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It was an emotional game to say the very least for the Phoenix Suns as they hosted not only a divisional rival, but three former members of a team with fonder memories than the current present.

That emotion was harnessed early the Suns came out with purpose forcing turnovers and trying to spoil Steve Nash's return to U.S. Airways Center.

In the end the Suns (16-30) topped the Lakers (20-26) with the final of 92-86. Wins against the Lakers are more important than ten losses for the Suns as they get ready for the lottery.

All The Ammenities For Nash

Just before tip-off the Los Angeles Lakers set Nash up as the final announced starter that lead to a ruckus standing ovation for the former Sun. He was welcomed by his former fans as the legend he became here. From there the crowd booed here and there, but overall they were happy to see Nash again -- and were a partisan Lakers crowd.

It felt like a road game.

Midway through the third quarter the Suns put together a phenomenal "Coming Home" video package for Nash that highlighted his career from being drafted a Sun and tracking his great career here. The Suns and Nash handled his return here with class.

Third Quarter Collapse

At the half the Suns were tied with the Lakers at 41, but then gave back 10 points in the third to dig themselves another hole to climb out of. The Lakers hit four three-point shots and gave up only one turnover in the third leading to the 32 point outburst.

The Lakers scored 32 points in the third and the Suns managed just 37 in the second and third combined.

The defense wasn't the only problem for the Suns in that quarter as they shot 9-21 (1-5 from three) overall missing opportunities to score with the Lakers. They carried that deficit into the fourth quarter where they could not get the offense going, again, losing, again.

The Up-And-Down Beasley Effect

Early on Beasley was on fire from the field and causing turnovers, but they regressed back into the typical bad misses and turnovers that he has grown accustom to doing.

A positive sign came out of this as he seemed to weather a few in game storms to finish with 27 points 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Easily his best game of the season. Whether it is the confidence, the coaching, the comfort level, or the fit, Beasley has really played at a high level under new coach Lindsey Hunter.

However his clutch play down the stretch with tough buckets were the reason the Suns not only were in the game, but came out on top.

Final Thoughts

The night began as a tribute to Nash and the hope that the Lakers did not run them over. It quickly turned into a ball game as Goran Dragic (11 points 8 assists) strapped the team on his back late making plays for himself, Jared Dudley (9 points), and others to fight all the way back to a tie with 3:37 to go in the game.

***


PHOENIX — While Steve Nash’s return won’t be official until the lights finally come on, they’ve really been shining on him since he walked off the Lakers’ team...

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Here is some audio from shootaround today while you're waiting until the 8:30 (er, 8:45) start to the Suns/Lakers game.

Pretty good stuff from head coach Lindsey Hunter, C Marcin Gortat and SF Jared Dudley.

Must hear!

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Gortat-shootaround-Laker-game

Dudley-shootaround-Laker-game

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Editor's note: Jason opines on a possible explanation to the whole Suns scenario of a past six months. He has no inside knowledge of the Suns' machinations - this story is entirely of his own divinations without corroboration with any in the Suns' front office.

Sure we are all upset that the current version of our Suns team is performing less than admirably. Yeah, we don’t like how Gentry got let go and replaced by a guy with no experience over a couple of well-heeled veterans of the sidelines. We are mad about all of the questionable acquisitions. And don’t get us started about Sarver.

You could say that the trio of Sarver, Babby and Blanks have really done a number on this franchise. They ushered out two all-time greats and Suns favorites in lieu of obligating themselves to Michael Beasley.

They traded Goran Dragic, a first round pick, and essentially Aaron Brooks for… Goran Dragic [that has to be the weirdest series of events surrounding one player in NBA transaction history]??? That deserves more than three question marks, don’t you think???

They drafted the future point guard that has yet to get on the floor for more than ten minutes only twice and has played in only one quarter of the games so far.

They attempted to sign a stud shooting guard despite the fact that the other team’s GM stated unequivocally that he would castrate himself on national television without anesthesia if they did not match [OK, I am being melodramatic here, but seriously, that was like some dork walking up to a supermodel to ask her out, her sending 5 bouncers over to pummel him, yet dude still thinks there is a chance and waits for her outside in the parking lot].

But what you don’t realize is that this was their plan all along, and it is working brilliantly!

"What?" you say.

What seems a disorganized, discombobulation of a dismantling is actually a masterful master plan.

You see, the three wise men understood something none of us have been able to comprehend. They all knew that this team [as of last year] was done and that there will be several years of hardship ahead unless they do something about it. Thus, they crafted a conniving and scheming plan to hold the Suns world hostage for one million dollars. Um, wait.

You see, Nash really is not a traitor. His comments prior to the deal that had him cringing at the thought of being in a Laker jersey were honest and true. In fact, the Suns front office approached Nash with this devious plan and at first he was against it. But he realized that despite how crazy it was, it might actually work, thus securing his legacy as the Suns most treasured player in history.

The idea was for Nash to do a complete 180 and "ask" to sign with the Lakers. We would then balk at it for a while until the Lakers put up four picks, one of which would be a lottery pick in this summer’s draft. Normally, teams protect those picks from transferring in case they are in the lottery. But the Suns front office convinced the Lakers that adding Nash will catapult them into a championship, and the likelihood that the pick would be in the lottery was slim to none. Genius!

What the Lakers did not know was that Nash planned all along to tank the Lakers season so that the Suns get a lottery pick. He met with Dwight Howard and, in accordance with the plan hatched by Sarver, Babby and Blanks, decided to "injure" themselves so that the Lakers would struggle mightily. Then, it was decided that Howard would begin to complain and fight with Kobe, because, well he is Kobe. Eventually, Nash would convince Kobe to play point guard and move him to the 2. It is all working according to the plan.

Meanwhile, the front office trio of the Suns made sure that the Suns roster was filled with enough paper talent to look as though they were making moves to "improve" [mini-me quotation signs], all while knowing that their moves will only hasten the decent into the cellar and move up the lotto ladder. Yet the front office decided that keeping Gentry around might mean the team would fare better than expected, so they decided to fire Gentry and replace him with a guy that has never coached anywhere, all but assuring this team will sink faster than Mel Gibson’s career. They did get a little nervous there for a minute when Hunter produced some wins, but they hinted at playing Beasley and Brown more minutes so that they can assure losses going forward.

I cannot tell you what kind of evil genius mind it takes to come up with a plan so twisted. It makes that movie Inception look simplistic and boring. Kudos to the Suns front office and Steve Nash. Your plan is working marvelously. Soon we will have both the #1 pick, and another pick in the 12-14 range. And they keep coming in 2014 and 2015. By 2016, we will have 5-7 lottery picks on our roster and well on our way to a championship. At that point, Nash will come back to us, having accomplished his undercover mission, as a hero and we shall raise his jersey to the rafters with pride.

Now I have to go put down the mushrooms and get to work!

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Anytime two teams that combine to be 20 games under .500 meet up it brings up a big game feel. Or maybe it is anytime the Phoenix Suns (15-30) host the Los Angeles Lakers (20-25) there is a remembrance of a rivalry now buried in wet ash.

Then there is the added element of Steve Nash with his first game back in the Valley, Mike D'Antoni coaching up the resurgent Lakers, and Earl Clark playing some inspired basketball as of late. All former Suns.

In the end it will be about "Beat L.A." and "We Miss You Steve" dominating the arena sound as the Suns try to end a two game slide that coincides with the Lakers current three game winning streak. The Lakers brought over Nash this past summer, on July 4th, in return the Suns received a protected pick, that will be in the lottery, as long as the Lakers are there too.

This game is important on that level to where you want the Suns to improve their draft status, develop players, and get better by getting worse, but beating LA breaks all of those rules.

They need to give the Lakers as many losses as they can to do everything in their power to retain the pick. That is the only thing they control outside of their own record this season. Getting two lottery picks, one in the Top 5 and the other in the Top 14, is paramount in the rebuild. More assets, more opportunity to get better.

After two days off from the Texas Miss Step over the weekend the team should be focused and come in swinging for the fences with all the motivation in the world. They are on National TV (ESPN) for the second time in as many home games.

There are too many storylines on the table and this is a game created that almost seems to be created in an ESPN production meeting rather than on an NBA calendar.

(Recent) History Lesson

On the season the teams have faced each other once, a 114-102 Lakers win, that was so far back in the season that each team was just under .500 coming into the game.

Kobe dominated the scoring column with 31 points, Clark played 48 seconds, and Nash didn't even suit up due to injury. The Suns were coached by Alvin Gentry and were still starting Michael Beasley. Again, not much to take away from that game other than Kobe did what Kobe normally does.

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

Suns: 105.79 PPG (6 wins)

Lakers: 111.68 PPG (13 wins)

2010 Western Conference Semi's Lakers won 4-2 (Included in the totals above)

Head-to-Head (career)

Kobe Bryant vs. Suns: 26.8 PPG 5.0 APG 46.9 FG% (57 games)

Jared Dudley vs. Lakers: 10.1 PPG 3.9 RPG 49.2 FG% (17 games)

In a word, Bryant torches the Suns, and that is not a good thing when you are facing him four times a year minimum.

One thing that has to be said about Kobe distributing the ball more as of late. In his past three games he has dished out 39 total assists, all Lakers wins. It took Kobe nine games to get 39 assists (41 to be exact) before this stretch. Typically the Lakers are a better team when Kobe is a facilitator because he can get his literally whenever he wants. For his career he has 83 games with 10+ assists including the Playoffs. The Lakers as a team respond well to that going 57-26 in those games.

That is a seasons worth of data. The Lakers could be a 68.6% winning team if Kobe did this nightly, sort of like what Nash did here.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Steve Nash

SG - Jared Dudley v. Kobe Bryant

SF - P.J. Tucker v. Ron Artest

PF - Luis Scola v. Earl Clark

C - Marcin Gortat v. Dwight Howard

Potential Suns Inactives: Jermaine O'Neal (Irregular Heart Beat)

Potential Lakers Inactives: Jordan Hill (Hip Surgery)

Key Match-Up

Luis Scola vs. Earl Clark

Right now Clark is playing some inspired basketball including nine starts in his last ten games where he has put up some very respectable numbers, 11 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and shooting 49.5% from the field. That is sort of what the Suns thought they got when they drafted Clack 14th Overall in 2009. Three teams later and Clark has become a starter surrounded by Hall of Fame talent, which is something the Suns have to key in on.

If Scola and the rest of the team forgets about Clark he can knock down four threes like he did last night, crash the glass for a put back, or even take over the game for the first time ever in Phoenix.

Interesting Stat: 37.7

In 57 career games against the Phoenix Suns Bryant is averaging 37.7 combined points, assists, and rebounds which is his fourth highest total against any opponent. Again, not a good thing when you are also the team he faces four times a year and the 80 (including playoffs) total match-ups, sixth most of any team he has ever played.

Meaningless Stat: 1-6

The Lakers are 1-6 against the Suns specifically when Kobe goes for 10+ assists in a game. The one win? It came in the Playoffs in 2005. So there is that.

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