Lakers 115, Suns 110 – Basketball is fun again


The Suns, Steve Nash in particular, have talked all year about how important it is to have fun on the basketball court and how this year has been a flat-out boor at times.

Phoenix fans used to the high-flying, wham-bam-slam-Shazam Phoenix Suns have felt the same way, growing tired of entry passes, reposting and turnovers.

I don’t know if I was just giddy over the Suns acquiring a major scorer like Jason Richardson or what, but I had a hell of a time watching the Suns game tonight, although things eventually went south in a 115-110 loss.

Throughout most of the second half I was standing up and screaming at the TV, performances I usually save for viewing playoff games.

Suns basketball was fun to watch again, be it because the negative energy of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw were on a flight to Charlotte or because Shaq was not in the house.

I don’t mean what it sounds like about Shaq. Obviously Shaq is a great guy to have around personality-wise, and as we saw in his 35-point explosion on Tuesday – when he ended a 97-game drought of scoring under 30 – the Suns are a better team with the Daddy on the floor.

But they’re not necessarily as much fun to watch.

I grew up hating watching Shaq and the Lakers grind up the Suns inside and have always preferred teams that went up and down the court in something like seven seconds or less while jacking up a ton of long balls.

The Suns were that team again on Wednesday night.

All season they seemed to be playing with the pressures of a championship window closing day by day, while hitting the court unsure of how exactly they wanted to play as none of their veterans got any younger.

There were no such pressures in this game because how could such an undermanned Suns team even hang with the mighty Lakers, right?

So the Suns played with abandon and took the Lakers down to the wire despite an uncharacteristically awful shooting performance from Nash, who missed his first eight shots and finished with seven points on 2-for-12 shooting.

Still, Nash did a great job as ringleader, as the Suns looked like the Suns of old, playing a fast pace, shooting a ton of 3s (32 in all) and playing almost no defense.

ESPN analyst Mark Jackson would not shut up about both teams’ lack of defense, and he’s right, as I’ve never seen an NBA team shoot as many uncontested shots as the Lakers did. I mean, wide open, like the Suns didn’t even care.

But even when the Suns got down by double digits, they always answered, trailing by just one midway through the fourth.

Phoenix received monster performances from Matt Barnes (25 points, 11 boards, 5-for-11 on threes), Grant Hill (23 and seven, four steals and 9-for-11 shooting) and Amare (21 and 11) to go with 18 points off the bench from Leandro Barbosa.

The guys knew nobody was coming off that bench to save them, so they let it all hang loose, played hard, ran up and down the court, turned the ball over just 14 times and did everything but play defense. They even lost the rebounding battle by just three against the bigger Lakers, showing just how hard the Suns played.

On this night, you really can’t begrudge the loss. While the Suns’ earlier loss to the Lakers in Phoenix was about as enjoyable to watch as trudging through traffic on the 101 in L.A. and then trying to find cheap parking in Hollywood, this game was more like racing down the 101 at 2 in the morning when no cars were on the road and then finding ample free parking when you get there.

One particularly unimportant sequence stuck with me, in the first half while Nash and Amare were resting, both superstars jumped up at a timeout to congratulate nobodies like Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic for fighting hard, as if to say we’re all in this together, us against the world.

Speaking of Amundson, the dude can’t shoot free throws and has a ponytail, but he makes things happen out there. Every game he plays you know he’s good for a Rec Center-style steal in the backcourt and a rebound dug out of traffic for a flush.

The Suns’ hatred of the Lakers certainly plays into my next point, but this was as much of a David and Goliath game as you’re going to get.

The Suns were what they always used to be, the undersized scrappy teams going up against the big, bad Los Angeles Lakers. Superman wasn’t on their side tonight.

Sure, things didn’t work out, but the Suns’ finishing lineup starting at the 7:28 mark of the fourth quarter was Nash, Barbosa, Barnes, Hill and Amare. That’s a point guard, an undersized combo guard, two small forwards and a power forward.

The only way the Suns were going to have a shot with that lineup was to try to win in seven seconds or less.

It didn’t end up happening, but coming so close against a team as good as Los Angeles amounts to a moral victory of sorts.

Help is on the way with Jason Richardson, and Shaq will make sure the Suns are undersized in the middle against nobody.

Phoenix won’t want Barnes, Nash and Barbosa to jack up 28 threes every night, especially when they’re shooting a low percentage, but if the Suns play with this kind of pace and urgency the rest of the season with an infusion of J-Rich and a, well, Shaq-sized dose of the Big Cactus when things slow down, then Kerr’s vision in making the Shaq trade will be fulfilled.

Who else is ready for the rest of the season to begin?