The Suns mixed up their defensive assignments in transition defense and lost the Lakers on backdoor cuts. Chris Kaman scored 28 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and added six assists. Mike D’Antoni’s usual perimeter-oriented Los Angeles team shot 53 percent for the game but did it mostly in the paint on Sunday night in the Staples Center.
And with that, Phoenix fell 115-99 to Los Angeles, falling asleep at the wheel with its fellow conference playoff hopefuls slipping on Sunday.
The paradoxical bit of news for the Suns came out of Oakland and Portland.
Despite the loss, seventh-place Phoenix hung steady in the Western Conference race as the sixth-place Golden State Warriors fell 89-84 to the woeful Knicks team that Phoenix dropped in its last outing. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers earned themselves a victory over the eight-place Memphis Grizzlies, who fell out of the playoff picture.
The Suns are 1.5 games behind Golden State for sixth place, tied with the idle Dallas Mavericks and a half-game ahead of the now ninth-place Grizzlies.
The Suns’ 26-15 deficit after one quarter came behind a 25 percent shooting effort, but all seemed well when it took less than 4:30 from the start of the second quarter for Phoenix to tie the game at 31.
Gerald Green led Phoenix with 22 points and lit up the Lakers in the first half, but that was about the only bit of good news for Jeff Hornacek’s team on Sunday.
From that point forward, the Suns’ starters floundered like they had in the opening minutes. Los Angeles picked Phoenix’s defense to shreds with a 26-8 run to lead 61-43 at the half.
It got worse in the third quarter.
Phoenix found itself behind by 26 points, and even though that was cut to a 15-point deficit heading to the fourth quarter, botched defensive possessions and missed shots didn’t cut into Los Angeles at a fast enough rate to climb all the way back.
Offensively, Phoenix found it easy to take mildly-contested shots early in the shot clock but difficult to get easy paint points or jumpers in rhythm. Caught up in the Lakers’ ways, the Suns launched 36 threes, hit just eight, and made 39 percent of their total attempts.
The starting trio of Channing Frye, Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker shot a combined 4-for-24 from the floor, and neither Miles Plumlee nor Goran Dragic did anything of positive significance on the defensive end.
Markieff Morris scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Marcus Morris added 15, and the twins combined for seven steals as they teamed with Ish Smith for a slightly more striking effort off the bench.
Seven Lakers scored in double-figures, and the Suns’ tired legs, defensive breakdowns and general lapses — whatever the issues are — will need to be tuned up with the Clippers rolling into U.S. Airways Center on Wednesday.
The Suns did not positively answer Ryan Weisert’s pregame quandaries, but on to those anyhow.
Can the Suns complete the season sweep of the Lakers?
Will Pau Gasol or Steve Nash have an impact in this game?Double nope. Gasol sat out once again due to vertigo, and Nash didn’t play with his lingering nerve root issue.
But Chris Kaman sure made an impact. The center that had been neglected by Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni forced Hornacek’s hand; he even went to a big lineup of Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph at one point in the second quarter. Kaman had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists at the intermission.
Los Angeles had 56 points in the paint, launched half the three-point attempts that Phoenix did, and only hit five.
Can Bledsoe and Dragic keep up their torrid pace?
Pace helped the Lakers, who took advantage of Phoenix’s miscommunications on transition defensive assignments, and it also baited the Suns into chucking rather than running solid halfcourt offense.
Bledsoe couldn’t get going in the first half, missing all six shots. He looked as sluggish as his teammates, despite what relatively would be considered fresh legs. Hornacek went with Ish Smith for heavy stretches in the second half. The speedy third point guard joined forces with the Morris twins to be the only three Phoenix players on the positive side of the plus-minus statistic by the end of the game.
Dragic’s 17 points came more inefficiently than usual. He hit 6-of-16 from the floor.