(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

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.

  • JAS

    Another season Joe, good to have you back. It was a very good effort last night. Suns are just not at the Lakers level, to this fan it’s just that simple. Play them seven times with the current rosters, Suns win two, maybe three if LA doesn’t have the “rested” advantage. Suns are a super star from contention, same story since the other Sir, he being Charles. Nash cannot carry this team. Frye is not an inside presence and Turk reminds me of, dare I say it, Boris Diaw with all the trimmings, no inner fire, toughness or starter talent. Nice try by the owner with the smoke and mirrors but Turks not even replacing Amare’s half hearted defense. Our Suns are what they are, a good team, lot of heart, no interior defense or rebounding and the three’s have to fall or were in trouble. We can still enjoy them, make the playoffs and keep wishing for that Superstar.

  • Carla

    Thank you, Joe for echoeing my very thoughts. We had how many ties during that game??? It’s just the habit that the Suns MUST get out of quickly that they stooped to so many years in a row of loosing games in the last quarter. I tweeted JD that they need to pay attention to that NOW, not later down the road. Hope he got that twitter, since he gets how many thousands??? anyway, you get my point. It’s NOT the end of the world people. It’s a new beginning for Planet Orange and I think it’s going to be an interesting year!

  • JAS

    Tough loss to the Spurs. Very good effort again, just no big presence in crunch time. Positives: Warrick, Childress, Djuric and JRich continue to impress and are starting to look like their on the same page. How many times is Nash going to miss 75% of his ten foot shots? Dudley is going to be a starter soon. Negatives: Can the team fine it’s coaches? Well Gentry and Thunder Dan should be. How do let Jefferson beat you down the stretch 4 times , three from the same spot, ridiculous. Why is Frye playing in the last 3 min.? Possibly because we gave him a big contract that living up to has been real shaky so far. And Turk, please at least Diaw could pass the ball and rebound, it’s early but the signs ain’t good. Suns will win their share of games this season. I look for a playoff run mid season and a trade involving a rotation player and Clark.

  • JAS

    Joe, just read in today’s AZ paper that Turk is still adjusting to the Suns style. It’s early but come on, are we going to listen to this all season? Adjusting to a moon landing is one thing but all Turk needs to do is start driving to the basket instead of all the three’s. On defense show a little toughness with the rebounding. Frye could take the same advice. Yes, our Suns have a tough starting schedule but what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

  • JAS

    Wow!! Suns vs Memphis had it all. Suns went from the ugliest first half in memory to somehow pulling off a
    dramatic win. Along the way JRich played sensational, Goran is the future, Warrick is a starter in my book. Nash, well what can you say, he’s showing his age, has slipped badly but comes through in the clutch. Much needed win but be warned, this is going to be crazy all season.

  • http://planetorange.net Lori Ann Gershman

    BRAVO, SIR JOE!!! BRAVO!!!