At the U.S. Airways Center, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash got the welcome back he deserved from the franchise he played 10 combined seasons for, the Phoenix Suns. Everything was right—the warm greetings from the fans during player introductions and a rousing ovation after a video montage during a first quarter timeout—it was the 92-86 loss that was all wrong.
The Lakers fell to 20-26 and remain four spots out of the eighth playoff seed in the Western Conference. They snapped a three-game winning streak and endured their eighth straight loss on the road.
Los Angeles held a comfortable 13-point lead before Phoenix rallied with 10 minutes remaining in the final quarter. Suns forward Michael Beasley came off the bench and exploded for 27 points, six rebounds and five steals.
“Tonight was a big setback for us,” said Nash following the loss. “We were in control of the game and couldn’t close it out.”
It seems Nash may have been distracted by the pomp and circumstance of his homecoming. The 38-year-old could only muster 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including a subpar 1-of-4 from the three-point line.
Phoenix fans were probably not accustomed to seeing Nash play off the ball so much and resorting to spot-up shooting. They probably thought they were seeing holographic image projections of former Suns guard Jeff Hornacek—not the two-time Most Valuable Player who masterfully orchestrated Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun offense.
You would think the familiarity of the U.S. Airways Center would work in his favor, but his performance proved otherwise. The Lakers were coming off a 111-106 win over the New Orleans Hornets the previous night and the physical grind of a back-to-back appeared to be their demise, especially in the fourth quarter.
“We seemed to be kind of a step behind,” said Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. “We seemed to be a little sloppy, a little lackadaisical.”
Bryant continued tapping his inner Earvin “Magic” Johnson by dishing off nine assists to go with 17 points and five rebounds. Center Dwight Howard had nine point and 14 rebounds, but had to leave at the 6:57 mark of the fourth quarter after re-aggravating his right torn labrum.
Howard’s exit left a gaping hole in the post, and the Suns smelled blood. They attacked the basket, outscoring the Lakers 42-38 in the paint and 15-9 in fast break points.
Furthermore, some recurring bugaboos haunted the Lakers. They committed 19 turnovers and had only 19 assists, a far cry from the 34 they had against New Orleans.
“I thought we had some open shots and didn’t knock them down,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni. ”We missed some foul shots, we had six or seven turnovers in the fourth quarter. Turnovers all night killed us.”
The Lakers begin their seven-game road trip with a loss, but get an opportunity to break their eight-game road skid against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.