A Lakers burst finishes the Suns
There were no last-second, off-balance 27-foot three-point bank shots Sunday.
None were needed.
The Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns with ease, 108-88, at Staples Center, showing how large a gap exists between two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Forget gap. It’s more like a chasm.
The Lakers (16-3) entered Sunday a game in front of the Suns in the standings. They exited two games and a country mile ahead of them.
The Suns (15-6) never led on the way to their second one-sided loss to the Lakers in the last four weeks. What they have here is a failure to stop the Lakers’ big men and a certain shooting guard.
In what will be a repeating theme should the teams meet in the playoffs, the Lakers pounded the ball down low during a third quarter in which they blew open the game.
A 54-44 halftime lead turned into an 87-66 rout after Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol began taking the Suns apart, making a combined six of seven shots in the quarter. Kobe Bryant (26 points) scored nine in the quarter, and that was pretty much the end of the Suns.
It could have been worse for them.
Coach Phil Jackson wanted the Lakers to feed their big men even more, saying he wanted to “exploit the inside.” They did so in the third quarter but “then we got away from it . . . wandering off and doing other things.”
It didn’t matter.
Bynum finished with 14 points, Gasol with 13, and there was even a standing ovation from the crowd after Lamar Odom’s layup put the Lakers ahead, 80-63, with 1:36 left in the third quarter.
OK, it was only a partial ovation, but Lakers fans were treated to a thorough victory two days after a stunning last-second heave by Bryant beat the Miami Heat with no time left on the clock.
The Lakers have won nine consecutive games and eight in a row since Gasol returned from a hamstring injury.
Can anybody stop them?
The Lakers thumped the Suns last month, 121-102, and that was without Gasol.
“They’re just so long,” Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said. “They’re a long team and they bottle up everything you to do.”
Phoenix couldn’t find a consistent source of scoring beyond Amare Stoudemire, who had 18 points. Center Channing Frye had only five points.
The Suns hadn’t been held to so few points since a 98-76 loss to Charlotte in January.
Ron Artest characterized the Lakers’ defensive effort with five steals, including one that led to a Jordan Farmar dunk near the end of the third quarter.
“I think they’re a little bit better than us right now,” Suns guard Steve Nash said in the understatement of the night.
The Suns played the previous evening against Sacramento, and it showed.
“It’s not a young team over there for two of their starters,” Jackson said, referring to the 35-year-old Nash and 37-year-old Grant Hill. “It makes a difference, I think, to them.”
The game didn’t go without a hitch.
Referee David Jones left the game in the first quarter after experiencing a brief dizzy spell, leaving only Derrick Stafford and Kevin Fehr to call the game. There were no on-court incidents despite the short-handed crew.
Public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter provided the only dour report of the night after reeling off the Lakers’ statistics after the game.
“Stay dry,” he said. “Some rain is on the way.”
Not much could bring down the Lakers these days, rain, shine or otherwise.