Photo courtesy of Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Kobe Bryant looked sharp on the bench…in his suit and tie that is. Having to sit out this game due to his bruised left shin that has turned into a swollen tendon (see OCRegister story here). Bryant handed off the reigns to the rest of his team. He’d been huge in their four previous wins (and even in yesterday’s loss), but when the Mamba misses just his second game in two seasons, you know it has to be bad.

Getting the starting nod in his absence was Devin Ebanks, and what a great start to the game he had. Of course, the Lakers, as expected, had a great start as a whole, but the Achilles heel for this team has been, for the majority of the season, being unable to follow through in the ensuing three quarters left to play.

The Lakers played a respectable first quarter, outscoring the Suns 32-24, shooting 48% and allowed the home team just 40% shooting rom the field. Pau Gasol was the only player in double figures after 12 minutes and the Lakers went the entire quarter without a single turnover. Up to that point, getting a victory without Kobe Bryant didn’t seem all that difficult…and then the dreaded next three quarters came.

When you allow a team to score 75 points in two quarters, it doesn’t usually bode well for the victory hopes, yet that is exactly what the Lakers did for the Suns. After scoring just 24 points in the first quarter, Phoenix scored 38 in the second and then 37 in the third to take a commanding 16-point lead going into the final 12 minutes. And unlike the Lakers, they actually know how to hold on to their double-digit advantage. Unfortunately, the Lakers couldn’t figure out how to dig themselves out of that hole, completely unable to control the Suns’ hot shooting from behind the arc. Phoenix led by as much as 22 points before finishing off the visitors by 20.

Starters Big – The starting five for the Lakers were huge, each player scoring in double digits. Pau Gasol led the way with 30 points on 14-25 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and three assists. Without Bryant, there was no question that the team needed their other captain to lead the way and he did. Andrew Bynum, leaving his on-court (and heck, let’s be real, his off-court) antics behind (at least for the time being) chipped in 23 points of his own on 10-27 shooting. He had 14 attempts after the first quarter alone, which is what he usually averages in one game, but, like Gasol, he too had to share in the load left behind by Bryant. Unlike his small-rebounding numbers of late, Bynum grabbed 18 boards tonight and was as engaged in the game as we’ve ever seen him. Metta World Peace, even despite a scuffle with Suns’ forward, Markeiff Morris, continued his hot shooting with 19 points on 8-10 from the field. Ramon Sessions, still wearing a shoulder sleeve/brace, put in 11 points on 5-8 from the field and added nine assists and three rebounds. He missed 1-3 from the charity stripe, seemingly continuing his struggles from there since yesterday’s game against Houston. His sprained left shoulder may be a factor. And Devin Ebanks, after collecting a string of DNP-Coach’s Decision, was called up to start in place of Kobe Bryant. Ebanks showed tonight that despite losing his place in the rotation, it’s always safe to stay ready, and that’s exactly what he showed – that he was ready. He contributed mostly in the first half, but for someone who hasn’t gotten any regular real-game playing time, 12 points on 6-11 and four rebounds isn’t so bad. He got a lot of quality shots, inside and from the perimeter. With Bryant’s condition still in question, Ebanks may be called again for a start, but based on tonight’s performance, he promises that he will be ready.
Points in the Paint – The Suns played to their strengths (more on this later) and the Lakers certainly played to theirs. Not wanting to get caught up jacking up threes just because, the Lakers got 64 of their final points, from the painted area, compared to the Suns’ 40 points. The paint is where they thrive, simple as that.
Glasswork – Phoenix ranks number 19 in rebounds and the Lakers rank second in the league. Outrebounding the Suns 54-36 was the least the Lakers could do.

Bench – That the Lakers scored 105 points in this game and the starters accounted for 95 points of it is not good; not good at all. Mike Brown played four reserves significant minutes and all they could muster was 10 points. It’s true that with a starter always placed on the floor with the reserves, they are the center of the offense, but there are many occasions, whether the starter is Gasol, Bynum or Bryant, where the bench players can contribute. Another item that stands out in the box score is the number of minutes logged by each player. The Phoenix Sun who played the most was Shannon Brown, who logged on 29:41 minutes. Jared Dudley played the least with 18:22 minutes of floor time. The relatively even distribution of playing time by the Suns should be a thing of envy for the Lakers. And one of the reasons the Suns’ minutes are so fairly distributed, is because of how productive their bench is. The final tally for the Phoenix reserves tonight – 58 points on 49% shooting.
3-Point Shooting (Lakers) – 1-9 from downtown. The silver lining is that the Lakers didn’t get too overeager with the shots from behind the arc. Single-digit attempts from that far out are fine. Unfortunately…
3-Point Shooting (allowed to Suns) – The Suns have no problem shooting the longball. and after going 0-4 in the first quarter from the three, they went 14-25 the rest of the way. 14-25! Every player in a Suns uniform, with the exception of Marcine Gortat, Robin Lopez and Josh Childress, scored from downtown, led by former Laker Shannon Brown and former Redeem Team 2008 Olympian, Michael Redd, who each hit four threes. The Lakers’ perimeter defense was nowhere to be found. There was a time, some years ago, when they were the third best defender of the three-point shot, but none of the remnants from that era seem to have remained.
Turnovers – It wasn’t so much the 13 turnovers that the Lakers committed because, in comparison to some of their worse turnover-happy games, 13 isn’t a bad number. The problem was with the three turnovers that the Suns committed. Only three players committed a single turnover each. How’s THAT for taking care of the ball?!
Fast-Break Points Allowed – And with those 13 turnovers that the Lakers committed, came 22 fast break points for the Suns.

The Lakers have suffered their second loss in a row to yet another team who just plain outplayed them. Kobe or no Kobe, all the Lakers had to do today was play some solid defense against a team who beat them the exact same way the last time they met. And now with this loss and the Clippers’ win tonight, the gap between the Pacific Division leaders is but half a game. Some rest for Bryant’s injury is obviously necessary, but how long the Lakers will be able to fend off teams (sub .500 or not) without their captain will be interesting tosee.

Box Score