s out on the floor with. I’ve got to make sure we’ve got a good combination with him out there.”

Nash likes that plan as well.

“A big part of our success last year was our depth,” he said. “A lot of games our second unit dominated the other team and we won because of that. So now it’s about finding the chemistry with this year’s second unit.”

And 1

Kobe Bryant scored 17 points Tuesday in the Lakers win over Detroit to pass Dominique Wilkins for 10th-most in NBA history. Now at 26,671, Bryant needs just 39 more to overtake Oscar Robertson for ninth on the list. … Michael Schwartz chatted with Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN LA’s Land O’ Lakers blog about the current state of the Suns.

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