The 1989-90 season saw the Lakers finish with the league's best record at 63-19. Pat Riley won coach of the year. Magic was the MVP. The Lakers entered the playoffs prepared to avenge a Finals sweep at the hands of the Pistons the previous year. After dispatching the Rockets in the first round, the next speed bump was the Phoenix Suns. This was a Phoenix Suns team the Lakers had dominated in six prior playoff series. A Phoenix Suns team that had routinely played the role of punching bag for the Showtime Lakers. A Phoenix Suns team the Lakers had swept out of the Western Conference Finals the preceding season. Then something completely unexpected happened. This wasn't the same Phoenix Suns.
That was when the rivalry started for me. The Suns dismantled the Lakers four games to one in that 1990 Western Conference Semifinal series, winning twice on LA's home court and twice by double digits at home. It is considered by some as one of the biggest upsets in NBA postseason history. That season was also the only time the underdog won in a playoff matchup between the teams. In the other 11 meetings the higher seeded team has always advanced. Including that series, the Suns have won four of the last six playoff series against the Lakers. Entering that series Los Angeles held a 23-6 record in postseason play against the Suns. Since then the Suns hold an 18-15 edge. For two+ decades the Suns hold the postseason head to head advantage.
Do the fans of the Lakers consider the Suns a rival? Possibly not. It's conceivable (maybe likely) that they are so self-absorbed and bursting with hubris that the Suns (with the fourth highest winning percentage in league history) aren't worthy of their consideration. The Lakers do have a special place in the pantheon of NBA basketball. They have been one of the most successful, entertaining, widely followed, and yes, hated, franchises in the league. Other teams share Phoenix's contempt for Los Angeles. It's not exactly a short line. The Suns and Lakers, however, seem to have a more inimical relationship based on the frequency of their reunions. After all, familliarity breeds contempt.
In the case of the Suns and the Lakers there's an abundance of hostility to go around.
I have come up with a set of criteria to define a rivalry which I think are apt guidelines for qualification.
1. Geography - The Lakers and Suns are both in the Pacific Division. California and Arizona are bordering states. In the last nine years only the Lakers (six) and Suns (three) have won the division title.
2. Frequency - The Suns have played the Lakers more times (283) than any other team. The Suns and Lakers have met in the playoffs six times since 1990. Including regular season and playoff games, the Lakers and Suns both have played more games against the other than any other teams since 1990.
3. History - Many of the playoff series have been memorable. 1990 was considered one of the biggest upsets in league history. The Suns 1993 comeback was highlighted by Westphal's prophecy. The 2006 series included a Raja Bell clothesline, a Tim Thomas three, and a Kobe Bryant capitulation. 2010 was highlighted by a devastating game winning tip by Ron Artest. Even regular season games have been contentious between the two teams.
4. Competitiveness - The Suns are 4-2 in six playoff series against the Lakers since 1990. Those four postseason series losses are the most by the Lakers against any team over that period. The Lakers have played the Spurs and Trailblazers in the playoffs more times over this period (seven each), but are 4-3 and 6-1 against them respectively. It could be argued that the Suns have had the most postseason success against the Lakers over the last 23 years. Overall, the Lakers are 62-51 against the Suns since 1990.
5. Animosity - Suns and Lakers coaches have exchanged jabs. Kobe Bryant hates the Suns. Raja Bell doesn't appear to like Kobe too much, either. There is no love lost between these teams for some time now. Suns fans detest the Lakers and abhor their fans. Lakers fans either have a mutual repugnance for Suns fans or disregard them completely as inferior - which makes Suns fans detest them even more. The vitriol has reached a level that many fans view the once cherished Steve Nash with disdain for his apostasy.
Los Angeles may be a Goliath of the NBA and Phoenix may be a David, but that hasn't prevented the Suns from knocking the supercilious Lakers off their pedestal on occasion. So stay arrogant Los Angeles. We'll remember that come playoff time when we're ready to bust you again. Does it sound like I've been trying to justify this as a rivalry? Good. Even more incentive for the Suns to kick the Lakers next time they're down.
The following is a list of playoff series and events that have stoked this rivalry since the Suns stunning upset in 1990.
Tale of the tape: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers
All time regular season wins – Suns 91, Lakers 130.
All time playoffs wins – Suns 24, Lakers 38.
Suns have won 4 of last 6 playoff series, but are 4-8 overall.
The Suns have played more games against the Lakers (283) than any other team.
1993 First Round - Paul Westphal's prediction after game 2 loss. "I'll tell you what's going to happen," said Suns coach Paul Westphal following the Game 2 collapse. "We're going to go over to L.A. and win two games, and then we'll come back home and win Game 5, and everybody will say what a great series it was."
2000 Western Conference Semifinals - Suns stultified by Lakers as LA moves on to win championship.
2007 First Round - Suns dispatch Lakers for second consecutive season.
2010 Western Conference Finals - Ron Artest tips in game winner. Lakers win championship. Again.
The top remaining free agent rotation player happens to be a former Phoenix Sun with a loyal, never-let-go following. Leandro Barbosa is still unemployed in mid-September, so that means its about time just to take whatever contract is offered.
Barbosa had a great Olympics for Brazil last month as the 8th leading scorer at 16.2 points per game (behind new Sun Luis Scola, for one), but really fizzled for Indiana in the playoffs and was not brought back. He has not really been the same player since leaving Phoenix.
Can he make a difference on a team that's deep in similarly-talented players (ie. nonstars)? Interestingly, if the Suns brought back Barbosa they would have four-fifths of the 2010 bench mob back in play (Frye, Dudley, Dragic and Barbosa). The only one missing is Louis Amundson, who incidentally is still a free agent as well.
Is it smart to bring back the second unit from 2010? Or is it time to move on?
More on Barbosa's 2012 season after the jump...
The good, from his player review at pacers.com:
(After the trade to acquire him in February, h)is impact was immediate and profound. The Pacers were 25-18 when he made his debut against the Clippers on March 20, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes to give the team a glimpse of his ability. They went 17-5 in his 22 regular-season appearances, including an 8-0 mark when he scored in double figures.
Barbosa averaged 8.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists, shooting .399 overall (an uncharacteristically low number for a player with a .461 career mark) and .424 from the 3-point line (a little higher than his career figure of .391).
Once the playoffs began, Barbosa slipped into a mysterious shooting funk. A sprained left ankle late in the season bothered him early in the Orlando series but when the ankle recovered, the shot did not. Barbosa scored in double figures just once in the playoffs, averaging 5.7 points in 20.3 minutes, shooting 37 percent overall and hitting just 3 of 20 (.150) from the 3-point line.
Against Miami, Barbosa shot 14 of 44 overall (.318) and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
The second unit struggled so obviously against a thin Miami opponent it prompted team President Larry Bird to single out the bench as the team's biggest weakness in his postseason press briefing.
And then our sister site - www.indycornrows.com - did their own review of Barbosa.
Barbosa was a rental who came up short when the Pacers needed him most. It's not unfair to weigh him on those standards when considering what his future may be in Indianapolis. It just seems unlikely given Barbosa's struggles in the postseason that he'll be here next season. Why the Pacers would use a roster spot and valuable cap space on a guy who likely won't bring them any more than he already did wouldn't make sense for them.
There you go. Do we want him?
In a shocking upset, the Phoenix Suns 3-on-3 team has advanced to the second round of SB Nation's NBA 3on3 Tournament by knocking off the No. 6 seed Denver Nuggets
In our preview I wrote about how the Suns should win this match-up on the strength of their pick-and roll. However, four out of the five judges saw it differently and the Suns were given only a 34 percent chance to win any one game. Since the Nuggets were the higher seed, all numbers 66 and below belong to Denver, while a roll of 67 or higher signifies a Suns victory.
As it turns out, the pick-and-roll (of the dice) did greatly favor the Suns and Phoenix won both games to sweep the Nuggets. Make the jump to see how the games played out.
In the first game, the dice came up 83. The final (made-up) score was 25-21 in favor of the Suns. Marcin Gortat was unstoppable in the pick-and-roll and scored 18 points all by himself. Goran Dragic finished with four points and Jared Dudley hit one 3-pointer.
In the second game, the dice came up 95. This time the Suns didn't need the full ten minutes as they came out on fire and hit the 31 point cap to end the game. The Nuggets focused their defense on shutting down Gortat by switching the screen and doubling him on the roll, which freed Dragic up to make plays off the dribble and left Dudley open on the perimeter. Dragic finished with 13 points, Dudley hit four 3-pointers for 12 points and Gortat only scored six points but dominated the glass for the Suns.
Enjoy this (hypothetical) win for now, because things get much tougher really soon. The Suns' second round opponent is the MVP-studded Los Angeles Lakers trio of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Keep following along with tournament on the 3-on-3 Story Stream.