PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have two wishes this season. One is to make the playoffs. The other is to play somebody besides the Lakers.
Four times the Lakers and Suns have met this season, and four times the Lakers have made the Suns realize that if they aren't higher than the eighth-seeded team in the playoffs, it may be rather unpleasant for them.
The Lakers bounced the Suns once again Wednesday night with a 126-100 victory at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This one was a lot like the other three games, which the Lakers won by margins of 37, 25 and 21 points.
Sun General Manager Jerry Colangelo has come to the conclusion that since the first-seeded team is matched against the eighth-seeded team in the playoffs, it would not be an especially good idea to play the Lakers in the first round.
"We're shooting for the seventh spot," he said.
At the same time, the Lakers are just shooting, especially Mike McGee. As Pat Riley's temporary choice for replacing Byron Scott in the starting lineup, McGee scored his season high of 34 points in just 30 minutes of playing time.
McGee's point-per-minute production, not to forget his new-found ability to play defense, may earn him tenure in the Lakers' role of shooting guard. But Riley avoided saying that McGee is replacing Scott permanently.
"Right now, I'm going to stay with Mike," Riley said. "He deserves to play."
One night after their most lopsided and embarrassing defeat of the season--a 137-113 loss to Golden State--the Lakers pulled themselves together and played one of their better all-around games.
Led by McGee, the Lakers were ahead by 16 points after one quarter, by 22 after three and by 29 early in the fourth quarter on their way to a laugher.
But what has been happening to Scott is anything but funny.
Since Scott was demoted eight games ago, his game has evaporated rapidly. He shot only 2 for 8 in 19 minutes against the Suns and continued in an offensive slump that has also affected his defensive play.
In his last three games, Scott has made only 7 of 27 shots to ruin what had been a pretty good start in his role of coming off the bench. Scott averaged 22.3 points in his first three games off the bench but has scored just 31 points in his last five.
"I still want him to think 'shot' coming off the bench," Riley said.
Scott said he has a difficult time doing that.
"I'm not thinking anything, " he said. "This has never happened to me before. I can't blame anyone but myself. I just haven't responded very well."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Scott is sure to come around.
"Byron is a very consistent shooter," Abdul-Jabbar said. "All he has to do is feel good shooting, because shooting is a mental thing, too. It's also affected his defense, and a lot of it with him is anxiety."
McGee, on the other hand, has anxiety only when he isn't playing. He is doing all that Riley is asking of him and more. Even when he wasn't used much before, McGee thought there was nothing wrong with his game that couldn't be improved if Riley would just play him more.
"I've been confident all along," McGee said. "It's not up to me to make the decision whether I'll play a lot or not. I'm doing all I can do. If he wants to make a change, I wouldn't be upset or anything."
The Lakers were plenty upset about getting tagged with a 24-point loss at Oakland and also by some of the referees' decisions that they considered questionable.
So what was the difference from one night to the next?
"Well, I didn't get into foul trouble, and we didn't get any calls that were, shall we say, dubious," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Instead, it was James Edwards' turn to get into foul trouble. The Sun center played just 17 minutes and fouled out with nine minutes left. Since the Lakers were already ahead by 27 points when Edwards left, his loss hardly affected the outcome.
Abdul-Jabbar did his part to influence the game with 24 points in 29 minutes. But it was three other Lakers who got the team off to a winning start in the first quarter.
McGee had 15 points, James Worthy had 10 of his 20 points and Rambis had 4 of his game-high 11 rebounds in the opening quarter, which ended with the Lakers holding a 39-23 lead.
The Suns, coming off a 120-112 loss to the Clippers, crept back within 43-38 five minutes into the second quarter, but that was it for them. Worthy dunked, then Rambis followed a Worthy miss with a rebound basket. Michael Cooper sank a three-pointer, and the Lakers went back up by 12 points.
Cooper dropped another three-pointer, and McGee scored six points in the last two minutes to move the Lakers way out front, 69-52, by halftime.
Larry Nance and Alvan Adams tried to get the Suns going in the third quarter, but McGee scored 13 more points to put the Lakers ahead, 99-76, turning the fourth quarter into extended garbage time.
Magic Johnson, still nursing an injury to his right knee, played 28 minutes and finished with 11 assists. He also had zero turnovers, which was quite a comeback from his 11 of the previous night.
"I talked with Magic before the game," Riley said. "Because of his knee, Magic feels like he can't do everything right now. So instead of trying to do all the things he normally does, for a while he shouldn't, until he feels comfortable and solid.
"He needs to deliver the ball without being too creative. He can wait and do that when he's perfectly healthy."