The Lakers started bringing back their starters with about six minutes left in Sunday’s game, when Luke Walton and Lamar Odom got up from the bench and headed to the scorer’s table. Sasha Vujacic, Smush Parker and Andrew Bynum soon followed.
How much the Lakers can take away from their 94-91 victory over Phoenix is hard to say because the Suns refused to follow suit down the stretch. They kept Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and the rest of their starters off the floor and nearly forced overtime before Jumaine Jones missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis wanted to give some of his players extended minutes – - Odom played 33:42 while J.R. Pinnock didn’t play at all – - and get the Lakers a taste of victory against the Suns. That’s no small thing with the teams playing again in nine days on opening night. They could play as many as 11 times this season, including a seven-game playoff series.
“I thought it was important for us to start seeing guys want to have the will to win,” Rambis said.
There were a ton of miscues, though, some that showed up in the final box score and some that didn’t. The Lakers went down 87-82 with 3 1-2 minutes left after Walton was called for an offensive foul and Odom was hit with a technical for arguing the call.
Not a smart play late in the game. Odom then compounded his mistake by fouling Jones on a 3-point shot. Jones hit two of three free throws to put the Suns ahead by 5.
Give credit to Vujacic for following up a miss by Walton and scoring while being fouled with 1:32 left. Vujacic couldn’t convert the three-point play but his hustle was rewarded on the game’s second biggest play.
Walton then hit a 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds remaining that put the game out of reach. The Lakers turned over the ball 32 times but survived by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 26 second-chance points. They also probably won’t see the Suns miss 19 of 23 3-pointers again this season.
The Lakers best stretch came at the end of the first quarter, which they ended on a 7-0 run. Odom swept to the basket with a nice drive, Jordan Farmar fired a pass to Walton for a 3-pointer and Walton knocked down a fadeaway as the Lakers held for the last shot.
In the meantime, Rambis has some work to do in raising the Lakers basketball IQ when it comes to playing the Suns.
“They’re small, we’re bigger than they are, and we’re taking outside shots, which is playing right into their hands,” Rambis said. “Once our guys got the feel of attacking them and getting the ball inside, those type of things really helped them.”
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A Spanish language television station asked Kobe Bryant after the game about his thoughts on Shaquille O’Neal winning a championship with the Miami Heat.
“We just try to do what we do here,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t matter who wins the championship. We have to focus on what we can do and how to play better together and try to get to that point ourselves.”
Bryant was asked how realistic it is for him to play in Thursday’s preseason finale.
“I don’t know,” Bryant said. “We’re just going to take it day by day and go from there.”
Bryant offered advice to his teammates – - particularly Maurice Evans, Bynum and Farmar – - during timeouts and throughout the game Sunday.
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There was a funny moment in the second quarter as the Lakers coaches were encouraging Bynum to run the floor and keep building on the great half he was having. Bynum tried to throw his weight around and wound up decking Marion for an offensive foul.
It was a case of being overly excited. During the next timeout, though, Kwame Brown came up to Bynum and said, “I like it.” Brown probably was happy just to see Bynum going hard after somebody other than himself. Brown is out three to four weeks with a shoulder injury thanks to a play that involved Bynum in practice.