It tells you a lot about both teams that although the Suns were not only without a key player but also without their A game that the Lakers still had to sweat out a hectic fourth period stretch to stagger away with the victory.
What it tells you about the Suns is that they very much belong in the middle of the wild scrum for playoff seeding in the top-loaded Western Conference, and what it tells you about the Lakers is that they have fallen from Super Power status into, if not the middle, at least into that scrum.
I realize there is one school of thought that the Lakers are just of bored with the regular season, and will play up to their pedigree come playoff time. But I am not enrolled in this school. The other teams in the West are just too good, and the Lakers are just not that GREAT.
Translation: They may very well win the West, but it will be a fight, not a coronation.
To give you an idea just how top-loaded the West is, by the way, the eighth seed in the East as of Thursday was at .508, the eighth in the West at .580.
Getting back to the scrum motif, this one had quite a few, with the teams taking turns playing raggedly. But what it boiled down to was that for the second time on this home stand one period doomed the Suns. Against Utah it was a 21-44 fourth. Against the Lakers it was 5 for 23 shooting in the second.
Things got wild in fourth period, which included the ejection of Coach Alvin, who had to be restrained after a non flagrant foul call on Pau Gasol. The normally loquacious coach flatly refused to discuss the incident, saying it would be up to the league to review it.
The good for the Suns is that while they didn’t shoot nearly as well as they usually do, they did play some pretty decent “D”, switching effectively between zone and man to man and keeping Kobe from being Kobe. The bad news is that they got caught between switches a few times in the third period when the Lakers built a 15-point lead.
Bryant took only 16 shots, which is practically a sabbatical for him. And while he had 10 rebounds and 8 assists, he also had 7 turnovers, and the Suns had more than a little to do with that. Not everything maybe, but more than a little.
On the other side, Amare had the big numbers (29 points, 16 boards), but the night belonged to Louis Amundson, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and a steal, and played with enough energy to power both the Suns and the crowd. (Granted, he didn’t get the fans quite as pumped as the officials managed to, but bear in mind this is Conspiracy City).
Stoudemire had 17 of his points and 8 of his rebounds in the first period, but sat half of the second, and it seemed at times in the second half as though the Suns underwent to him at times in the second half.
Although he still seems to be bothered some by various aches and pains (and by the way you’ll never hear about them from him) Steve Nash still managed 8 assists and 14 points.
On another encouraging note, incidentally, the Suns actually more than held their own on the boards against the long and strong Laker front line, finishing with a 43-40 edge overall. They also had a 14-12 edge at the offensive end, and the second chance points were about even.
The bottom line: Disappointing loss, but hardly discouraging.