The first of four meetings between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers was setting up to be something more meaningful than, say, your typical NBA regular-season game in November. It was to mark the first time point guard Steve Nash, who passed on the Suns' offer to keep him and forced a trade to the hated Lakers, faces his former team.
We all know the story by now. Nash spent the previous eight seasons in Phoenix making his way into the hearts of Suns fans with his gritty play, sharp passing and community endeavors. Then he did the unimaginable -- leaving Phoenix as a free agent was one thing, going to the rival Lakers was like twisting the dagger.
Unfortunately, the 38-year-old Nash doesn't heal as fast as he used to, and a leg injury will force him to watch some former teammates from the bench. Fans who couldn't wait to see Nash vs. Suns will have to wait until Jan. 30, 2013 against the Lakers in Phoenix.
But that isn't the only foiled reunion of Suns past and Lakers present. Former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni was this week named the Lakers' new head coach. He was introduced on Thursday, but apparently it's too soon for him to guide the Lakers since he is on crutches and pain medication for knee surgery recovery, and D'Antoni won't coach his first game until Sunday.
The Lakers have sputtered out to a 3-5 start with their wins all the Staples Center against teams that are a combined 7-18, and in the Suns they will find a team with less talent but one that refuses to give up even in the toughest of situations. Case in point -- the Suns got down 79-61 to the Chicago Bulls at home Wednesday night late in the third quarter and trailed by 14 going into the fourth. But they forced overtime, only to lose 112-106 and drop to 4-5.
The Suns could be without key reserve Markieff Morris, who landed hard on his backside during the Bulls game and is day-to-day with soreness. The Lakers might be missing Nash's backup, Steve Blake, who has an abdominal strain.
Game Time: 8:30 PM
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Arizona/ Arizona Sports 620
Projected Starting Lineups:
SG - Jared Dudley vs. Kobe Bryant
PG - Goran Dragic vs. Darius Morris or Steve Blake
SF - Michael Beasley vs. Metta World Peace
PF - Luis Scola vs. Pau Gasol
C - Marcin Gortat vs. Dwight Howard
Darius Morris vs. Goran Dragic: It appears Blake is going to miss the game, so this is a big opportunity for the Suns to test a second-year pro. Perhaps some pressure up top on defense will cause Morris to make mistakes, and some screens on offense could free up Dragic to take advantage of the youngster.
49.7, 108.6 - The Suns are allowing opponents to shoot 49.7 percent from the field and score an average of 108.6 points per game over the past seven. That means more of a defensive effort is needed throughout the entire game, and the Suns most also reverse a recent trend of getting down by big margins and having to fight back and expend energy needed to close out games.
What to Watch For:
Frontcourt Battle: Marcin Gortat was Dwight Howard's backup in Orlando and the two know each other well. Let's see how that translates into when the two are battling in the paint and posting up.
The Bench: Former Laker Shannon Brown is a force off the Suns bench, which is playing well of late. So is Sebastian Telfair, who played very well offensively and defensively in the loss to the Bulls, and coach Alvin Gentry loves P.J. Tucker, who does the dirty work on defense and rebounding. The Suns bench is deeper, but the Lakers look like they are starting to get on the same page.
For full Suns coverage head over to Bright Side of the Sun.