Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Phoenix at L.A. Lakers
by Matt Severance - 02/26/2009
Tonight's Suns-Lakers game, which could easily be a first-round playoff preview, will lose some luster and could be a blowout if Phoenix point guard Steve Nash is out.
Nash suffered an ankle injury in Tuesday night's home win over Charlotte and is being called a game-time decision. Phoenix is currently a 9.5-point underdog, with the line having risen about a half-point since its open.
"Obviously we're not going to push it if he's not feeling good," interim Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said to reporters.
Nash did do some shooting at a workout Wednesday, and his status will be determined at Thursday's shootaround. Remember also that Amare Stoudemire is out for the season for the Suns; Phoenix is 2-1 ATS without Stoudemire this season and 1-3 ATS without Nash. Guard Jason Richardson had someone land on his ankle in Tuesday's game but is expected to play tonight.
Phoenix is 4-1 since Gentry took over for Terry Porter (and 4-1 ATS), with that lone loss coming against the Celtics in the Suns' first true test without Stoudemire. And the Suns haven't really proven they can beat the West's best teams even when fully healthy, as they are 2-6 against the top four teams in the Western Conference.
The top team in the West is definitely the Lakers, and they are 10-1 in February and have won five straight - seemingly not missing Andrew Bynum much yet. Lamar Odom has been a beast in Bynum's absence and has posted a double-double in six of his last eight games, although he was rather quiet Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Coach Phil Jackson was critical this week of the team's defense of late, especially after allowing 108 points to the Al Jefferson-less Timberwolves on Sunday. The Lakers rank just 18th in the league in points allowed (100.6). The Suns are averaging 106.5 points per game, third-best in the NBA, and are averaging 128.4 points and shooting 56.7 percent from the field since Gentry took over.
"The depth of the season and the pressure that the amount of games puts on you, sometimes your defense becomes lax, and we just knew that we could outscore everybody," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. "That's a complacency that you don't want to get caught in."
Kobe Bryant tweaked his ankle in Tuesday's win over the Thunder, but he's fine to play tonight. Bryant is averaging 33.3 points in the past four games.
The Lakers have owned Phoenix this year, but that was before the fast-break Suns returned. Los Angeles won 115-110 as a 13.5-point home favorite Dec. 10 when Phoenix didn't have Shaq (death in the family) or recently traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell - thus just eight available players. Prior to that, the Lakers beat the Suns in Phoenix 105-92 as 4.5-point favorites. Los Angeles has won five of the past six in the series.
Jackson added that he would make a game-time decision tonight of his own - whether to go with a smaller lineup to match up the super-fast Suns on offense or keep the usual lineup and use superior size to make Phoenix pay on defense. No doubt Nash's availability will play a role in that decision as well as any late line movement.
The Lakers are just 14-16 ATS at home this season, but Phoenix hates Thursday games, going 0-6 ATS in the past six that night.