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Lakers 99, Suns 83: Luke, Kobe Combine For 54 In Blowout Victory

At some point, Kobe Bryant will no longer be capable of this. There will come a time when he's too old and has too much accumulated pain in his joints to spend a night setting fire to an NBA defense (even one as dependably awful as the Phoenix Suns'). I have no clue when that moment will arrive - by any rational calculation it should've arrived already - but until it does my wholly unnecessary advice to Laker fans is to enjoy these performances while you still can. It's not that he slashed and played over, around and through the Suns' D en route to 48 sparkling points and a blowout win. I mean, it's not just that. It's that he's done this sort of thing dozens and dozens of times over the years, so that when the day comes to assess the great sweet of Kobe Bryant's career, a night like tonight won't register in the memory banks as anything distinct. It's the 108th time he's scored 40 or more in a single night. We now process Kobe's huge stats as components of other, even huger stats.

Officially, Kobe got his 48 via 31 shot attempts. More accurately, if you include the possessions he used with free-throw attempts, he took 35 shots. That's still some mind-blowing efficiency, good for 69 percent True Shooting. Never known for their ferocious defense, the Suns' proposed solution to the Kobe assault was to stick Grant Hill on him and hope for the best. It worked even less well than it did in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, when it worked horribly. I guess people think Grant Hill is a good player or whatever, but guarding Kobe he looks so old you feel like he should be wearing gym shorts on the outside of his sweat pants.

The Mamba explosion more than made up for a quiet night from the rest of the Lakers' Big Three. Andrew Bynum looked a little off his form. As usual he struggled to keep up with Steve Nash on the pick-and-roll, though he did block a couple shots and was a large reason the Suns made only 45% of their twos. Pau Gasol shot very poorly early on but kept himself a factor in the game through good work on the boards. He pulled in 12 rebounds total, and his four offensive boards led to nine second-chance points. His second-half shooting (4 for 5) punished the Suns for shading heavily onto Kobe.

By far the most incomprehensive development of the night was the play of Luke Walton. Yes, Luke Walton... Lakerdom's go-to punchline for the past several years. An absence of bodies (Josh McRoberts has an injured toe, Troy Murphy was sick, Jason Kapono was off experiencing the miracle of childbirth) forced Mike Brown to give Luke some rare playing time. And Luke looked... good?? In 26 minutes he scored six points, dished three assists and somehow corralled eight rebounds. This was his best game since God only knows... sometime in 2008, maybe? I assume Mitch Kupchak sent out a text message blast to every NBA general manager tonight on the off-chance one of them doesn't understand sample sizes and is thinking to himself, "Luke Walton's back!" I'm 900% sure Luke is still terrible, but hey - good on him. He's suffered through (and made us suffer through) so much revolting play over the last couple seasons, it's nice he's got a little success to savor, however modest.

As for the Suns, they're still the Suns. Which is to say: Steve Nash and his supporting cast of soft-as-hell jumpshooters. Hill shot 1 for 12. Jared Dudley shot 2 for 7. They don't have nearly enough inside beef to keep up with the Lakers, though daps to Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye for making enough outside J's to keep things interesting for a while. They were actually down just a point with six minutes left, but a crunch-time lineup of Kobe, Luke, Pau, Barnes and Steve Blake got nasty on defense and finished with a 16-1 run. Shannon Brown returned to Staples for his first appearance as a Sun and had a very Shannon Brown-like stat line (11 points on 5 for 13 shooting).

The Lake Show has now won three straight. None of those wins will make the league tremble, but that's all right. A winning streak has to start somewhere. Tomorrow night they're in Utah to face the possibly-not-bad Utah Jazz, then it's back to Staples for the Cavaliers on Friday and the Clippers on Saturday. That wraps up the season-opening death march and leads into a stretch when the games are spaced out a little better. Going 2-1 over the next four days would be nice. Going 3-0 would put the Lakers back into the conversation about the Western Conference elite.










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