Just over a week ago when the Phoenix Suns were sitting at 25-26 and two games back of the No. 8 seed, head coach Alvin Gentry made it clear that his team needed to treat every game like the playoffs.
After collapsing down the stretch against the Nuggets in a crucial loss on Friday night, every contest now becomes Game 7. While the Suns still have 11 games to work with, it’s do or die time for Phoenix.
Currently in 10th place in the Western Conference the Suns are half a game back of the ninth-place Jazz and two games back of both the Rockets and Nuggets, who sit in seventh and eighth, respectively.
Phoenix will get the Jazz and Nuggets once more this season, but those games may not matter if the Suns can’t knock off the Lakers tonight in US Airways Center.
Tired legs and mental fatigue will be tested, as both teams are on the tail end of a back-to-back and playing their fourth game in five nights. Like the Suns, the Lakers are fresh off of a loss as they fell victim to the Houston Rockets and Goran Dragic’s 26 points and 11 assists last night in Los Angeles.
While the Lakers lead the season series 2-1 and are the clear favorite, the Suns are no stranger to beating Kobe Bryant and company with their backs against the wall to kickstart a big win streak.
The Suns defeated the Lakers 102-90 at home in their last meeting in a game that Gentry and players alike have said is the game that turned the season around.
Phoenix was 12-19 headed into that contest and the thought of the playoffs seemed laughable. But the Suns rode 25 points from Jared Dudley and 21 and 15 from Marcin Gortat to victory lane.
They went on to win 10 of their next 13 games and sneak into the playoff picture. If the Suns want to be playing in May, they’ll have to do the same thing against the Lakers tonight.
While the Lakers are winners of four of their last five, they haven’t exactly been the model of consistency. Andrew Bynum continued to flash his immaturity as he was ejected in the first minute of last night’s fourth quarter.
The Lakers blew an 11-point second-half lead and were outscored 62-48 in the second half. They’re also playing their sixth game in eight nights, making them that much more vulnerable.
But this is still Kobe Bryant against the Phoenix Suns. He’s averaging 38.7 points per game against the Suns this season, his highest average against any team in the NBA that he’s faced more than once.
The absence of defensive stopper Grant Hill will be as apparent as ever, leaving it up to Jared Dudley and little brother Shannon Brown to check Kobe.
But Kobe’s expected to get his. If the Suns can slow down Bynum and Pau Gasol they could very well avenge last night’s loss and keep their playoff hopes alive.
UPDATE: Kobe out with shin injury
So much for the question of how the Suns will defend Kobe without Hill as Bryant will miss the game with a shin injury, and Devin Ebanks will start in his place. I doubt Gentry is too bummed about that news.
Schwartz stopped over at Land O’Lakers to answer a few questions about tonight’s matchup. Check out the article here.