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It was Bizzaro World in Phoenix as the Phoenix Suns hosted the Los Angeles Lakers, where down was up and the sky was green. Don't believe me?

Before the game, WWE singer/ring announcer Lillian Garcia sang an inspired rendition of the National Anthem, followed by the Gorilla coming out in the playoff "Beat L.A." tower for a game in March that is for playoff seeding.

The game itself played off of that.

Early in the game, Dwight Howard missed consecutive dunks but finished off plays at the line, going 3-3 early from the charity stripe. To compound the weirdness, he stepped out and knocked down long jumpers while Jermaine O'Neal turned back the clock with a dunk over the league's best interior defender. Dwight was not Dwight early and then Kendall Marshall wasn't Kendall Marshall.

The rookie has 14 made threes on the season, but stepped up in the second quarter to hit back-to-back threes and a long two. Bizzaro World indeed.

This game was the Suns' last opportunity for a meaningful win on what has been a dismal season. They came out in the second and third quarter with the attitude that they were going to win this game. They dominated the Lakers on the glass (on both ends) and were able to get easy baskets in the paint. It didn't help that the Lakers played matador defense at times, but the point is the Suns found a way to score more points than another team, with a final of 99-76.

For a second time at home, the Suns were able to hold serve against their rivals, taking a game away from them in the loss column as the Lakers are in a competitive battle with the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and now the Dallas Mavericks for positioning and, at this point, to make the playoffs in general.

Wesley Johnson (14 points) and Goran Dragic (11 points 10 assists) paced the offense early as Luis Scola closed out the game with 14 points 7 rebounds.

This Suns win was not about the lottery, percentages, or tanking. It was about getting one last great win in a season where there have been slim to none. The Suns now have more wins on the season than the Miami Heat have won in a row.

PHOENIX — Steve Nash is set to make his second return to the Valley Monday night as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and while the build up might not have been what it was back on January...

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What is a snake without its bite? Well, the Los Angeles Lakers (36-32) are still Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and a very dangerous team, especially to a team like the Phoenix Suns (22-45) at this point in the season.

With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers were able to win their last game and they even won a tough one against Eastern Conference contender in the Indiana Pacers with only 12 minutes out of the Mamba. He is the best player on the Lakers roster, but when you start to create a pecking order of the best players in this match-up, the pendulum swings to L.A. and stays there for a while.

Universally, Bryant is the best player. It would be hard to argue that 2-4 are Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. The debate could even be made that Ron Artest is the fifth best player between the two teams.

Subtracting Bryant makes this a lesser team, of course, but against a bottom-three team in the league, it does not make them terrible.

The Suns have something to play for as every Lakers loss gives them a better shot at two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. It is also the Lakers. So little needs to be said about knocking off the divisional rival and playing the role of spoiler for them.

(Recent) History Lesson

This will be the fourth and final installment of the Lakers-Suns this season. The Lakers won two of the first three, but they were all close affairs. In those three games, the teams have played tough, lower scoring games to a tune of the Lakers (97.0 PPG) being only a +4 on the Suns (93.0 PPG) in the series. The Suns look to even the season series tonight at home where they are 1-0 against their rivals.

Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)

Suns: 104.2 PPG (7 wins)

Lakers: 108.5 PPG (14 wins)

There has been a triple-overtime game, six battles in the Western Conference Finals, and animosity between these two teams over the past four seasons. It has not always been this way, with the Suns looking at the lottery and the Lakers looking at the playoffs. This was a fairly even battle over the past 12 years.

Head-to-Head (career)

Lakers Player vs. Suns: 15.5 PPG 4.8 RPG 2.4 APG 2.4 SPG 42.8 FG% (34 games)

Suns Player vs. Lakers: 9.2 PPG 2.4 RPG 1.0 APG 1.0 SPG 40.7 FG% (9 games)

More on Artest below, but the Suns need a big game from Johnson as he will be matched-up with Jodie Meeks rather than Bryant. That is a situation that a player has to take advantage of. In his career he is 0-9 against the Lakers, but has broken out for a pair of 20+ point games, including a career-high 29 while in Minnesota.

Smiling Wes has scored 20+ points five times in his career and 40% of those games are against the Lakers.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Steve Nash

SG - Wesley Johnson v. Jodie Meeks

SF - Marcus Morris v. Ron Artest

PF - Markieff Morris v. Earl Clark

C - Jermaine O'Neal v. Dwight Howard

Potential Suns Inactives: Marcin Gortat (Foot)

Potential Lakers Inactives: Kobe Bryant (Left Ankle) and Pau Gasol (Plantar Fascia)

Key Match-Up

Marcus Morris vs. Ron Artest

When you face the Lakers, you have to win the individual battle with Artest. Because if you do not, that typically means they are running away with the game. Or does it? He is a shell of his former self, meaning that Marcus cannot let him get into his head and throw his game off.

On the season, the Lakers are 4-4 when Artest scores 20+ points, 11-9 when he scores between 15-19 points, and 20-19 with 14 points or less.

Marcus has been in a funk the past few games and could use a breakthrough against what is now his biggest rival other than his brother wearing the same thing as him when they get ready to go out.

Interesting Stat: 14 Games

The Lakers only have 14 games, including tonight's tilt with the Suns, before the playoffs start. If they are a Top 8 team in the West at that time, then the Suns are drafting with their pick and Miami's pick. Getting this win to help the reeling Utah Jazz would give them .5 games back on the Lakers, who they have the tie-breaker with based on the in season match-ups.

Meaningless Stat: Lakers Offense

With Bryant: 102.3 PPG 22 APG 94.7 Pace 1.06 PPP (52.2% Winning Percentage)

Without Bryant: 113 PPG 28 APG 92.7 Pace 1.32 PPP (100% Winning Percentage)

That is a one game sample without Bryant this season by the way. You are welcome.

Phoenix Suns 99, Los Angeles Lakers 76  The last time Steve Nash played in a Suns’ uniform at US Airways Center, the crowd chanted “We Want Steve.” Tonight, that same crowd might be...

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As a professional basketball team you cannot make everyone happy, but this past week the Phoenix Suns (22-45) made a portion of their audience very happy. In doing that they went 0-4 losing games by wide margins and inching themselves lower and lower down the standings, and up the lottery board.

Game Recaps

vs. Denver Nuggets - L (93-108)

@ Houston Rockets - L (81-111)

@ Atlanta Hawks - L (94-107) 93.25-113.25

@ Washington Wizards L (105-127) 373-453

Like we talked about in the Podcast, Jim and I, the Suns had the potential of dropping all four of these games, but with the way they have been playing they could win one. They hit the road after a route served to them by the Nuggets, but then they seemingly lost their offense with customs.

It is always tough to pinpoint the win in a week against three future playoff teams and one destined for the lottery, this week the Suns didn't have that "one game." Normally they find that one game to win one game in a week, but they do have now five losing streaks of at least 4+ games on the season.

Key Stats

Scoring In General

Nobody on the Suns roster averages more than 14.1 points per game and this week was another example of why. There was zero consistency on the offensive end with three different players leading the team in scoring in the four game window.

Of the 16 players that have suited up for the Suns on the season, for at least one game, 13 of them have led the team in scoring. Is that parity or parody?

Leading Scorers By Game
Goran Dragic 14
Luis Scola 11
Shannon Brown 10
Marcin Gortat 10
Michael Beasley 10
Jared Dudley 8
Markieff Morris 5
Wesley Johnson 3
Sebastian Telfair 1
Jermaine O'Neal 1
Marcus Morris 1
P.J. Tucker 1
Kendall Marshall 0
Diante Garrett 0
Hamed Haddadi 0
Luke Zeller 0

The chart above shows that the there has been some parity in the teams scoring as evident by the fact that 13 different people having led the team in scoring. Winning teams do not have that same parity, they have players that go out there and display consistency scoring the ball, but the Suns have a parody of that.

The Highs

Jermaine O'Neal rejoined the team after being bedside at a hospital in Boston taking care of his daughter who had to unfortunately have heart surgery. He arrived back in the valley a few days before the team hosted the Nuggets, but sat that game out to get back in shape, both physically and mentally. Having a healthy daughter and basketball as a home remedy to get back to reality was just what the doctor ordered for the Suns defensive enforcer.

The Lows

As Seth detailed here, the margins on the season for the Suns have been erratic and unacceptable at best. The team has been losing games by a wide margin and winning games in battles. This week they played four games and were outscored by an average of 20.0 points. It was not pretty.

Grades

A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

  • A- for Goran Dragic: Against four quality point guards this week The Dragon was out-played overall by the law firm of Lawson-Lin-Harris-&-Wall.
  • D+ for Wesley Johnson: He started off the week on fire leading the team in scoring getting points inside the three-point line and pacing the offense, but was a non-factor in the last two games.
  • C+ for Marcus Morris: In his first eight games on the team Marcus was getting 9.3 PPG 3.5 RPG on 50% shooting (52.9% from three), but has seemingly regressed in the last four at 6.25 PPG 1.5 RPG on 47% shooting (42.8% from three).

Player of the Week:

Jared Dudley - 10.5 PPG 2.5 RPG 2.25 APG 47% FG (42.4% 3PT)

Moving to the bench was nothing new for Dudley as he has been in-and-out of the starting line-up all season. Since moving back to the bench he has been one of the teams more consistent contributors averaging 12.5 PPG 2.5 RPG 2.7 APG on 53.7% shooting in six games. Four of those games were this week as Duds paced the offense off the bench. There really isn't a "Player of the Week" when you go 0-4, but Dudley was not part of the reason the team was losing games. He was a bright spot.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, March 11th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (36-32)

Wednesday, March 13th vs. Washington Wizards (23-42)

Friday, March 15th vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-41)

Saturday, March 16th vs. Brooklyn Nets (38-28)

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