Steve Nash, the 38-year-old point guard who broke hearts in Phoenix after being included in the sign and trade deal which shipped him to Los Angeles in July, will have to wait until January to face his old franchise that he was once the star of. Nash is still sidelined due to a non-displaced fracture in his leg that he acquired in the second game of the season against Portland.
The Suns arrived in Los Angeles a few days too early to make this matchup even more interesting than normal. The Lakers newly hired head coach Mike D’Antoni, who held the head coach position in Phoenix from 2003-2008, stated that he will make his debut on Sunday versus the Rockets, one game short of having two ex-suns facing their old team in an early season competition.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, one person who has never graced their roster held the key for the Lakers moving forward past L.A.’s horrifically slow started season: Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, who boasted 28 points and eight assists in the heart-wrenching 84-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, has started off another season consistently demonstrating why he is still one of the best players in the league.
Ditching the confusing Mike Brown offensive and defensive schemes, which quite possibly could be key reasons why the Lakers had their worst season start in years, Bryant and the rest of the roster finally look like they’re finding the rhythm that Laker fans had been panicking didn’t even exist.
Despite injury woes, including Steve Blake being a game time decision and Jordan Hill still nursing a sprained right wrist, the Lakers’ impressive game versus the Spurs earlier in the week could only prove that things are finally starting to look up in Lakers Nation.
Kobe Bryant opened up the game with a quick shot before seven seconds had even run off the clock, proving that D’Antoni’s methods have already been put into place in regards to finding Bryant and the point guard in more shot making opportunities. With the miss, however, the first bucket of the game came from a Metta World Peace three-pointer.
Phoenix quickly produced an answer, going on a 6-0 run with L.A. struggling to back back on transition defense on multiple occasions. The momentum of the game transitioned right back over to the hosts, and with the crowd behind them, Los Angeles found each of their starters with a basket forcing a Suns timeout less than five minutes into the game.
Pau Gasol opened up with a bang, drilling all five of his first five shot attempts. Darius Morris received the starting nod as Steve Blake was ruled out of the game just before tip off, and the young point guard made himself useful on the floor picking up a few rebounds, assists, and even a steal to start off the game. Goran Dragic was proven a threat early in the quarter, moving the ball around the floor and penetrating the paint on multiple occasions to glide past Morris and throw up the easy bucket.
Despite the impressive shooting by both teams, it was clear that neither of the rosters were prepared to demonstrate tough defense. Both clubs found themselves shooting over 50 percent at the end of the quarter, with even Metta World Peace making three of his four three-pointers. The Lakers found themselves turning the ball over four times in the quarter, but still ended the first quarter on top of the Suns 35-30.
Jodie Meeks continued the Lakers luck from beyond the arc right away, answering Michael Beasley’s 12-foot jumper at the start of the quarter with a bucket from 27 feet to keep the home side’s lead intact. Meeks found himself being included in multiple plays as the quarter continued, feeding a pass to Dwight Howard in the paint for the simple assist and following up with a layup in the Lakers next trip down the floor.
Antawn Jamison even found himself joining in on the fun from beyond the arc, nailing a three to put the Lakers up 10 halfway through the quarter. The Suns turned to Jermaine O’Neal to get them back into the game, and after a 10-0 run by Phoenix that was completed by a Lakers defensive error allowing Luis Scola to regain possession and put in an uncontested layup, L.A. requested a timeout with the game tied at 50.
With just over four minutes remaining in the half, another Lakers turnover handed the Suns an easy uncontested layup, putting them on a 15-0 run. The liveliness of the crowd had completely died down until Kobe Bryant was back at it again, putting away an easy bank shot followed by a difficult layup under the basket. Metta World Peace gave the Lakers the lead once again, finding space in the paint to put away another layup that the Suns had no desire to even attempt defending.
Just as the Suns had been on a 15-0 run causing much concern for L.A. heading into the locker room, the Lakers turned the final three minutes of the half right around going on a 12-2 run of their own. Metta World Peace led the team with 15 points in the first 24 minutes, and the Lakers found themselves ahead of the Suns 62-57 at the half.
A slow start from both teams lead to even more turnovers being tallied up and multiple misses until Scola made the first bucket of the half for the Suns with a driving layup. A beautiful lob over the defenders from Bryant to a waiting Howard on the other end of the floor produced a perfect photo opportunity dunk that got the crowd to their feet, and shifted the momentum back into the Lakers favor.
The Lakers began taking some ugly shots in the next few trips down the court, and their field goal percentage was taking a massive hit until Metta World Peace was once again successful from beyond the arc. After drawing a foul, Morris completed a three point play to put L.A. up eight, boosting his personal total up to five before taking a seat for Chris Duhon to get some minutes. But just like that, the Suns brought the hosts lead back down to just two points, and the pressure was on once again.
Goran Dragic continued to be a nuisance to the Lakers defensive efforts, finding success both inside the paint with quick penetration and outside for wide ranged jumpers, single-handedly keeping the Suns in contention. Acrobatic buckets from Bryant kept the game interesting, and a massive defensive play from Jordan Hill with a big block on Marcin Gortat made it finally look like L.A. was ready to protect their half of the court.
Ex-Laker Shannon Brown unfortunately had to try to overcome Kobe Bryant’s defense to close out the quarter, and Bryant proved just too much to overcome. A steal by the legendary Laker followed up with a driving layup enabled the Lakers to close out the third quarter ahead 92-84.
Jodie Meeks drained a 22-foot jumper to start off the final quarter of the game, and after Jordan Hill made a pair of free throws in the next play, the Lakers found themselves with their largest lead of the game at 12. Dwight Howard put the Lakers ahead even farther, completing a three point play when drawing a foul while throwing up a basket after snagging an offensive rebound to push his team on a 17-2 run, forcing the visitors to call for a timeout.
Antawn Jamison, while he may not be a big point scorer at this moment in time, proved his worth on the defensive end snatching up multiple rebounds to keep the ball away from the possibility of a Suns offensive surge. The only offense the Suns could cough up in their panic of a final quarter was the dish the ball to Dragic method, which seemed to have finally run out of success. Luis Scola took over his offensive end of the paint as soon as Dwight Howard took a seat on the bench, but continuous beautiful layups from Bryant kept the Lakers healthily ahead for the duration of the game.
A big game from both the bench and Metta World Peace, along with the expected great performance from Kobe Bryant, ensured a big victory over Phoenix both without two of the Lakers usual starting point guards and even the head coach. Although Pau Gasol started off the game five for five from the field, he disappeared in the final three quarters of the game offensively, which, thankfully, Hill, Meeks and Jamison all made up for.
The Lakers steady ball movement along with their success offensively outweighed the multiple defensive errors they made throughout the game, and they were able to top the Phoenix Suns in their last game without Mike D’Antoni, 114-102.