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Lakers 114, Suns 106: Gasol, Odom Pound Squishy Phoenix D

The Phoenix Suns have clearly faded since enjoying their 15 minutes of semi-glory back in May 2010, and frankly they were a pretty soft target even then. Amare Stoudemire at least gave them a puncher's chance of keeping up with the Lakers for a quarter here and there. Now that he's fled the conference out of an acute case of Pau-phobia, the Suns are little more than another of the Lake Show's intradivisional speedbags.

Tonight's game in Phoenix was like so many we've seen in Sacramento and Oakland over the past few years. The Lakers rolled into town, did just enough to win without really sweating, and then packed their carry-ons and left. The final score of 114 to 106 was achieved with a half-effort that shouldn't shock or trouble us here in late October.

Andrew Bynum? Who needs him against these guys? Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom can handle the Suns just fine on their own, thanks very much. Flashing his full offensive arsenal (jump hooks, spin moves, step-back jumpers), Pau had 21 points on 18 shots (including free-throw possessions), pulled down eight rebounds and handed out nine aesthetically pleasing assists. Lamar was even more of a force, tossing in 18 points on 13 shots, ripping 17 rebounds and collecting five assists. Both big men played splendid all-around games. Robin Lopez did his best to battle in the paint, but he got no help at all from "center" Channing Frye and "power" forward Hedo Turkoglu.

The matchups on the perimeter didn't go much more favorably for the Suns. Goran Dragic was the only guard who gave the Lakers any problems. Jason Richardson had one of the less efficient 17-point outings you're likely to see, and Steve Nash I can barely remember being on the court. Kobe Bryant, working mostly in the 15-to-23 foot range, had a businesslike 25 points and contributed a strong night on the glass.

Laker fans are used to exemplary nights from Pau, Kobe and even Lamar. What continues to be a revelation, though, is the play of the newly reconstructed Laker bench. As they did against the Rockets on opening night, the offseason arrivals once again proved they can do more than just hold their own.

Matt Barnes had his first big night as a Laker, knocking down three triples. As for Steve Blake, he's giving us some of the best backup point-guard play we've seen since... when? No offense to Jordan Farmar, who had some nice moments in his four years in the purple and gold, but doesn't Blake just look like a natural in the Triangle? He sets up the offense like he's been running it half his career. He's getting the ball to people in the right spots, and he's hitting the open threes (two for five tonight) when the rock swings back around his way. It's so much less stressful watching him than it was Jordan, who - and again, I don't mean to be too harsh on the guy - was a bit of a free radical in a system and on a bench unit that needed a steadying presence. That's what Blake provides.

And how about Shannon Brown? He didn't repeat his long-distance heroics from Tuesday night, but I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that we'll take eight points on eight shots, with zero turnovers, from him every night. As good as the Laker starters are, the bench just needs to not suck. Right now, not only are the reserves not sucking, they're actually extending leads. Once again tonight, Phil Jackson trusted them enough to keep them on the floor together for an extended period in the second half.

A few more thoughts before C.A. comes at you tomorrow morning with his takes:

  • Ron Artest still looks a little shaky on offense, but it was good to see him knocking down some open threes. He also had three steals, including a clean pick of Nash.
  • As a team, the Lakers had another night of taking good care of the ball. In both games so far this season, they've turned it over on only 10% of their plays.
  • The defensive rebounding was awesome in the first half and horrible in the second. For the game, the Suns rebounded 26% of their own misses and converted them into 14 second-chance points, which shouldn't happen. This, after the Rockets rebounded 36% of their own misses, also for 14 second-chance points. Obviously Bynum's absence is a factor here, but Artest needs to help out a little more. He had zero defensive boards in this one.

And with that, I'll turn the analysis over to you. More about this game tomorrow, and then on Sunday we'll pivot to talking about the Warriors. Being undefeated is fun!











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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