The Los Angeles Lakers come into tonight's contest against the Phoenix Suns just 24 hours off the back of another disappointing loss. It's a story as familiar as a Nancy Drew novel ... coming off of Wednesday night's important win against the L.A. Clippers, the Lakers struggled with energy the entire night against the Houston Rockets. They didn't even bother changing the plot twist from previous encounters, with Andrew Bynum's continued antics causing him to get tossed from the game and leaving the Lakers short-handed to close out the contest.
So what happens now? If you page through the Lakers' best results of the season, the results that follow are rarely happy ones. The first win against Dallas, a (poor) revenge game for the events of the previous post season, was followed by three straight losses (against admittedly tough competition). The first win against the Clippers, followed by a loss to the Bucks. A win in Denver followed by two straight losses to Utah and Philly. Beat Boston, lose to New York. Beat Miami, lose to Washington and Detroit. Beat the Clippers in a vital late season contest, lose to the (depleted) Rockets the next time out. Over and over and over again, the Lakers get a big win, and follow it with a bad loss .. or two. That two, avoiding that two, is what's important tonight. Lose tonight, and the events of Wednesday are erased. Whatever advantage the Lakers picked up that evening will be gone and forgotten.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, winning this contest was always going to be a tough ask. This will be their 6th game in eight nights. They lacked energy last night, and now have to go up against Steve Nash and his running Suns. Phoenix isn't quite as fast-paced as they have been in years past, but they still get up and down the court quite a bit, and they still employ one of the league's best point guards. Phoenix should be tired too. This is their 5th game in seven nights, and they arrive tonight having traveled further to get home (from Denver) than the Lakers traveled from Los Angeles. They also lost last night, and unlike the Lakers, the loss is more devastating than disappointing, as it makes their hopes of the playoffs bleak. But the hope is not gone, so they, like Houston was the night before, will be playing for their playoff lives.
Lakers/Suns, for as long as I can remember, always boils down to one question: Who controls the game? If the Lakers come in with a heavy dose of turnovers, allowing the Suns to get out in transition, find those three point shooters against an off-balance defense, and generally allow Steve Nash to wreak havoc, they will lose. If they force Phoenix to defend them in the half-court, keep the floor balanced so as to defend in transition, and keep the Suns from building a rhythm, they will probably win. The Suns have a big body and able defender in Marcin Gortat, but if Andrew Bynum rebounds without keeping his head in his ass, he's shown that nobody can stop him right now. Kobe Bryant has taken joy out of causing the Suns misery, the only team in the league against which he holds a Jordan-like grudge. And this will be the first time Phoenix has to deal with Ramon Sessions, who should be able to finally take advantage of the area in which Steve Nash is weak, his defense.
The Lakers have the personnel to win this contest. They should have the motivation to win this contest. They might lack the energy to win this contest. Last night's effort was a miss, caroming off the rim. Now, the Lakers need to rebound.