The Phoenix Suns didn't embarrass themselves in the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and that could be seen as a sign of progress. Unfortunately, it really doesn't matter as it's still just another loss in the loss column for the now 14-19 Suns. Progress mixed with disappointment was the post game mood of the Suns.
"Once again, I thought we played well. We have nothing tangible to show for it, but I think over the long haul it's going to help us. I'm disappointed in the loss, but encouraged about what I see for our team and what's going on," Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Suns got down by 12 points in the first quarter, but battled back with a strong defensive performance in the second quarter, holding the Lakers to just 18 points on 7-19 shooing (36.8 percent). That allowed the Suns to take a one-point lead into the locker room.
"It was good to be up," Grant Hill said about the Suns mood at the half. "We talked about, we knew they were going to come out and obviously Kobe (Bryant) came out and was super aggressive."
Bryant scored 12 of his 24 points in the third quarter, which gave the Lakers the lead they needed.
The 31 points the Suns gave up in the third quarter put the team in too big of a hole to dig out of. The bench has shown signs of improvement of late and they basically played the Lakers to a draw in the first six minutes of the fourth, but that 31-23 third quarter left too much of a margin for the Suns to make up late.
Ultimately, Phoenix was able to cut the lead to within one with just over two minutes to go but the rebounding killed the Suns in the final stretch. The Lakers got three offensive rebounds and five second-chance points to fuel their 7-4 game-winning run. The defending NBA Champions finished the game with a 47-31 advantage on the glass and were 14-5 in offensive boards.
"You can bring here Dwight Howard -- I don't care who you want to bring, you can bring Bill Russell -- if five guys aren't going to box out and five guys aren't going to put a body on the other player then we're always going to lose rebounding ... That situation sometimes that people reaching over the top, over our heads and we don't do anything about it, so we've just got to play tougher, that's all," Suns center Marcin Gortat said.
He was likely talking about Robin Lopez, who had a miserable game with just one rebound and two points in 12 minutes of play. Early in the game, Lopez twice allowed Andrew Bynum to rebound the ball over the top of him despite having good inside position.
The Suns started Lopez and Gortat together for the first time and, for the most part, it worked well. It would work a lot better if Lopez was playing better. Gortat finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds and showed very impressive individual defense against Pau Gasol. Gasol was held to just six points on 3-10 shooting.
Overall, the team is trying to remain positive and look for signs of progress. They have no choice but to stay confident and hope that, at some point, they will start seeing the results. In the meantime, they are now five games under .500 and in 11th place in the West. They can't afford to let that hole get much larger if they want to reach the playoffs this season, which Gentry said was the team's goal.