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Lakers have too much for these Suns

Phoenix still plays an entertaining brand of basketball, but it looks weaker without Amare Stoudemire. Kobe Bryant is looking stronger as he continues to recover from off-season surgery.

October 29, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

Take away Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa from the Phoenix Suns, and what do you have left?

Enough to create an entertaining game against the two-time defending NBA champions, but not enough to beat them, the Lakers flying past the new-look Suns, 114-106, in a festive, frolicking game Friday at US Airways Center.

Defense was an afterthought, as is often the case when the Suns are involved, but the Lakers turned it up enough on offense to win their first road game of the season.

Pau Gasol had 21 points, Lamar Odom had 18 points and 17 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant continued to improve incrementally, finishing with 25 points and seven rebounds.

Bryant made nine of 19 shots in 34 minutes but the Lakers had their priorities Friday, two of them spelled out on the whiteboard before the game: "Pound them inside! Hit both boards!"

They didn't exactly do either, hoisting 27 three-point shots and outrebounding the Suns by a slim 46-43 margin, but they rode the efficient work of Gasol, Odom and also Bryant, who showed a little more lift, a little more burst and a little more reason to think his full recovery from off-season knee surgery was getting closer by the game.

"He was in cruise control, just played at the level of the game, did a really nice job," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "Defensively, I think he's starting to come [around] a little bit. I'm watching that part of his game a lot."

The Lakers and Suns have had their battles over the last five years, including a Western Conference finals last May that went the Lakers' way in six games, but the Suns' power forward is now Hedo Turkoglu, not Stoudemire, leading many NBA followers to question whether Phoenix will even make the playoffs this season.

Not that it mattered Friday. The arena was plenty lively.

"I think there's a lot of L.A. population here that comes out to root for the Lakers and I think it irritates the [local] faithful," Jackson said. "I think that's where a lot of the rivalry comes from."

Indeed, the "M-V-P" chants for Bryant were quickly drowned out by boos as he shot free throws in the third quarter, Suns owner Robert Sarver joining in from his courtside seat after cupping his hands to his lips.

The Lakers weren't bothered, taking an 87-79 lead through three quarters, with Odom leading the way in the hustle department.

"Lamar was very good tonight," said Jackson, who won his 1,110th game sooner than any other NBA coach.

Gasol came close to a triple-double, adding nine assists and eight rebounds.

"I think a lot of good things happened when the ball went in the post," Gasol said. "Whether it was me scoring or me finding open guys and then getting open shots, it was very productive."

The Suns (1-2) never seemed to tire despite playing in Utah the previous night. Grant Hill had 21 points and center Robin Lopez had 18 points and 14 rebounds.

The Lakers, though, were too much, Odom summarizing it perfectly by flying in for a rebound off Ron Artest's miss and scoring on an off-balance layup for a 109-98 lead with 1:35 left.

Matt Barnes gave a spirited effort off the bench with 11 points in 18 minutes.

Suns Coach Alvin Gentry thought the Lakers (2-0) would be in good shape this season simply because they'd managed to avoid the glare felt by the Miami Heat.

"There's a lot of talk about that team in South Beach," he said. "I think those [Lakers] guys enjoy that. I think they like flying under the radar."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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