Phoenix is doing all it can to make sure a Suns-Lakers postseason sequel makes its Hollywood premier at the end of the month. But the Lakers have to play their part as well. They have to get to the playoffs and finish seventh in the West. The prospects for both took another hit Friday as the Suns won an unsightly, 93-85 slugfest at US Airways Center.
And if Kobe Bryant and Co. don’t get going soon, they might be on the wrong side of the velvet ropes next week.
The Suns won their 60th game — the third time that’s been accomplished in franchise history — despite shooting a season-worst 38 percent and missing 18 of 25 3-pointers. And they did it in a game that featured lots of physical contact but only 29 fouls.
But the Lakers didn’t shoot any better (39 percent), and Kobe Bryant made only three baskets after the first quarter, finishing with 17 points during a rough 7-for-24 outing as Raja Bell once again kept his nemesis under wraps with the help of quick and purposeful double teams coming from every direction.
The Suns still need two wins in their final three games to close out San Antonio, which beat Minnesota Friday, to claim the No. 2 seed in the West. The Spurs visit Dallas Sunday.
“I’m just tickled that we shot like that and still won the game,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Raja Bell … I don’t know how you can play better defense than what he did.
“We’ve got 60 wins, but that’s not enough. We need two more.”
So do the Lakers. Now at .500 for the first time all year, the Lakers (40-40) lost for the eighth time in their past 10 games. Since the All-Star break, only Memphis and Minnesota have worse records (14-27). The Lakers’ lead over Golden State and the L.A. Clippers, who both won Friday, shrank to a half-game with three left, although they do own the tiebreaker against each team.
Steve Nash appeared at times to be the only player who could shoot for either team, and his 26 points and 14 assists were sorely needed on a night when Amaré Stoudemire (4-for-16), Leandro Barbosa (3-for-10) and James Jones (0-for-6) couldn’t buy a basket.
The Suns made their big run midway through the third quarter, scoring 13 straight points and stretching a three-point lead to 72-56. The run was capped by a great hustle play from Boris Diaw, who made a diving save of one loose ball before finishing the possession with an offensive rebound and putback that brought back visions of the Diaw that helped key last year’s rally from a 3-1 playoff deficit to the Lakers.
But the Lakers didn’t quit, scoring the next seven points and opening the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run while Bryant was on the bench. But when Bryant, who was 3-for-15 after the first quarter, came back, so did the Lakers’ shooting woes, and Nash and Stoudemire combined for 11 Suns points down the stretch.
“They did a great job of collapsing and closing down my lanes,” Bryant said. “We gave it an effort, we just didn’t get over the hump.
“We’ve been a pretty good do-or-die team all year. We don’t have much of a choice now; our backs are against the wall, and we need to come out and play well.”
Shawn Marion had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix and did a good defensive job on Lamar Odom (16 points, 13 rebounds), playing him to a draw. And when Bryant and Odom are off, the Lakers rarely survive.
“You have to be careful; (Kobe) can get 70 at any moment, Raja made him make shots, and he wasn’t making them tonight,” D’Antoni said. “Sometimes he does and there’s nothing you can do. But we didn’t put him on the foul line (2-for-2).
Big talk, little return
A day after Stoudemire was quoted saying he felt the Suns would take care of the Lakers “pretty quick” — and then repeated it in a postgame interview with ESPN — D’Antoni tried to laugh off the bulletin-board banter.
“I just hope he can back it up; he’s the one who has to go face them,” D’Antoni said. “I’m sitting over (on the bench), they’re not coming after me. But Amaré knows whether it’s (the Lakers) or anyone else in the playoffs, it’s going to be hard.”
Way, way ahead
After winning Friday, the Suns have a 20 1/2-game lead over the Lakers with three games left and have a chance to break the NBA record for the largest margin by a division champ. The 1985-86 Lakers won the Pacific by 22 games over Portland before going on to win the title. Only three teams have ever won a division by at least 20 games — the Lakers of 1985-86 and 1984-85 (20 games over Portland), and the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96 (20 games over Indiana).
Suns at Jazz
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
TV: KUTP (Ch. 45)
Radio: KTAR (620 AM)
Suns at Jazz
Series history: The Suns lead the overall series 75-65 but could be swept by the Jazz for only the second time in franchise history (1999-2000). Utah is the only team to beat the Suns three times this year — owning nearly one-sixth of Phoenix’s losses. Utah has won the three games by a total of 10 points. The Jazz won 108-104 on Nov. 3, getting 17 points and 14 rebounds from Andrei Kirilenko and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Carlos Boozer. The Jazz also took a 120-117 overtime win in Utah on Nov. 18, with Deron Williams producing 25 points and 14 assists. Leandro Barbosa (15 points, 11 assists) missed a layup that could have won the game in regulation. Steve Nash didn’t play due to back spasms. Utah won again 108-105 in Phoenix on Feb. 3 with Mehmet Okur scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half, including a game-winning 19-footer with five seconds left. Amaré Stoudemire had 28 points for Phoenix, who played without Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas.
Scouting report: Jazz — Utah is limping to the finish line. Since clinching the Northwest Division title, the Jazz have lost six of eight games. The skid could cost the Jazz home-court advantage in a locked-in, first-round playoff matchup with Houston. The Jazz and Rockets end the season facing each other, but the Jazz need wins to make that game meaningful. Kirilenko (thumb) has missed the last four games. Carlos Boozer leads the team in scoring (20.9) and rebounding (11.8) while Williams ranks second to Nash in the NBA with 9.5 assists.