Preview: Phoenix Suns (17-35) at Los Angeles Lakers (24-28)

Posted by on February 12th, 9:57 am

Time: 8:30 MST

TV: FSNA

Lakers

Suns

Behind door number one is a team deep in the heart of a rebuilding process, more so by circumstance at this point than by choice. With that process has come an increasing number of defeats, coaching changes, veterans seeing their minutes reduced and nights where the ball simply doesn’t go in the basket. A collection of draft picks lie behind this door, but so too does a path to obscurity.

Behind door number two is a team more interested in making headlines lately than headway in the Western Conference standings. The team is filled with future Hall of Famers and veteran role players but due to personality issues and a coach ill-suited to handle the personnel, a place in the NBA lottery seems more likely than a deep run into June.

Once upon a time, both doors led straight to the top of the Pacific Division, yet Tuesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns tangle for the third time in 2012-13, they will do so both knowing full well how far they’ve fallen.

While center Martin Gortat said after Phoenix’s embarrassing 97-69 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday that the team hasn’t played how anyone thought they would, the Suns’ slide to the bottom of the conference is not all that surprising. Phoenix lacks star power, leadership and most all an identity. Blame that on however you’d like — be it summer departures, the front office, the coaching staff or the players themselves — but the reality is the Suns are further away from a trip back to the postseason than they’ve been in the last 20 years.

The story of the Lakers’ season comes to one thing: expectations. Mitch Kupchak and Co. certainly won the offseason and the battle of who could build the best paper roster — as many predicted Los Angeles to challenge the Miami Heat for a title — but Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, in spite of their All-Star pedigree, have proven to be oil and water on and off the court.

Bryant being the competitor that he is, still has his sights on a championship this season. Howard, who has battled back from offseason back surgery and a torn labrum in his right shoulder, has his eyes set on another season, the one to be played next year.

While the five-time NBA champion said this week that the recent conflict between the two was manufactured by the media, one thing is for sure when it comes to the Lakers: there’s no manufacturing chemistry.

The Lakers return to Tinseltown fresh off a 4-3 Grammys road trip, yet still find themselves 3.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the final playoff spot out West. It’s a situation that former Suns guard and two-time MVP Steve Nash couldn’t have imagined when he asked to be dealt to Los Angeles last July, but nonetheless it’s the 39-year-old’s reality these days.

New storylines between these two divisional foes are not plentiful heading into Tuesday night’s contest, because the goals of both are vastly different at this point in the year. The Suns have lost two straight games by a combined 59 points, and Nash has already made his return to the Valley, in what turned out to be arguably Phoenix’s most enjoyable victory of the campaign.

For the Suns, Tuesday represents a chance for Lindsey Hunter’s squad to simply “move on” from what was a terrible stretch of basketball over the weekend. For the Lakers, Tuesday represents one final chance to get back on track before the All-Star break.

Keys for a Phoenix victory…

  • Let World Peace exist. Whatever you’d like to refer to him as these days is fine, but one thing is for sure Metta World Peace doesn’t shoot as well as Ron Artest used to in his heyday with the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings. Granted the 13-year veteran has only shot over 40 percent once (2009-10) in a Lakers uniform, but this year he has been especially off target, shooting 39.7 percent on nearly four more shots per game. Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have wing shooters like he did in Phoenix with James Jones or Quentin Richardson, so Artest has been forced to take on that role. And boy has he struggled. The Suns’ best bet Tuesday is to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands, because more than likely it’ll find World Peace.
  • Don’t be afraid to use fouls. Whether it’s Marcin Gortat, Jermaine O’Neal or Markieff Morris, the Suns big men should welcome the opportunity to get physical with Dwight Howard in the post. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is fragile at the moment, having just aggravated his labrum injury during the last meeting between the two teams on January 30.  Howard isn’t nearly the consistent player he’s been in years past when health wasn’t a concern, however one element of his game has carried over from his days in Orlando. Superman’s kryptonite still lies at the charity stripe, where he is shooting an abysmal 49.5 percent.
  • Play for the picks. Okay, this isn’t really a key so much as a point of emphasis. With the Lakers currently out of the playoff picture, the Suns hold two lottery picks (their own and one acquired in the Steve Nash deal). If Los Angeles were to take over the No. 8 spot in the conference, Phoenix would instead take Miami’s late first-round pick. So if beating an old teammate and a rival isn’t big enough motivation, taking it to the Lakers and their hopes of adding a piece through the draft should serve as extra incentive.

 

Dave Dulberg

Dave Dulberg is a ValleyoftheSuns staff writer who recently graduated from the University of Southern California. He also works as a web content writer/editor for Arizona Sports 620 KTAR.

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Tags: Phoenix Suns

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sillmarillion // Feb 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    First of all, I don’t like the “Don’t be afraid to use fouls”-paragraph. It sounds rude, almost as you wanted Howard to get hurt.
     
    Secondly, every result is a good one for the Suns. If they lose they get a better pick, if they win they get a better (Lakers’) pick as well.

  • 2 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Real keys for a Phoenix victory…
    1. Howard injury
    2. Laker played back-to-back game
    3. D’Antoni’s Stubborn on game change

  • 3 GBfor3 // Feb 12, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    @Sillmarillion I don’t think Dave was rude at all. Dwight shoots, as mentioned, 49.5% from the line. Are you suggesting, considering Howard is injured, that the Suns not foul him? That they play in a way that won’t injure him further? He is the one playing through a torn labrum…he is already injured. Fouling him won’t tear the labrum further…I think you are being a little too sensitive.

  • 4 Nikolaj // Feb 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Anyone else think telfair is headed to Boston for a 2nd round pick?

  • 5 ojai1980 // Feb 12, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    What the hell did I just see! 14 sec left in the game, down by 6, and no fouling to put the Fakers on the line and extend the game? WTF is Lindsey Hunter doing?

  • 6 4everis2long // Feb 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    @ojai1980 Yeah Ojai how could that happen? While Beasley is playing better under Hunter, no one else is consistently doing so. I have no idea what Hunter is doing.

  • 7 DBreezy // Feb 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    @Nikolaj I’m sure they’re going to make sure that he leaves his guns in Arizona this time….

  • 8 DBreezy // Feb 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    @4everis2long  @ojai1980 Why call the timeout with 9:50 to go in the 4th?  Sure the Lakers were clawing back, but they had an all bench squad in there trying to get as much rest as possible for their older vets.  They got an extra couple of minutes to rest those guys without the game clock moving, get Howard in to slow O’Neal, and steady them.  Oh well, I was mostly chuckling when the Lakers went 7 or 8 mins without scoring and somehow the Suns were only up two.  The nets weren’t exactly on fire this evening.

  • 9 Sillmarillion // Feb 13, 2013 at 12:44 am

    @DBreezy  @Nikolaj Isn’t Beasley the guy with the guns?

  • 10 DBreezy // Feb 13, 2013 at 12:53 am

    @Sillmarillion  @Nikolaj Yes, but I was referring to an incident from when Bassy played for the Celts before and got busted trying to take guns through airport security on a road trip.  I believe he blamed it on his girlfriend or some other friend using his duffel to go to the gym or something and forgetting that they put the gun there.  IIRC Stern wasn’t buying.

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