Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times (lxmagnpd20120127164357/600 )
The Lakers host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Staples Center, but who will be leading the team from the bench isn't entirely clear.
New Coach Mike D'Antoni indicated during his first Lakers news conference Thursday that he wasn't likely to step in until Sunday at the earliest. That could mean that the job on Friday goes to assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff for one last game, or that new assistant Dan D'Antoni might fill in for his brother.
The Suns are 4-5 on the season, a half-game ahead of the 3-5 Lakers. Phoenix has struggled this year defensively, yielding 104 points a night.
The Lakers will once again be without Steve Nash (leg), and Steve Blake's status (abdominal strain) isn't clear.
Marcin Gortat was Dwight Howard's backup years ago in Orlando. He has since emerged as a solid force for the Suns.
Gortat is averaging 12.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game this season.
Howard is still trying to find himself after taking six months off after back surgery. Through eight games, he's averaging 19.3 points, 11.1 boards and 2.5 blocks.
Gortat used to battle Howard daily in practice. The matchup of ex-teammates could help decide the game's outcome.
Without Nash and presumably no Blake, the Lakers need to rely on point guards Darius Morris and Chris Duhon. Morris struggled in his start against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, but he's improved significantly since his rookie year.
If Morris can challenge Phoenix starter Goran Dragic, especially defensively, the Lakers may be able to survive without their top point guards.
Former Lakers guard Shannon Brown has been playing well for the Suns, averaging 14 points a game while shooting 40% from three-point range. Coming off the bench, he has helped carry the offense for his team's second unit.
The Lakers are between coaches, playing without Nash and in desperate need of a win after a slow start.
The home team will ride the emotion of change, improving to 4-5 while leap-frogging over the Suns in the Pacific Division.
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