When facing Kobe Bryant, the best defense against the NBA’s leading scorer is a good offense. “All we have to do is just keep scoring,” Suns guard James Jones said before the game. “Whatever Kobe’s doing, we just have to keep doing our thing. If he gets 35 or if he gets 40, it won’t matter if we keep scoring. We’ll win.”
True enough. Bryant got his 37 points, but had to take 33 shots as Raja Bell and Shawn Marion did a masterful job turning down the screws on the Lakers’ weary one-trick pony. Meanwhile, the Suns dispatched all their horses on offense, stayed safely out of rally distance in the second half and pulled away at the end for an impressive 106-93 win at US Airways Center.
Five Suns scored between 12 and 22 points, with Marion’s 22 points and 16 rebounds — his 30th double-double of the season — leading the way. Eddie House had 19 points in 24 minutes, including a 12-point explosion in less than three minutes early in the second quarter as part of a 22-4 Phoenix run that turned an eight-point Lakers lead (31-23) into a eight-point Suns lead (47-39).
“Our game plan was to try to contain everyone else and hope that what Kobe ended up with wouldn’t beat all 12 of our guys combined,” said Bell, who “held” Bryant to 39 points in a 122-112 Suns win on Nov. 3 in L.A., when the strategy worked again. “He’s a guy who will continue to push the issue, and when he gets on a roll, you just have to hold on.”
Bryant, looking tired at some junctures and just plain frustrated at others, had eight points in the first quarter and 17 of his game-high 37 — three above his average — in the fourth. But in between, he missed 13 of 15 shots, picked up four fouls and a technical after arguing an offensive foul when he plowed into Bell. Bell finished with 18 points and was outscoring Bryant (16-14) late in the third quarter.
Bryant gave little credit to Bell or the other Suns defenders (”Oh, come on. You’ve got to be kidding me, man.”) saying it was just an off-shooting night in the second game in as many nights. Bryant had 51 in an overtime loss at Sacramento Thursday.
“I had good looks, but missed them. It’s a simple as that,” he said. “Some nights I’m on fire and other nights I have nights like tonight when the shots just aren’t going.
“Phoenix just had more shooters, and they caught a good rhythm in the third quarter.”
And when Bryant finally heated up in the fourth, the Suns shot 65 percent from the field — and just kept scoring.
Steve Nash had 17 points and 12 assists for the Suns, who have now beaten the Lakers in six straight games for the first time in the 38-year history of the rivalry. Phoenix is a perfect 6-0 at home this month and is averaging a 13-point margin of victory over the likes of Philadelphia, Miami, San Antonio, Golden State, Cleveland and now the Lakers.
It also completed a 3-1 run through the Pacific Division over the last nine days, with wins over the top three contenders — the Clippers, Lakers and Warriors — that has produced a 4 1 /2 game lead.
Lamar Odom had 17 points for Los Angeles, while Smush Parker had 12 and Chris Mihm added 10.
NASH A SHOO-IN
With only two days left in the All-Star voting, Nash (1,515,474) is all but assured of being a starting guard for the Western Conference along with Bryant (1,891,204). Nash has an almost 800,000-vote lead over San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili (722,754). Marion is ninth among forwards (217,157) and will need to be selected as a reserve.
Nash would be the ninth player in Suns history to be selected as an All-Star starter, joining Connie Hawkins (1970, ’71), Paul Westphal (1977, ’78, ’79), Walter Davis (1981), Maurice Lucas (1983), Kevin Johnson (1991), Charles Barkley (1993, ’94, ’95, ’96), Dan Majerle (1995) and Jason Kidd (2001).
Marion reached 30 doubledoubles on Friday for the sixth straight year. He has more doubledoubles than the entire Lakers team (26) this season. . . .
Bryant came up short in his bid to become the fourth player to score 40 against the Suns within the last month, joining Gilbert Arenas (Dec. 22), Carmelo Anthony (43 on Jan. 10) and LeBron James (46 on Jan. 14).