The Los Angeles Lakers head into tonight's contest against the Phoenix Suns on a two game winning streak. It matters not that neither of those two wins were particularly impressive. It matters not that the Lakers could be considered a bit lucky to win both games. It matters not that the Lakers were expected to win both contests. In a season this cramped, this crazy, this chaotic, getting the results are all that matters. Style points were thrown out the window long ago.
In that vein, it's important for the Lakers keep chugging along. Not in the all-powerful, obliterating anything that comes into their path way that we might have hoped for (though rarely received) in years past, but in the more tortoise-like fashion of continuing along at a steady pace until the destination is reached, one foot in front of the other. There is a certain humility involved with slow and steady progress, a humility to which this Lakers squad, filled with champions and egos, is completely unaccustomed. But, if this team is to be successful, it will do so in a different fashion than its previous versions.
Tonight's opponent is the Phoenix Suns, who are in the midst of the slow and steady decline one might associate with the orbital decay of an aging satellite. Obviously, Steve Nash is the satellite in this analogy. Early on this season, Nash is playing slightly fewer minutes, scoring slightly fewer points, and doling out slightly fewer assists. But, the Suns' decay should hardly be placed on his shoulders. Instead, the blame lands squarely at the feet of a front office that has made some rather atrocious decisions in the past few years. There was nothing Phoenix could do to dissuade Amar'e Stoudemire from the lure of New York (and besides, I'm not sure they should have, as his injury history makes it unclear whether Stoudemire is worth the contract he received), but, outside of Nash, every single member of the team capable of striking fear in an opponent has been shipped out. Leandro Barbosa in Toronto, Jason Richardson in Orlando, hell even Goran Dragic in Houston ... all gone. You might point out that Barbosa was a shell of the little terror of a player he was a few years ago, Richardson has failed to impress in Orlando, and Dragic really only has one ridiculous outing to point to as evidence of his potential, and you'd be right in those points.
But look at the personnel on the roster, and tell me how they get better. Nash is still awesome, but even the Suns' training staff can't keep him from aging soon. Marcin Gortat is a good center. Past that? Grant Hill is a great dude, but a mediocre player. Jared Dudley always seems to annoy the Lakers, but is otherwise nondescript. Hakim Warrick? Sebastien Telfair? Channing Frye? Josh Childress? The Suns roster looks like it was filled out with players from the bargain bin, but as it turns out, these guys all pretty much cost full price. It's all good though, because the Suns did manage to pick up Shannon Brown this year. Please excuse me while I LOL. But the Suns are still dangerous, because any offense run by Steve Nash will always be capable of putting up points. Gortat is effective as the roll man in Steve Nash's offensive set of choice. Dudley (consistent) and Frye (not-so-much) can hurt you from the outside. You should never underestimate the Suns.
You shouldn't overestimate them either. The Lakers should certainly win tonight's game. The Suns have enough size to stand up to the big bad bigs, but Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should still be able to find a lot of success. The Suns have struggled with guarding a lot of guys over the years, and Kobe is no exception to the rule. In fact, Kobe will forever enjoy taking it to Phoenix after the hell he lived through at their hands 5 years ago. Just about the only logical way to predict a Suns victory would be if they play tons and tons of zone and the Lakers shoot 1-25 from three point range. Actually, that's a fairly decent possibility.
Sorry for the shortness and lateness of the preview, but life can be a cruel mistress, and by cruel, I just mean time consuming.