The Lakers (24-28) return home after finishing a 4-3 effort in their longest road trip of the season. That road trip started in a shocking 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns (17-35), a team that was and still at the bottom of the Western Conference. Needless to say, the purple and gold are looking for some payback tonight.
The last 11 days away from Los Angeles didn't go through without some drama. A large part of that drama has been directed at Dwight Howard by everyone it seems. His heart and focus have been questioned due to his lack of sense of urgency when it comes to ignoring his sore shoulder and healing back to help the team win as much games as possible to get to the playoffs.
With 30 games left (including tonight), the Lakers are still 3 and a half games back of the 8th seed Rockets and a game and a half behind 9th place Trailblazers. Houston is playing pretty well right now having won 7 of their last 10 games. If L.A. is to catch them, they will need to win all of their remaining games at Staples Center.
Why? That's because out of the 30 games left in the regular season, 14 are on the road. Most people believe that a 44-38 finish will not bode well for the Lakers. Or if the Lakers lose 10 more games from here on out, they won't make it to the playoffs. I agree. But that is the least of their problems right now.
If we learn anything from this team this season is that the Lakers badly need to establish identity on both ends of the floor. Team chemistry is often blamed for the losses, but you can't have that unless the players have a foundation to follow each game. They started to develop that with Kobe Bryant being the facilitator, but Pau Gasol's injury stopped the rhythm to progress in that direction. Now, they have to start a new one with Dwight.
And if the Lakers are to win at least 20 of the next 30 games, they better ignore every nonsense that's been going on all year long and just concentrate on basketball beginning with Phoenix.
Just how bad are the Suns? Since beating the Lakers at home, they have dropped 5 of their next 6 games losing by an average of 19.6 points. They are in the bottom half of nearly every stat category in the league, including 21st on offense (94.8 PPG) and 22nd on defense (allowing 100 PPG). Of course, those numbers didn't help the Lakers last time. But losing tonight to this team again should say a lot about what's going to happen the rest of the season for the Lakers.
This is the 3rd of 4 meetings versus the Suns with the final one coming in March 18 at the US Airways Center. These teams split last season's series at 2 apiece by winning in their home floor. The Lakers haven't lost to the Suns at Staples Center since Nov. 14, 2010.
UPDATE: According to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell, Earl Clark was sent to get an MRI on his right foot.
Earl Clark was sent in this morning for an MRI for a sore right foot. Results pending.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 12, 2013
Matchup of the Game
Marcin Gortat vs. Dwight Howard: Gortat leads the Suns in rebounding (8.7 RPG) and blocks (1.7 BPG). If Howard is tired of all the criticisms and really honest about doing whatever it takes to help the Lakers win, he has to start dominating opposing centers like Gortat. He is playing with a torn labrum, but he hasn't been favoring that right shoulder of his that much since returning to action against the Celtics. That means that he can and is playing through the pain a lot better now.
Keys to the Game
> Dominate: Come out of the locker room with an intent to punish the Suns. Phoenix is one of the worse teams in the NBA for a lot of reasons. They lack size. They have no inside game. They don't have superstars. And they could hardly stop anybody from scoring. The Lakers have to exploit that from the get-go.
> Rebounding: Not sure why Howard gets the brunt of all the negativities when it comes to the Lakers rebounding the ball. When was the last time a team win a lot of games with only one player grabbing all of the missed shots?
> Metta World Peace: He hasn't shot any better than 44% since the Miami game at home. But more importantly, he hasn't been a force on defense since the Bulls game in Chicago when he got 3 blocks and 4 steals. That's because he's too concerned about his offense. Metta has to realize that his best contribution is on the defensive end for this team. The Lakers will need him to help stop Michael Beasley from having another good outing on offense.
Watch Out For
SUNS: Michael Beasley: He was one of the reasons why they beat the Lakers in Phoenix last time. He's been averaging 20.6 points on 51.4% shooting against the purple and gold so far this season. The Lakers have to find a way to contain him to keep him from becoming a factor tonight. Isn't that right, Metta?
LAKERS: Steve Nash: He had a disappointing game in his first visit in Phoenix getting 11 points and only 2 assists against the team that flat out told him he isn't coming back after keeping them relative for the last 8 years. Many thought he'd come out with a huge chip on his shoulder in that game. We might see that tonight.
Tonight vs. Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
SUNS: Channing Frye (enlarged heart) is out.
LAKER: Pau Gasol (foot) is out indefinitely. Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the season. Dwight Howard (shoulder) will most likely play.