Lakers are a glare to the Suns

Reducing their magic number for clinching the Pacific Division to 61, the Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.

Any combination of 61 L.A. wins and Phoenix losses will clinch the Lakers’ third division title in a row.

Even if the Suns don’t lose any, the Lakers can still do it by early March, assuming their nine-game winning streak goes the rest of the season.

Actually, it’s a little early . . . since the Lakers lead the second-place Suns by only two games. On the other hand, the Suns have conceded the race, or at least have no illusions that it is a race, as General Manager Steve Kerr noted before the game.

“You’ve got to remember, we weren’t picked to make the playoffs,” said Steve Nash after the Lakers rolled over the Suns, 108-88.


“We’ve got to win as many games as possible and not try to worry about where we are versus the Lakers. At the end of the year, if we have beaten some good teams and we have 50-something wins, then we can worry about the Lakers, but right now, we still have some growing to do.”

Since Pau Gasol’s return, the Lakers have been better than they were at any point last season while en route to a championship.

The only challenge in their winning streak came when the Lakers let down Friday against Miami but were saved by Kobe Bryant’s running-laterally-oh-what-the-heck-27-foot-banked three-pointer.

Not that the Heat took it hard, but Miami scout Chet Kammerer, a former Lakers assistant, was still shaking his head Sunday in the press workroom.

The Suns came in 15-5, but any notion they could challenge ended early . . . like last summer when the schedule came out, showing them playing at home before coming here on a rare Saturday-Sunday back-to-back.

If these Suns look more familiar without Shaquille O’Neal, they beat the Lakers like a drum for the first three seasons after Shaq left here.

Then came Feb. 1, 2008, a day that still lives in infamy throughout the Western Conference.

That was the day the Lakers got Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and Marc Gasol.

Even if the other West teams had known in advance how good Marc would turn out to be, they still would have been enraged.

“We can thank Memphis, that’s all I can say,” Coach Alvin Gentry said before the game, laughing.

“We had done pretty good against them until they got Pau . . .

“It was just something, I don’t know if it made sense at all. But it’s worked out great for Pau and the Lakers.”

Aside from playing the game over the Suns’ heads, which the Lakers can do with teams bigger than Phoenix, they went 10 for 21 on threes to the Suns’ four for 13.

In other words, the Suns did a great job to lose only by 20.

“We’ve played the other teams, and I think they’re by far the best team,” said Gentry afterward.

“I don’t know where their weakness is. I don’t know. No one can be any more physical than they can. No one is more athletic than they are . . .

“As I said to our guys, what we’re trying to do and what they’re trying to do are completely different things.

“We’re trying to compete and get back to where we were a few years ago, and they’re trying to win another championship. . . .

“Our emphasis is not that we’ve got to beat the Lakers. We’ve got to beat Denver, Houston, New Orleans, the teams that were ahead of us as far as making the playoffs.”

This was also the second time the Suns had to play the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back this season, and it’s only Dec. 7.

It’s just part of the league’s plan to get the Suns, as far as the Suns are concerned.

Look at it this way. Someone has to be on the road to make up for all the games the Lakers and the Clippers play at home early before the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center for two weeks.

The Suns have played 14 of their 21 games on the road and by Jan. 1 will have played nine of their 10 games against the top four teams -- the Lakers, Boston, Orlando and Cleveland.

After Jan. 1, the Suns will play only 23 road games, and only one at home against one of the top four teams, the Lakers.

Now if they can just make it to Jan. 1. . . .