Aaaaaand they’re back, ladies and gentleman – that Laker team tripping over each other on their way to the bottom of the Western Conference; the squad whose peaks are as high as their valleys low; the same group who has been together for 46 games, but sometimes play like they just each just walked into the same pick-up game for the first time. They are, in a word, unbelievable.
This game was in the bag, and the Lakers had it under their control…until they didn’t. They led by as much as 13 points in the third quarter, entered the fourth up by 10 and at one point led by 11. But with still over 10 minutes left in the game, their defense disappeared, the ball movement stopped and the sloppiness ensued. 92-86 – loss number 26.
1st through 3rd Quarter – Despite racking up 14 turnovers through three quarters (last night they committed 15 for the entire game), the Lakers were still shooting at a high percentage (51%), were keeping the Suns at bay (allowed them just 40% from the field), crashing the boards (37-27 advantage) and moving the ball (16 assists on 29 made field goals). Kobe Bryant was approaching another all-around good night with nine points, nine assists and four rebounds. Metta World Peace was making up for a bad night against the Hornets with 15 of his own, as was Pau Gasol with 12 points. All the Lakers had to do was play one more quarter with relatively solid efficiency and effort, but they couldn’t even do that. They were one quarter, 12 minutes away from taking this game and they folded.
Turnovers – The game began very sloppily for the Lakers, and it being the second night of a back-to-back, it was understandable. They racked up 12 turnovers in the first half, but cleaned it up in the third quarter, committing just two. But in the quarter that mattered the most, they gave away six possessions that helped the Suns erase a double-digit lead.
Three-Points – The Lakers went just 8-27 from behind the arc tonight. 27 attempts from downtown is way too many when there are post players on the team who are capable of scoring on higher percentage shots. MWP alone attempted 10 threes.
4th Quarter – After outscoring the home team 73-63 through three quarters, the Lakers were outscored in the final 12 minutes 29-13. 29-13! They shot just 4-21 from the field (19%) and after 3 ¾ games of making the ball movement the center of their game plan, they handed out just three assists in tonight’s fourth. Every finger will undoubtedly point to Kobe Bryant, who will be accused of playing hero ball in the final 12 minutes, but after his nine assists for the game, no one else had more than three assists of his own. Steve Nash, in his homecoming, had two assists, as did Gasol, who is a day removed from a seven-assist game against New Orleans. Bryant scored six of the Lakers’ 13 points in the fourth.
Antawn Jamison, who was having another good game (13 points, four rebounds), was taken out of the final quarter in favor of Metta World Peace, who was assigned to try and stop a very hot Michael Beasley. Unfortunately, Beasley went for 10 of his 27 points in the final stretch of the game anyway, aiding the Suns with the win. In such a case, Jamison’s scoring might’ve made more sense.
Dwight Howard had to leave the game early in the fourth after re-aggravating his shoulder injury. He went for a rebound and strained it while fighting over a rebound with former Laker, Shannon Brown. Gasol played the center position in his stead. Unfortunately, Howard’s defense vs. Gasol’s is no close contest and the interior became a free for all for the Suns. They scored 10 points in the paint in the fourth quarter.
That Utah win that signaled a turn ahead, the signature victory against the Thunder and the trap game they avoided losing against New Orleans – all seem like distant memories. Of the seven games on this long road trip, this contest against the Suns was noted as a win for many. But as they’ve done time again this season, the Lakers are back to square one.