PHOENIX — Over the last few days, all eyes have been on Kobe Bryant’s return from his Achilles injury suffered in last year’s playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers guard played in his...

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The buzz around the game may have centered on Kobe Bryant, but the Suns were the stars tonight. Behind several dazzling individual performances, and a team effort, the Suns played from ahead the entire game and put away the Lakers down the stretch.

Recap:

The Suns bounded off to a 10-3 start by running the floor and getting to the basket while the Lakers' ball movement seemed a little disjointed. Los Angeles settled down, though, and tied the game up at 14 on back-to-back dunks by Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. A three point play by Goran Dragic pushed the lead back to five (19-14) before Marcus Morris scored the last seven points of the quarter for Phoenix to give them a five point cushion at the end of the period.

Suns 26, Lakers 21

The Suns again started a quarter quickly by blasting the Lakers with a 11-2 run to push their lead to double digits (37-23). Marcus Morris was leading the charge with 11 points in the early going. Turnovers by the Suns let the Lakers hang around, however, and by the six minute mark LA had nudged back within eight (40-32). The Suns continued to convert in transition, while the Lakers were more polished in their halfcourt sets. Each team was attempting to impose an opposite style of play.

LA cut the Suns lead to 50-47 on a Jodie Meeks three point shot on a second chance opportunity, but Phoenix responded with Dragic hitting a three of his own and capping his game high first half scoring (17) on a technical free throw after an ill-advised shove by Shawne Williams. The final seconds of the half were somewhat controversial, as Gasol managed to hit a jumper as time expired after a questionable call on a ball that went out of bounds gave the Lakers possession under the Suns basket with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Suns 56, Lakers 51

Third time's a charm, as Phoenix extended the lead to 14 by scoring the first nine points of the quarter. But, as was previously the case, they stalled enough to let the Lakers hang around. Steve Blake and Jordan Hill keyed a 21-8 run to cut the lead all the way down to one (73-72), capped by a hook shot by Hill with 1:56 left in the period. But after they managed just eight points over 8:36 while the Lakers got back in the mix, the Suns finished strong (again) with six points in the final 1:13, including two contortionist style layups by Bledsoe to keep them ahead going into the fourth. The Suns had bent again, but still managed not to let the Lakers regain the lead.

Suns 79, Lakers 74

The Suns continued to respond to every Lakers' challenge as they went back up by seven (86-79) after a tightly contested 18 foot face up jumper by Markieff Morris and an open corner three from Gerald Green. That 7-5 beginning, though not as pronounced as the first three periods, was emblematic of how they'd sprung out of the gates all night. Still, LA had lurked within striking distance all game and was still right there as crunch time approached. Dragic scored just his second basket of the second half on a "Goran Shake" to put the Suns up 90-84, which prompted a timeout by the Lakers to sub in their starters/closers.

While Kobe tried to go to work for the Lakers, the Morrii were answering on the other end. A nine point Suns lead was cut back down to four with 3:38 left after a free throw by Nick Young, but after that the Suns took care of business. Markieff had an acrobatic reverse layup. Marcus hit a contested 18 foot jumper right over the top of an outstretched Gasol. Dragic sliced the Lakers defense to ribbons and scored at the rim. The Lakers were still within six (105-99) with just over a minute to go, but Tucker rebounded a Suns miss and Dragic hit two free throws after he was fouled with 43 seconds left to push the lead to 107-99. The Suns hit their free throws down the stretch and salted the game.

Final Score: Suns 114, Lakes 108

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Player of the Game:

Goran Dragic. He set the tone for the game with 10 first quarter points and by establishing a harried pace that kept the Lakers on their heels in transition all night. Goran also closed the game with 12 fourth quarter points while going clean from the line down the stretch (8-8 in the fourth, 11-11 on the game). Dragic finished with a game high 31 points, including several scores on filthy moves, to go with five assists.  The 31 points matches Goran's season high, a total he has now hit three times this season.

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Comments of the Game:

Kobe legit looked like Wizards MJ on the dunk.

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How

Does FOX Sports not manage to get a functioning scoreboard for an entire quarter?

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Remember when we all cheered and whooped in the streets of Phoenix when we drafted Markieff Morris?

And built a statue of Lance Blanks at the front of US Airways Center?

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Can we start calling PJ "Padlock" Tucker

Cause of his "lockdown" defense

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Dragic

Has to be one of the best players in the league in the open court. Absolutely unstoppable.

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So now we've blown two 14 point leads?

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Imagine if Nash was guarding Bledsoe....

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Twins mode activate!

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Suck on that Lakers.

We didn't even need Hedo for that one.

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The Good:

Starting strong, finishing strong. The Suns won the beginning and end of every quarter. First quarter: started 10-3, finished 5-1. Second quarter: started 11-2, finished 6-4. Third quarter: started 9-0, finished 6-2. Fourth quarter: started 7-5, finished with the W.

P.J. Tucker had another offensive rebound to effectively ice another game, just like he slammed the door on Toronto. Despite struggling through a forgettable night on offense he still found a way to make a positive impact by pulling down a game high 11 rebounds.

Wonder Twins Unite. These guys have undergone a sublime metamorphosis between last season and now. They are still not without some fluctuations in their play on any given night, but they can also provide one of the best punches off the bench in the league on any given night. And the consistency seems to be improving along with the overall play. A game after Markieff goes 11-14 from the field Marcus responds with 10-13. Their 37 tonight barely bested their 35 from that game. Plus, they both came up huge during winning time in the fourth quarter.

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The Bad:

Technological malfunctions at the arena caused a statistical blackout. Even the tracker at the bottom of the screen on Phoenix's local broadcast was absent or haywire during the first quarter. It was halftime before the box of everything started to report intelligible numbers from the game. There was even a stoppage in play due to a 40 second shot clock. Really Hollywood?

The Suns should have probably blew this game open at some point as their lead swelled to 14 to start both the second and third quarters. After playing lock down defense the previous two games they seemed to struggle at times against LA's halfcourt offense and surrendered 49% shooting.

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The Ugly:

Nothing. Well, I guess there was some chatter about Steve Blake and Nick Young, but I can't think of anything else.

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Final Thoughts:

The Suns were finally able to break through their two game barrier and earn their first three game winning streak this season. There is no reason they can't stretch that to four next game against the Kings. This was a solid victory against a legitimate opponent on the road, made sweeter by the fact that it was the rival Lakers.

The Suns are beginning to trend as a stalwart road team, standing at 6-6 on the season after tonight and their recent win against Houston. And while the team is only two games out of 13th in a Chinese finger trap of a Western Conference, they are also only 1.5 games behind the Pacific Division leading Clippers.

The Suns are playing pretty damn well. And they...

Beat LA.

The Phoenix Suns used strong contributions from many players to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 in a game that they controlled for its entirety. Goran Dragic led the way with 31 points, got the...

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The Phoenix Suns go for three wins in a row tonight as they play a very beatable Los Angeles Lakers team in a state of flux. Supposedly some guy named Kobe Bryant just returned from an injury.

When: Tuesday December 10, 2013, 8:30 PM local time (10:30 EST)

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports AZ Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

The Suns thrashed LA 99-76 at US Airways Center on March 18, 2013. Phoenix blew the game open with a 28-10 fourth quarter powered by Luis Scola, who scored all of his team high 14 points in the period. Goran Dragic also recorded a double-double (12 points and 10 assists) to help the Suns' cause.

Steve Nash tallied a game high 19 points for the Lakers, but only shot 6-17 from the field.  The Lakers team as a whole was stymied by Phoenix's defense as they shot a measly 33.3% (29-87) in the game. Dwight Howard finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Kobe Bryant did not play, as he was out with a severe ankle sprain.

Tonight's game includes six players who logged major minutes in that contest. Dragic, Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker are still on the Suns and Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks return for the Lakers.  The other player is Wesley Johnson, who was a Sun last year but now plays for Los Angeles.  Johnson started the game for Phoenix and put up 14 points while grabbing nine rebounds. Johnson is a likely starter for the Lakers tonight.

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Team Bios:

Los Angeles Lakers: 10-10

Points per game: 101.0 (14) Points allowed: 103.0 (28)

ORtg: 103.8 (18) DRtg: 105.9 (19)

Full team statistics.

The big news dominating the Lakers landscape, and the NBA as a whole, is the return of superstar Kobe Bryant who, whether you like it or not, has his own gravitational pull.  Kobe's return fizzled, however, as he bungled away nearly as many turnovers (8) as he scored points (9) in a 106-94 loss to a shorthanded Toronto Raptors team that entered the contest 6-12.  The Lakers starters were soundly whipped by their counterparts on the Raptors as they combined to score only 23 points (on 8-32 shooting) while Kyle Lowry (23), DeMar DeRozan (26) and Amir Johnson (32) tied or beat that total.

Kobe finished the game with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and eight turnovers in 28 minutes.

The Lakers had won six of eight games prior to Bryant's return, helping them recover from a 4-7 start.  Los Angeles averaged 105.8 points per game over that stretch while outscoring their opponents by an average of five points per game. The Lakers had been winning by sharing the wealth with eight different players recording at least 20 points in a game during those eight games. Kobe's return may provide the Lakers with a dependable scorer, though, as right now Nick Young leads the team in scoring with 14.4 per game and only two other players average double digits.  Pau Gasol leads the team in rebounding with 9.7 per game, but is well below his career average in scoring (14.2) while shooting a paltry .416 from the field.

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Phoenix Suns: 11-9

Points per game: 101.2 (13) Points allowed: 99.5 (15)

ORtg: 107.2 (9) DRtg: 105.4 (17)

Full team statistics.

Phoenix comes into the game looking for its first three game winning streak of the season, as the team's inconsistent play has resulted in two game streaks ending on four previous occasions.

The Suns last played Friday and beat the Toronto Raptors 106-97 in a game they led comfortably for most of the last quarter and a half. Markieff Morris led all players with 25 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in the victory.  Morris made his first 11 shots in the game before missing his last three. Not to be outdone, Tucker had 18 points and 13 rebounds, including two key offensive rebounds in the closing minutes that stifled any possibility of a comeback by the Raptors. P.J. was 2-4 from three point range in the game and is tied for third in the league at 50%.  I guess we know that someone was working hard last summer.

After a stretch of indefensible defense, which saw their DRtg plummet, the Suns have appeared to regain their footing by yielding just 35.2% shooting to the Rockets and 40.2% shooting to the Raptors in their past two games.

The work in progress that is the Suns' starting backcourt will chug along tonight with both players (rarely) healthy. Interestingly enough, both Dragic and Bledsoe are basically averaging 18 points and six assists on the season.

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What To Watch For:

Kobe Bryant vs. P.J. Tucker: Tucker is coming off his best back-to-back games of the season in which he averaged 18 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game.  Just as importantly, if not more, has been his suffocating defense. In particular, he ate James Harden's lunch by holding him to just 14 points on 3-17 shooting (0-10 from three). Bryant, like Harden, doesn't possess blinding quickness so P.J. may be able to frustrate him by blanketing him and getting a little physical.

Gerald Gr33n?: Green is shooting just 3-17 (17.6%) from three point range in the last three games after returning to his role coming off the bench with Eric Bledsoe's reinsertion into the starting lineup. A solid performance from him could help the Suns combat the long, athletic duo of Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry.

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Factoids:

Mike D'Antoni is 4-6 against the Suns since leaving after the 2007-08 season to coach the New York Knicks.  His teams have failed to score 100 points against the Suns in each of the last four games, averaging just 90.3 points per game.

Kobe Bryant scored his season high for points in 2010-11 (42) and 2011-12 (48) against the Suns.

Through his first two seasons (145 games) Markieff Morris had scored 20+ points six times and recorded four double-doubles. Through 19 games this season he has five 20+ point games and three double-doubles.  All three of his double-doubles this season were 20/10 performances, of which he had none his first two seasons.

The Final Word(s):

This would seemingly be a felicitous time to go up against the Lakers and take advantage of a team lacking stability as they attempt to reincorporate their star, who is obviously far from top form, one quarter way through the season. But with the Lakers playing at home and Kobe's loathing for the Suns, which may spur him to a better performance than his season premiere, I give them a slight edge.

Phoenix's sporadic play also makes them hard to gauge, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if they won or lost by 20. After playing mostly close games at the beginning of the season, no final margin has been within seven points for the Suns over the last ten games.

But if the Suns play the pertinacious, pesky defense we've seen they are capable of this season they should have a pretty good chance to...

Beat LA!

Time: 8:30 p.m. MST TV: FSA It’s disappointing how the snowballing of negative opinions put down the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers before the season ever began. The two Pacific Division...

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