Below are five things to take from the Lakers’ 113-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns Tuesday at Staples Center:
1. Lakers had issues on defense. Offensive chemistry means very little if the Lakers don’t defend.The Lakers may have fielded a quicker and smaller lineup. But that didn’t stop Suns guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe b combining for 48 points on a flurry of open drives and jumpers. Nor did it stop the Morris twins from combining for 37 points. The Lakers were also outhustled on the boards, 43-33.
2. Kobe Bryant rounded into better form.. The Lakers star likely won’t give himself an F for this game. Sure, he’s far from the player that earned him fourth place on the NBA’s al-time leading scorer. But considering the eight month layoff from the Achilles injury, Bryant made huge strides from his first and second game. Against Phoenix, Bryant posted 20 points on 3 of 5 shooting, three assists and three turnovers by doing plenty of things he failed to do two days ago.
Bryant scored two of his baskets off drives to the rim, including a one-handed dunk. Bryant cut down on his ball handling miscues with both better timing and allowing Steve Blake a larger share of the point guard duties (nine points on 3 of 7 shooting with six assists). Bryant also flexed his mid-range game and free throw shooting (eight of eight from the line). Bryant has a long ways to go toward becoming the elite scorer he once was. He showed some slow reactions on defense. And his turnovers remain an issue even if it’s an improvement from the nine he posted in his debut. But all in all, a great second step in his march toward recovery.
3. Jodie Meeks continues to thrive Remember those sequences last season when watching Meeks’ drive to the basket ran well with the Benny Hill theme music? This year, Meeks has driven and made some acrobatic shots. He epitomized that in his move back to the starting lineup with a 13 point performance on 5 of 10 shooting. Even with a shaky three-point shooting night, (1 of 4), Meeks offset that with hustle and drives to the basket.
4. Pau Gasol bounced back offensively, but not defensively. His 19 points on 6 of 11 shooting reflected his chemistry with Bryant, an improved mid-range jumper and foul shooting (7 of 8). But he still struggled mightily on defense, playing a large part in the Lakers’ rebounding discrepancy (43-33) and the Suns finding open lanes to the basket.
5. Jordan Hill climbed up the frontcourt depth chart. The Lakers forward has continuously climbed the hurdles of D’Antoni’s shuffling rotation. That’s not to discredit the Lakers’ coach. He actually has done great in finding chemistry amid a roster full of castoffs. But on a night Robert Sacre went from starting center to having “DNP” status, Hill showed his value by posting 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 13 rebounds off the bench in 19 minutes.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org