Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (20-25) at Phoenix Suns (15-30)


Time: 8:30 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN

Lakers

Suns

With two losses following two wins, the Lindsey Hunter honeymoon phase is over.

That’s unfortunate, because the Suns would love to pretend they’ve moved on without Steve Nash when he enters the US Airways Center tonight sporting a different shade of purple.

Instead, Phoenix is back to losing. Not that Nash and the Lakers are winning that much, either. The breakup between the Suns and their former franchise player appears to have worked out for no one, unless you count Phoenix potentially stealing a lottery pick from an underachieving superteam featuring Nash, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

L.A., however, seems to be figuring things out. They have won three straight following a 2-9 stretch. Two of those wins came against likely playoff teams in Utah and Oklahoma City.

The Lakers’ recent success, however, has not come as advertised when the team was first assembled. It is Bryant, not Nash, picking opponents apart with his passing, averaging 13 assists a game during the win streak. It is Earl Clark, not Pau Gasol, complementing Howard in the post as part of the starting unit.

The Clark development could not be more ironic. Once buried without a chance of rising from the end of the bench in Phoenix, the former Suns first-round pick became a lifeline for D’Antoni in Los Angeles. This is the same D’Antoni who Suns fans recall as reluctant to ever go more than seven deep in his rotation.

In the Lakers’ most recent win, Clark registered a Howard-like double-double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

It’s safe to say that Nash’s presence will generate more memories (and bitterness) than that of Clark. Every pick-and-roll that ends in a basket will be a flawed replay of the countless such plays Nash executed on Planet Orange. It will be Howard, Bryant, Gasol and Co. on the receiving end instead of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, and countless others.

Goran Dragic, in the unenviable role of “first point guard after Nash”, will go head-to-head against him on national television (Phoenix still needs Nash in the building to get that perk). It will be an blunt, unfair stage of comparison, particularly should Nash have a good night.

Nash left just as things were about to hit rock bottom. Dragic was handed the shovel to dig the Suns out.

It will be interesting to see if Bryant, the Suns’ usual tormentor, plays with the same anger and motivation he usually exhibits when he visits Phoenix. He has made no secret of his dislike for the Suns, mostly due to the first-round playoff eliminations they handed him in 2006 and 2007.

With no remaining players from those Suns teams remaining — and with the chief architect of those losses now his teammate — Bryant may be content continuing to amass double-digit assist numbers, instead of dropping 40 points out of spite.

A Suns win over the Nash-led Lakers would (for one night) do wonders for a squad that has done everything short of admit that “life sucks without Steve.” Dragic could take pride in what he’s been asked to do and make a statement. Marcin Gortat could have his first above-average game against Dwight Howard, another matchup of former backup vs. former mentor. Michael Beasley could continue his torrid stretch off the bench.

Against the Lakers horrified Suns’ fans imagined at the beginning of the season, all that would not have been enough. Against these Lakers?

Just maybe.

  • Fan in Chi Town

    Really wanting a win tonight. Let’s hope that our players can make us proud for the most important game on our schedule this season.

  • Cam

    Lets hope the retro black can give the Suns the power of the ’92-93 team. Get this win to stop this Fakers winning streak and keep them in lottery pick range.

    Hopefully the Suns can make such a ruckus that D’Antoni will bench Gasol again and Gasol will finally request a trade, weakening this team even more. Dragic needs to attack and attack and attack again, not giving Nashty and Blake a chance to rest. Go Suns.

  • Scott

    BTW, if Hunter sticks with the Suns, and Hill doesn’t stick with the Clippers, wouldn’t it be great to bring Hill back as either a player (if he wants to retire as a Sun) or as an assistant coach?

    I’d also like to see the FO mend fences with Thunder Dan and bring him back, if possible.

  • Scott

    This clash between teams is the key battle for the Suns this year. Fans want to beat the Lakers for general reasons, but there’s the added incentive in knowing that one win could bring the Suns a lottery pick from the Lakers.

    Not that the players care about that. They are focused on other things.

    IT’S PERSONAL

    Howard wants to crush his former practice dummy, Gortat. Gortat would like to avoid wilting, just once, and maybe Howard is weak enough right now for Gortat to take advantage.

    Gasol has a rivalry with Scola from international play. Both men will want to beat the other.

    Nash will want to win in Phoenix. Dragic would like to keep Nash from winning.

    Former NBA castoff Tucker will be assigned to Bryant. Bryant will take offense at this, and will want to score heavily.

    Where the game may hinge, though, is on the defense of current Sun Morris against the offense of former Sun Earl Clark. Other sources of game winning plays might be World Peace for the Lakers, and former Laker Shannon Brown for the Suns.

    If the Suns manage to win this game, it will only get more intense on the next meeting.

  • bk

    This game has no reason to loss for better lottery pick. How the coach does in this game will tell us what his coaching direction for the rest of this season either playing more young players or not.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    So far in this game there has been more money bet on the Suns than the lakers.

    Lakers opened as 4 pt favorites but it has been bet down to 2 1/2.

    Hmmm

  • azbballfan

    The Lakers look like they might have figured it out

    i think though, how long is unselfish kobe gonna last when people are missing layups and playing bad defense and kobe says screw this and takes 35 shots

    Yeah it works right now, but the Lakers have likely done poor enough that, to make the playoffs, they would have to have a total turn around, and 3 teams they are chasing which would be Dallas, Portland, and Houston, would all have to collapse at the same time

    Not to mention that the Lakers would have to win season series against all 3 of those teams to insure that they have the tierbreaker in case the team they are chasing at the end is tied with them.

    They are still terrible on the road, but this super easy schedule they have coming will help them

    I expect the Suns to come out, play hard for 3 quarters then give up.

    If the Lakers come in motivated, poorly as they have played this season, they still have talent.

    Something the Suns dont have alot of

    I expect the Lakers to win

    which reminds me Hoopshype.com says the Raps and Griz have a deal in place to swap Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi for Jose Caulderon and Ed Davis

    I would love to see Rudy Gay traded only so the front office cant get him

    I wouldnt trust the 3 stooges to wash my car at this pount.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Dragic will get crushed tonight. Sad, but true.

  • Tim in BC

    I would love to see the Suns win this game as a small boost to their morale and also because I don’t want to see “Hollywood Steve” leave town with a win against his old team. I think he must be abit surprised (shocked?) that he is not on the winning team that he figured he would be on. He used to be my favourite player till he joined the Lakers. I think he has changed and seems to have taken on Laker persona. Go Sun!!!
    I hope Dragon out scores him!

  • Dizzle

    Might be a stupid question, but Is the game only watchable on espn?

  • Tony

    @Tim,

    People like you make no sense to me. How can you blame Nash for signing with the Lakers when you consider that not only did the Suns FO not offer him an extension, but also he was more than willing to resign with the Suns in the first place? What was he supposed to do? Go sign with another team far away from his kids just because of some silly non-existent rivalry? Speaking of which, there hasn’t been any semblance of a rivalry between the Lakers and Suns since the 2010 WCFs. Ever since the Suns have been merely an afterthought to the Lakers and the team’s fans.

    But I digress. I hope the Suns fans in attendance tonight give Nash a standing ovation because not only was he arguably the greatest Suns player, he was also a model teammate and citizen off the court as well. To root against Nash really amounts to rooting for the Suns FO instead. It was the FO that decimated the Suns roster; it was the Suns FO that didn’t offer Nash a contract-extension; and it was the Suns FO which is principally responsible for the Suns being in last place in the western conference.

    So I hope the fans give Nash a standing ovation because he certainly deserves one. I wonder if Sarver is going to be in attendance at his usual seat tonight? Hasn’t he gone into hiding anytime the Knicks and A’mare come to town? What a delusional buffoon Sarver is!

  • Cam

    @Tony

    Agreed. Steve has earned and deserves Suns fans respect. He’s been nothing but a model player for the Suns. He was worth every dollar the Suns ever paid him. Still don’t want to see those Fakers win though! Go Suns.

  • Ty-Sun

    Yeah, there’s just no way I could ever boo Steve Nash. He didn’t leave by choice. He could have gone to Toronto, made more money than in LA and left the Suns with nothing in return. All those LAL draft picks that the Suns have now were his parting gift to Phoenix.

    Steve has always been a class act as well as a great player.

  • foreveris2long

    I am all in on Nash receiving a hug ovation. On sports radio this morning they were talking about gasol complaining to management he is a competitor and expects to be on the court in the 4th quarter. He admits he is not happy about his playing time. For those who did not see the game Earl Clark is the reason Gasol did not play in the 4th quarter. I think Gasol should quit whining but I love the tension despite the Lakers recent success.

    DBreezy, I agree some rookies need to be treated differently by the Suns. It does hurt watching the Suns who have a very slight margin for error, draft a talented kid who is 6’10″ tall and who is starting to evolve, play for the enemy and meanwhile our prize possessions have the look of being role players for life.

    On another note, I am glad Rudy Gay was traded to Toronto. So far we still have all of our draft choices. Now if we could find someone to do the selecting for us we would be in business.

  • Ty-Sun

    Hmmm… I wonder if “BC” doesn’t stand for “British Columbia”. Maybe Tim isn’t mad at Steve for leaving the Suns but because he decided to go to LA and not come “home” to play for the only Canadian NBA team in Toronto.

  • Tony

    @Ty-Sun,

    interesting observation about Tim! You may be right.

    @foreveris,

    I agree about Gasol. It would be one thing if he was playing like an All-Star and then complained, but he’s playing like anything but an All-Star. Yet, because the LA media and so many Lakers fans hate D’Antoni, Gasol has gotten a major pass from being criticized by the media for acting like a baby. To the contrary, all I hear is that Gasol has a right to be upset and to publicly complain!

    The other really annoying thing about LA media is how they fawn over anything Bryant does, most recently exemplified by their praise of him for simply PASSING the ball instead of shooting!! It’s really insane! I’ve watched most of the Laker games this season, including the previous three. I tell you, the majority of Kobe’s assists are not the result of him making plays for others; but rather, they are a result of Nash, Gasol, or even Clarke penetrating to the lane, causing the defenses to collapse, followed by kicking the ball out to Kobe, whom instead of shooting makes the one extra pass to the Laker who makes the basket. So although Bryant gets the credit for the assist, it’s usually Nash doing all the creating while all Kobe’s doing is making the simple extra pass instead of shooting 25 times per game. Just amazing to me!

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more overrated player than Bryant, especially on the defensive end and for being supposedly “clutch.”

  • Pablo

    Bad time to play against the Lakers. It seems they’re getting better. Kobe is being less selfish and they’re moving the ball a lot more.

  • Pablo

    Question from an outsider: Why are there some people booing while a Suns is shooting a free-throw, being the game played in Phoenix?

  • foreveris2long

    Scola and Morris look terrible tonight. I doubt Morris will ever have decent success defending the low post. I absolutely hate the Suns passed on John Henson in the last draft.

    One thing I do not miss tonight is Gentry blowing kisses to Kobe from the sideline whenever Kobe made a good shot. That love affair drove me crazy.

    Tony I agree Gasol has no right to complain. He needs to manup and play better.

  • foreveris2long

    Pablo, obviously I am not at the game tonight but I have been to a few Laker games in Phoenix and there are so any Laker fans normally in attendance they can compile a pretty good chorus of boos.

  • Dan S.

    Commentators are suprised because Nash didnt get a standing o?? I didnt realize turncoats deserve them?! lol Dragic is gonna get crushed by Steve, please…Nasty Nash is washed up!

  • Dan S.

    And I mean 1-5 and 0 assists washed up, haha

  • Pablo

    Thanks, foreveris2long, for the answer :)

  • Pablo

    I don’t remember a game this emotional for the Suns in the whole season.

  • john

    Dragic took it to his mentor. Nice. Always good to beat the Lakers.

  • Dan S.

    @Sillmarillion
    “Dragic will get crushed by Nash tonight. Sad but true.” Exactly how is this going to happen again? hahaha

  • http://kingeek.tumblr.com/ The King Geek

    is the Suns pick from the Lakers this year UNprotected????

  • Scott

    @King Geek -

    Yes … if the Lakers miss the playoffs, the Suns get the unprotected lottery pick.

    However, if the Lakers do make the playoffs, the Suns get whichever of several picks are the worst, which basically means the Suns would get the Heat pick.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    He didn’t get crushed, but he didn’t have a decisive impact either. This game was won by Beasley and Gortat, kudos for their great play.
    Dragic was mediocre with terrible shooting, so just the usual stuff. I miss Nash, even more after this game.

  • Scott

    @Sillmarillion -

    The highest plus/minus readings were for Beasley (+15), Tucker (+14), and Dragic (+8). Gortat had a -3.

    Having said that, I think Gortat played well and had his best game against Howard so far. I think the work he’s put in on shooting and footwork around the basket has really helped.

    If you compare Dragic to Nash, Dragic had 11 pts, 8 assists, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals, while Nash had 11 pts, 2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. So while it was close, Dragic appears to me to be the winner in that duel.

  • Tim in BC

    @Tony: I think what made me mad about Nash signing with the Lakers was how he used to say how winning a ring was not the most important thing for him, it was team chemistry, etc and he had said at one time he would not ever sign with them. If he was just honest and said he wanted a championship before he retires, so be it but he pretended it didn’t matter so much. Yes, I am from British Columbia where he is from and I have always been proud of how well a Canadian has done in the NBA and yes, I wish he would have signed with the Raptors who I also like especially since he is so involved in development of Canadian basketball. I think Nash’s attitude has changed since becoming a Laker too, argues more with refs, etc. I admit he helped the Suns considerably over the years and Suns fans should be grateful for that.

  • BCrayZ

    Tony said it best in comment #11.

  • john

    @Tim in BC

    “he had said at one time he would not ever sign with them”

    Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, Tim in BC. Hold up. That’s not what’s important. Steve Nash’s lies aren’t the issue here. It’s about Lon Babby calling Steve Nash the “sun, moon, and stars” of the franchise. Pssh, Steve Nash can’t lie. He’s Steve Nash. This was obviously the fault of the Three Stooges and especially that lying lawyer Babby.

    /Tony logic*

    *Not actually logical

  • Tim in BC

    I guess it is all history now and Nash has to live with the team he has chosen for himself…probable non playoff team this year. Too bad for him. As for the Suns, I agree about the bad management. They need new GM and while at it a new owner!

    Suns have some good players to build on and just need someone with basketball savy to build a decent team.