PHOENIX — Things have changed since Mike D’Antoni left Phoenix after the 2007-08 season, but the former Suns coach knew that offense still reigned supreme inside US Airways Center.
Asked whether Monday night’s contest between Pacific Division foes would be a shootout, D’Antoni, now in his first full season with the Lakers, didn’t hesitate to respond.
“They’ll be shooting, and I hope we’ll be shooting,” D’Antoni said. “To beat them, we will have to make baskets.”
He was right, but his team was off.
The Lakers, who came into Phoenix without Jordan Farmar (torn hamstring), Kobe Bryant (fracture of the lateral tibial plateau) and Steve Nash (nerve root irritation in his back) looked disheveled, disorganized and at times disinterested in running any semblance of a half-court offense.
Feeling no sympathy for their division rival, the Suns outclassed the Lakers in every imaginable fashion. Miles Plumlee had his way with an ailing Pau Gasol (upper respiratory illness) and Robert Sacre en route to the most complete game of his career (17 points, career-high 20 rebounds and two blocks), Gerald Green kept his hot streak going from the perimeter (24 points on 6-of-11 from three-point range) and Eric Bledsoe feasted on a point guard-less lineup (16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists), as Phoenix ran away with its second win over Los Angeles in less than two weeks by a final of 117-90 — the largest margin of victory in 2013-14.
“With everything that shows up on the stat sheet, I think this was definitely the best game,” Plumlee said. “I left a lot of easy things on the table too, so it’s exciting I guess because I know that I can do a lot better.”
In D’Antoni’s mind, however, Plumlee did more than enough damage.
“You certainly don’t want it to be your opponent,” D’Antoni said of Plumlee’s monster night. “You would rather watch it on SportsCenter. He had a great game. He was dominant on the boards and finished everything around the basket. I have always known he could do that. He did that back in his Duke days. I am certainly proud of him.”
With the win, the Suns extended their home winning streak against the Lakers to five games — the most since a six-game stretch from Nov. 19, 2004 to April 13, 2007.
They also set a season-high with 62 rebounds, hit at least 14 three-point shots for the second consecutive contest and sent Los Angeles home with their worst loss since Oct. 30.
Here’s a look at how the 27-point victory answered Kevin Zimmerman’s pre-game questions.
How does Kendall Marshall look?
Marshall’s highly-anticipated homecoming, albeit unexpected since he was just signed by the Lakers last week, came and went much the same way his one year in Phoenix did. In fact, the former first-round pick played the same role Monday night that he did for most of the first half of his rookie season: bench cheerleader.
For the second time in three games, Marshall appeared headed for a DNP-Coach’s Decision. However, Marshall finally made his triumphant return with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.
As for how he looked when he got on the court, well, outside of the purple and gold uniform not much else seemed different. Better put, his presence was not really felt. His lone attempt, a three-point shot from the right of the arc, hit off the front rim.
Can the Suns score in the paint?
They can, and they did. However, it took about a half of basketball for their paint prowess to come to the surface.
In the first quarter, the Suns relied on a few putbacks by Plumlee, a few dribble-drive penetration moves by Bledsoe and 13 conversions at the charity stripe to carry them offensively. The three-point shot was the primarily focus in the second frame, as Phoenix hit seven of its 11 attempts, including four by Green. From there, Los Angeles made a concerted effort to lock up the perimeter.
The Suns promptly adjusted with 12 paint points in the opening four minutes and 52 seconds of the third quarter to push their lead to a comfortable 24 points.
For the night, Phoenix scored 40 points in the paint – 24 of which came in the third quarter.
Can Phoenix avoid playing into the Lakers’ hands?
Absolutely. The Suns slowed the game down early on by going deep into shot clock on most possessions, built their lead with free throws, offensive rebounds and three-point shooting, and then let the Lakers shoot themselves out of contention late.
Without the services of Bryant, Farmar and Nash, D’Antoni was forced out of necessity to use Jodie Meeks, Nick Young and Xavier Henry as his primary ball-handlers. The result was ugly to say the least.
The trio along with power forward Shawne Williams had no problem forcing up bad, contested shots whether from just inside or just outside three-point range – playing right into the Suns’ hands.
On the night, Los Angeles shot 37 percent from the field, with Henry, Meeks and Young combining to go 15-of-44.