Kobe Bryant was a late scratch on Saturday in Phoenix, but his absence wasn’t the reason for the Lakers’ 125-105 loss to the Suns, the team’s worst of the season. It was the defense, or more specifically, the lack thereof that enabled Phoenix to set season highs in total points (125) and points in a single quarter (38 in the second), as well as a franchise record for fewest turnovers (3).
The 20-point defeat is the largest for the Lakers this season, surpassing the 15-point loss the team experienced at the hands of the Thunder back on Feb. 23 in Oklahoma City.
“Whether Kobe’s here or not, we shoot 49 percent and score 105 points … Throughout most of the year if you tell me we can get to 105 points in a game at that percentage, hey — we win,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown noted afterward. “I’m going to Vegas and betting on that one.”
What Brown wouldn’t have bet on was a 17-point second quarter from Michael Redd that propelled the Suns from down eight to up five at the half, and a 20-point third quarter explosion from former Lakers guard Shannon Brown that had Phoenix up by 16 after three, and effectively put the game out of reach.
“It felt good, just knowing that I could get the chance to help the team win,” Shannon said. “Nothing for my personal self, just helping the team win. Everything I threw up just felt like it was going to go in.”
And wasn’t the performance even more special, considering it came against the team he used to play for?
“Yeah, of course,” Brown said. “You always want to play well against the team that traded you or let you go, or however you want to put it. I can play this game.”
On the offensive end, things weren’t terrible for L.A. With Bryant’s 30 or so shots unaccounted for, the Lakers bigs had plenty of chances, and combined for 52 field goal attempts, with Pau Gasol being more efficient than Andrew Bynum in finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds to Bynum’s 23 and 18, while taking two fewer shots.
But when you let Redd and Brown go crazy in consecutive quarters on the road, you’re really not giving yourself much of a chance. Mike Brown recognizes this, and knows the Lakers are in trouble in the postseason if they don’t find a way to get things straightened out.
“Our problems are defensive,” he said. “Sometimes it has carryover because we will turn the ball over with unforced turnovers, which lead to easy buckets for the other team, and they get excited, they get energized, and next thing you know, they go on a run because of the unforced turnovers that we give up.
“We have some problems that we’ve got to hopefully correct that we’ve been doing a decent job of hiding, and now with eight, nine games to go, hopefully we can get it done. We’ve got to play better defense than this or than what we’re playing, in order to be able to make a run.”
While the Lakers are talking about a run in the postseason to the Finals, the Suns are just trying to get into the playoffs to give themselves that chance. A slow start to the season when they suffered losses at home to some of the league’s bottom feeders in New Jersey, Cleveland, Toronto, and Golden State leaves them frantically fighting for the eighth and final spot in the West, and the loss in Denver on Friday night certainly didn’t help that cause.
The Nuggets, however, gave that one right back to the Suns on Saturday, losing on the road to the Warriors. Phoenix seized the opportunity and did its part by beating up on the Kobe-less — and ultimately, defenseless — Los Angeles Lakers.