Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-18) at Los Angeles Lakers (17-12)

Los Angeles Lakers 111, Phoenix Suns 99



PHOENIX – Fresh off a disastrous start to their week with three losses in three days — two in games Phoenix held double-digit second-half leads — the week gets no easier as the Suns open a home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in Staples Center.

The Lakers — who have won three in a row and 11 of 14 overall against the Suns — have been a dominant home team this season, winning 12 of 14 on their home floor.  They recently split their Grammy’s road trip with a 3-3 mark before taking care of Atlanta on Tuesday, their only game in a span in which Phoenix played three.

The Suns, meanwhile, have lost four of five after winning four of five to fall a season-high six games below .500 for the fourth time this season.

“It’s going to be a tough weekend for us,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “The Lakers are a very talented team with a lot of experience, but it’s a great opportunity, too. We’ve had a lot of disappointments lately. If we can turn that around maybe that will give us some confidence to go from here and get ourselves back in the hunt.”

Nash is ever the optimist and at this point what other choice does he have? He must know the Suns could be staring at a record eight games under .500 without pulling out one of these Lakers games, which would pretty much bury this team by the All-Star break.

The Lakers boast practically no depth, but that doesn’t make stopping their three stars any easier. Pau Gasol (16.8, 10.6) and Andrew Bynum (16.3, 12.6) are beasts, but Los Angeles’ next leading scorer is Matt Barnes all the way down at 7.0 a game. The top three Lakers own PERs over 21 but after Barnes’ 13.9 nobody is over 10.5, which is why Los Angeles leads John Hollinger’s team BAD rankings, a figure that calculates how much time a team gives to subpar players.

Yet the Lakers are still a contender in the West because Kobe Bryant (along with the Gasol/Bynum duo) has been that good. After seemingly declining last season, Bryant is enjoying a typical Kobe season of 28.7 points (which leads the league), 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game despite a recent mini-slump in February.  His PER of 24.19 ranks eighth in the NBA, just behind Jeremy Lin.

The Suns are quite familiar with the man who still hates them. He poured in a season-high 48 points on 18-for-31 shooting last time these teams met on Jan. 10 when the Lakers turned a nail biter into a laugher in the final six minutes, and after that virtuoso performance Jared Dudley said the Suns must send more double teams to slow him down.

“No one man can slow down Kobe Bryant,” Dudley said. “Sometimes two can’t. Once you double him and the shot goes up it’s getting those two big trees Gasol and Bynum off the boards. The rebound battle just like most games is going to be key for us if we want to have a chance to win.”

The Suns must do exactly that to prevent this terrible week from crippling their season right when Phoenix had seemed to finally find itself.

Shaq picks Morris in rookie/sophomore game draft

Markieff Morris will play for Team Shaq in the Rising Stars Challenge after the former Suns big man selected him with his fifth pick in last night’s draft.

Morris will join a star-studded roster that also features Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Linsanity and Greg Monroe.

“He’s a three-point shooter, he’s a forward, he’s got inside/outside game, he’s been playing well for those Phoenix Suns,” TNT’s Kenny Smith said.

And 1

Robert Sarver and Lon Babby laid out their plan to The Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin by reiterating more of what we already know. Per the article:

» Steve Nash isn’t going anywhere, unless he chooses to leave.

» The organization has no interest in a full-scale “blowing up” of the team, because its research shows that process can take from eight to 10 years and it has no interest in waiting that long.

» It believes a return to being an elite team will come from better drafting, wise personnel moves via trades and free agency, and taking advantage of the significant amount of salary-cap space it will have available next season.

“Our goal is to transition back to elite status,” Sarver said, “and to get there sooner than later.”

It’s difficult to see how the Suns will go from A to B considering their current status and the Suns’ commitment not to trade Nash unless he asks for one. Yes, it will take all of the components laid out above, but it’s going to take years of many good decisions and a lot of luck to get there as well. …

David Thorpe on Morris: “Channing Frye is soaking up the minutes Morris needs to develop fully. But make no mistake, Morris has already proved to be a long-term NBA player thanks to his toughness and 3-point shooting.”

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Tags: Kobe Bryant

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