PHOENIX – Just when it appeared they could give Kobe Bryant some peace of mind as he heals from a sprained left ankle, the Lakers allowed other problems to emerge.
The Lakers’ 99-76 loss Monday to the Phoenix Suns marked both a season-low in total offense and a lost opportunity to move ahead in the playoff race. The Lakers (36-33) have a one-game cushion over the Utah Jazz (34-33) for the eighth playoff spot, but that’s only because Utah lost Monday to New York.
The Lakers didn’t just miss Bryant because of his obvious skillset. With his absence and the Lakers playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni highlighted the team’s fatigue issues three separate time afterwads. Yet, he remained adamant about sticking to a seven-man rotation.
“I just wasn’t ready to grasp at straws,” D’Antoni said. “After it’s over with yeah, you can tell me it’s that way. But if we come back and win? I don’t know at that point.”
The Lakers have three days between games to rest those legs before playing Friday against Washington. D’Antoni also said Bryant will “probably” play then because the extra time that affords him to recover from his sprained left ankle that’s kept him sidelined for the past two games.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who has missed 20 games with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, will receive an ultrasound Tuesday to give him better clarity whether he can return against Washington, too.
Bryant and Gasol joined the team on the bench in the second half. The Lakers missed them.
Steve Nash epitomized the Lakers’ physically battered image when he suffered a blood gash near his left eye after a third-quarter collision with Suns forward PJ Tucker. The Lakers’ play itself exemplified it too.
Dwight Howard’s 16-point performance seemed bizarre. His 6 of 18 mark from the field featured him going only three of 12 inthe paint. But Howard hit two mid-range jumpers. Howard made four of five free throw attempts, yet missed two open dunks. He also committed four turnovers.
“We tried to give it our all,” Howard said. “If we don’t have it, we trust that somebody else will. Everybody stepped on the floor tonight came out with the right mentality. But we didn’t knock down shots.”
The Lakers’ shooting accuracy remained non-existent for everyone ranging from Antawn Jamison (three points on 1 of 6 shooting), Metta World Peace (12 points on 5 of 17 shooting) and Nash (19 points on 6 of 17 shooting). Earl Clark’s listless four point effort couple with two turnovers coincided on what may mark his last Lakers start before Gasol returns. Steve Blake’s 13 point effort on 6 of 11 shooting marked the lone player to shoot above 50 percent.
“You could see the wheels fall off,” Nash said. “Especially lately with guys injured, we’ve been playing a 7 man rotation. That caught up with us a little bit. “
As a result, the Suns closed out the game with a 26-6 run. The Lakers couldn’t overcome their 17 turnovers, their rebounding woes (37-29) or Phoenix’s fast-break points (16).
“You have to fight through it,” D’Antoni said. “You have to gut it out. You have to do with smarts. We didn’t have that either.”
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