Lakers 76, Suns 99: March 18 Running Diary

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix SunsBelow is a running diary of L.A.’s Monday evening contest at Phoenix, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Suns: G. Dragic, W. Johnson, P. Tucker, M. Morris, J. O’Neal

FIRST QUARTER
Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns4:00 Despite missing a series of shots at the rim, Dwight Howard was dominating the Suns physically, allowing an early 7-point lead behind his 11 points and six boards in the first period, continuing his excellent play of late.

0:00 The quarter didn’t close quite as well, but a finger roll with three seconds left from Steve Blake put the Lakers up 25-21 after 12 minutes. Steve Nash did some damage against his former team, making 4 of 7 shots for 10 points.

SECOND QUARTER
6:45 Playing with supreme confidence, Blake hit consecutive shots to reach eight points with his game-high four assists, but his teammates were looking collectively ragged on this 14th back-to-back of the season. L.A. had yet to win both games in a B2B all season, going 0-4 on such home/road B2B’s, and would need to play better to turn that around.

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns0:00 A poor second quarter concluded with the Suns claiming a 47-44 lead into halftime, outscoring L.A. 26-19 in the period, as the visitors managed only 1 of 11 three-pointers to allow the Suns to crash in on Howard, who converted just 4 of 14 attempts. The energy wasn’t terrible on this back to back, but it wasn’t great, and the second half promised to be more difficult.

THIRD QUARTER
3:20 The Lakers were in trouble, down 69-58 after a 7-0 Suns run eventually snapped by two Nash (16 points) free throws, only to counter with a wide-open J from Jared Dudley, going right back up 11. Most of the Lakers were struggling, particularly Earl Clark (1 for 4 FG’s, two turnovers, plenty of missed rotations on defense) and Antawn Jamison, who’d yet to score in 15 minutes. He took only two shots, not able to get himself involved, after averaging 22 points on nearly 60 percent shooting in his last two games.

0:00 On cue, Jamison drained his first shot of the game, a corner three that piggy-backed Blake’s triple, capping a quick 6-0 run that trimmed what had grown to an 11-point lead to 71-66 after three quarters. Despite some sluggish play, the Lakers were within striking distance heading into the final 12 minutes.

FOURTH QUARTER
Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns8:57 Phoenix used a quick 4-0 run to push its lead right back to 10, though a previously-struggling Clark managed to hit a long two immediately out of a time out, L.A. hoping to steal this game as the Suns did on January 30, coming from 13 down in the fourth to beat the Lakers at the start of the Grammy trip.

3:30 The final dagger came on a pull-up three to beat the shot clock from Scola on a busted play. The Argentinean exploded for all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, mostly by dragging Howard out to 18 feet and shooting jumpers. Meanwhile, he played Howard extremely physically on the other end, mostly fronting him and using the can’t-call-a-foul-on-every-play tactic, as Phoenix continued to build a big lead. The Lakers scored only 10 points in the period for a season-low of 76 in the game, while the Suns went off for 28. Playing six games in nine nights caught up to a Lakers team missing both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, though the reward is having just one game in the next six nights, vs. Washington on Friday. We’ll see you there.