PHOENIX — Rejoice, Lakers fans. There are no more games against the lowly Phoenix Suns.
Everyone loves playing Phoenix this season, but the Lakers keep throwing away potential victories here, their latest stumble a bad 99-76 loss that made them 0-2 at US Airways Center.
It stung because the Lakers (36-33) could have kept pace with seventh-place Houston and created separation from eighth-place Utah in the Western Conference.
It was embarrassing because the Suns (23-45) were tied with New Orleans in the West's basement when Monday began.
It was lame because there were only 76 Lakers points, a season low for a team that couldn't afford to be this bad this late in the regular season.
And there was this one confounding stat: Suns forward Luis Scola had more points (14) and rebounds (eight) in the fourth quarter than the entire Lakers team (10 points, seven rebounds).
The Lakers were in the second night of a back-to-back situation. Fatigue surely played a part.
But . . .
"You've got to fight through it. You've got to gut it out," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Most of the time, you do it with smarts and we didn't have that either."
Yet it wasn't fully inexplicable because Kobe Bryant (severely sprained left ankle) sat out his second straight game and Pau Gasol sat out his 20th game (torn plantar fascia).
Bryant was listed as day to day and Gasol could be back Friday against Washington if he doesn't feel more pain in the foot, but their absence left the Lakers bereft Monday.
For anybody who said the Lakers were better without Bryant, they're not. Anyone who said Gasol couldn't help this team was wrong.
Dwight Howard had 16 points and 11 rebounds but had trouble making shots (six for 18) and hanging onto the ball (four turnovers).
He had three of his shots blocked and was hacked a few times without any fouls called.
"A lot of stuff happened in the paint. For me, I've just got to do my best and not say anything to the refs but it's hard," he said. "I continue to talk to myself, push myself to leave the referees alone and hopefully they might look down there a couple times."
D'Antoni said Howard "kind of took it personal and tried to go at [Phoenix]. We needed to do more pick-and-rolls . . . get him a little bit on the move to get the ball into him. I just think because we're tired, we got stuck in the mud and tried to wrestle our way through it."
Howard's response to his off night? "It's basketball. You're going to miss shots. You're going to make shots," he said. "We can't be afraid to take them."
The Lakers certainly weren't afraid to take shots. The ball was just afraid to go into the basket.
Metta World Peace was equally perplexing, missing 12 of 17 and finishing with 12 points. Steve Nash didn't shoot well, either, missing 11 of 17 shots while scoring a deceptive 19 points.
Was anyone on target for the Lakers, who made 33.3% of their attempts? A thorough look at the box score would unearth Steve Blake's six-for-11 effort, the only Laker to make more than half his attempts.
D'Antoni used only seven players until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter. What about the rest of the bench?
"It means that they're not playing well enough to play. It means I've got seven guys that I'm really confident with," D'Antoni said, getting slightly defensive. "That's hindsight and most people on the other side are real good at it."
The Lakers weren't the only ones irritated with the night.
The Suns' "dunk squad" got ready to jump through a large paper "Beat L.A." sign at the end of the third quarter, but a surprisingly large contingent of Lakers fans booed.
Those fans were nowhere to be found half an hour later, the arena taken back by Suns followers.
The Lakers had let another one get away.