The easy thing to say after the Phoenix Suns wiped the floor with the Los Angeles Lakers? Kobe Bryant didn’t play,and you can’t win without him forever. The truth? The Suns simply eliminated Dwight Howard in the paint, forcing the Lakers to try and win through jump shots, which ended up being a miserable failure.
How bad was it? After Howard made his first four field goals, a combination of Jermaine O’Neal, Luis Scola and Hamed Haddadi held Howard to 2-16 the rest of the way, keeping him at 16 points, 11 rebounds and a total of 6-18 from the field, while the rest of the team shot just as bad, finishing with 33.3% from the field.
The Suns? Defense? It happens. They’re 22nd in the NBA in defense, allowing 100.5 points per game. They’ve lost their last four games, and have allowed at least 107 points in their last six. Eventually, someone has to come up with an idea on how to stop someone, anyone. The Lakers, despite their “hotness”, were the perfect victim. They won 99-76, in what was probably their best defensive performance of the season.
We just hit the wall. Our ninth game in 14 days in seven cities and you could just kind of see the wheels fall off. Especially lately, with some guys being injured, we’ve been playing a seven-man rotation and I think it caught up with us a little bit. Our legs just came undone.
Steve Nash tried shot after shot; the ball movement everyone was so proud of in the wins over the Pacers and the Kings was gone. Once it’s about trying to outscore opponents through over-simplistic basketball, without any real thought behind it, and without enough talent to pull it through, the Lakers were caught with their pants down. Nash shot 6-17 from the field: He did finish with 19 points, but the Lakers needed him to move the team and the parts towards the basket, not try to do it on his own.
Maybe he caught the “Kobe fever”, a disease in which you suddenly think the solution to everything is you taking up a shot. While Dwight Howard is always the last stop to any ball that reaches him, regardless of how difficult the situation is, you expect a little bit more from Nash, who lost for the second time visiting the team he won two MVP awards with in the previous decade.
Goran Dragic hasn’t shown he’s the next Nash, but the young point guard, averaging 14.1 points and 7 assists this season, did outplay the man he inherited. He finished with 12 points and 10 assists, doing what a point guard should be doing. The Suns didn’t have anyone specific stand out, but did have six players score in double figures, and enjoyed the Lakers losing the turnover battle (18-16) by scoring 22 points off of those turnovers.
For the Suns, the mean is nothing but just a feel good victory as they hope to finish the season with as little losing as possible. For the Lakers, it’s a sign that they do need Kobe Bryant for when things don’t really go their way, in both his ability and his influence and inspiration to others, because it’s not going to get a lot easier in the closing weeks of the season, with fatigue and old age being something they knew all along was going to be a factor.