Lakers fall to Suns, remain stuck on nine victories

Lakers can't stay with Suns, lose, 116-107

That elusive 10th victory is still out of the Lakers' reach. So is a reliable defense.

The small-ball Phoenix Suns stuck it to the home team with a never-quit offense and surprising tenacity on the boards in a 116-107 victory Sunday at Staples Center.

Not even the return of Kobe Bryant, who played a very conservative game, could stop the Lakers from falling to 9-22.

They haven't taken this long to win 10 games since the 1956-57 team needed 41 games to do it. That won't happen this season; this team is too close in too many fourth quarters before fading. But if it does, Bryant should be fun to listen to at practice.

The Lakers lost because they couldn't stop the Suns, nothing new for a defense dead last in the league and giving up 109.2 points per game.

There's also a disturbing close-but-not-good-enough trend that emerged again after Nick Young's free throws brought the Lakers within 106-105 with 2 minutes 21 seconds to play.

But a cushion was created when PJ Tucker scored on a driving layup and Markieff Morris on a jump hook after taking a big offensive rebound. It didn't help the Lakers that Jeremy Lin missed an open three-point shot, as did Wesley Johnson, and Bryant was stripped of the ball by Eric Bledsoe.

The Lakers trailed by six points going into the fourth quarter against Chicago and lost by 20. They played Dallas to a near-draw before losing by four.

Close doesn't count for teams with .290 winning percentages.

"Again, we played hard ... but the last couple minutes of the game is where we seem to just lose it," Coach Byron Scott said.

Bryant had 10 points on four-for-10 shooting after coming back from a three-game absence for rest purposes. He played 32 minutes, three below his season average, and would continue to be around that mark for the foreseeable future, Scott pledged.

Fine with Bryant, who explained his quiet scoring game as demonstrating patience on the court while another team loaded up on him in the offensive end.

"My body wasn't killing me, honestly," he said. "Three more minutes makes a big difference, especially the type of minutes I play."

He needed a skeleton in a lab to diagram what felt better.

"My body, back, knees, ankles, that whole thing," he said after getting eight rebounds and seven assists with five turnovers Sunday.

The Suns (18-14) are probably a playoff team but have awful losses to Milwaukee, Detroit, Utah, Orlando and Charlotte. They weren't about to let another bad team beat them.

They outrebounded the Lakers, 45-35, and their three guards led the way on offense, as usual: Goran Dragic had 24 points, Bledsoe had 22 and Isaiah Thomas had 15.

Lin had 19 points for the Lakers, who shot 52% as a team and 60% from three-point range but still lost.

"It always comes down to the last, the fourth quarter," said Young, who had 21 points.

"I pretty much think we've got to crack it."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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