You say you want a devolution …
Suggesting the West isn’t what it was, the Lakers and Suns, last spring’s conference finalists, met with less fanfare Sunday night.
Actually, there was no fanfare at all.
No talk of payback for last spring’s 4-2 Lakers victory. No talk of a Western Conference finals preview. Also, no Amare Stoudemire, who doesn’t play for Phoenix anymore.
So if Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and vaguely familiar people showed up wearing Phoenix uniforms, it looked like the end of the Suns’ world as they’ve known it.
Of course, whoever they were, they put on a fireworks show that broke even the Suns’ team record, making 22 three-point shots in a 121-116 victory over the Lakers.
That made two losses in a row after the Lakers’ 8-0 start, suggesting their midseason ennui has kicked in early.
Remember when they ruled the West?
After three No. 1 finishes, they’re going to have to come from behind this season.
Well, not too far behind yet, but they’re now No. 3 behind 8-0 New Orleans and 8-1 San Antonio.
Even that is a novelty.
Two seasons ago, the Lakers led wire-to-wire after starting 21-3.
Last season, they started 1-1 but won 17 of the next 19 and breezed in again.
Not that a lot of people are concerned on the Lakers’ behalf.
“You guys kill me,” a laughing Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry said after the game, incredulous at being asked about the Lakers’ attitude and defense.
“Like the season is over for them now? C’mon, give me a break. It’s one game!
“You guys going to analyze this team? Let’s see what happens at the end of June, OK?
“You guys kill me, though. It’s one game, We made 22 threes and we had to hold on to beat them. I think they’re OK, OK?”
If you want to know what problems are, they’re what Gentry has.
A year ago, he chilled out Stoudemire, who wasn’t feeling or playing his best while being shopped by owner Bob Sarver.
Gentry convinced Amare the best way to get paid was to go all-out as his contract ran out.
Stoudemire led the Suns’ improbable charge to the West finals.
Then, with Sarver offering him a maximum deal to stay, Stoudemire took off for New York.
Now, there are constant rumors the Suns will deal Nash when Sarver is forced to concede this is over.
Apparently, despite all the Suns’ challenges, that’s not yet.
“Unless you go back and get Karl Malone, we had the best pick-and-roll finisher in the game in Amare, which opened up avenues for everyone else,” Gentry said before the game.
“We were kind of in a position where you pick your poison. We don’t have that degree of a kind of guy who rolls to the basket, but I think we’re getting better at it.
Hakim Warrick is getting a little better at it.”
If it’s an easy choice — we’ll take a chance on the Warrick potion — the Lakers way is to protect the basket since the three-point shots always stop dropping sooner or later.
This time it was later.
The Lakers cut a 13-point deficit to 111-109 with 53 seconds left on Lamar Odom’s layup.
Unfortunately, Odom gave an “and one” fist pump, was hit with a technical foul, and Nash’s free throw made it 112-109.
If it was a joke, the joke is on everyone with the NBA’s “Respect for the Game” campaign wiping out not only complaints to referees, but also arm movements in general.
Jackson said it “changed the tone.” In any case, the Suns’ 22nd three-point shot, which Hedo Turkoglu then dropped on them, really changed it.
Bottom line, the Lakers don’t have the West wrapped up.
The way things are going, it may take until Christmas, or Easter.