Call me a cockeyed optimist (feel free to insert your own punch line here), or maybe an Alibi Ike, but offhand I don’t remember a more encouraging loss for the Suns, or at least a less discouraging one.
I know, I know. Any loss is a loss is a loss. And granted, when you take it out of context this one is no exception. However, when you put it the proper context (i.e. — mine), a much brighter picture emerges.
Translation: Considering they were playing their third game in four nights against a well-rested team many still consider the best in the NBA, and when you further consider that even by their own reckoning they are at least a month away from finishing the assembly of their new personnel package, the Suns actually hung surprisingly well with the Lakers.
(To digress for a moment, conspiracy buffs note darkly that when the teams meet the Lakers always seem to be well rested and the Suns always seem to be playing their third game in four nights, and the buffs do not seem to consider this a coincidence. But that’s another column.)
In the final statistical analysis the Suns actually wound up being hoisted on their own pet petard, the three-pointer, with the Lakers outscoring them 36-27 from arc city. But they didn’t have as big an edge on the boards as you would expect, and the Suns actually scored four more second chance points.
However, upon further review, there was ONE cloud in an otherwise mostly silver lining, namely and to wit that off this first look the reigning NBA champions actually seem to have even more firepower this year than last, as demonstrated by their ability to make the Suns pay for double teams down low by burying all those threes.
But that ill omen to the contrary notwithstanding, citizens of Planet Orange have to be greatly encouraged by the play of Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic. These two works in progress made significant improvement last year, and were expected to be even better this year. And so far they have been.
Lopez, as evidenced by his 14 rebounds and 17 points, seems to be fulfilling his promise to give the Suns help in an area they have need help for as long as even the oldest citizen of the Planet (i.e. — me) can remember.
As for Dragic, he always seems to give the Lakers fits. Who can forget how he drove them to distraction (although alas not to defeat) in Game Six of the Western Finals here last year, leading a rally with his dash and daring do that almost forced a Game Seven?
Last night he came off the bench to keep the Suns afloat with 10 second period points and finished with 15 in less than 19 minutes. But even more impressive than the numbers was how his bursts of energy made the Lakers almost seem like tired old men at times (the operative word there, of course, being “almost”.) And while it borders on the sacrilegious to even THINK about, let alone say it out loud, I can’t shake the notion the Suns might have had a better shot at an unexpected W this night if he had played a little more and Steve Nash had played a little less. (Hey, I said it was a sacrilege.)
On the other hand, Grant Hill offered yet more evidence there is a fountain of youth and that he has the map to it, scoring 21 points while chasing Kobe Bryant around and making him work for his 25. Not bad for an old gaffer who was deemed ancient two years ago and washed up four years ago.
The bottom line: Yes the Suns miss Amare, but not so much the ship be sinking. If fact, it’s actually more see-worthy than I expected it to be in the aftermath of his departure.