Lakers Make Quick Work of Shorthanded Suns

The mission for the Lakers on Thursday night against a shorthanded Suns team was simple: get control of the game early, so the starters could get some rest for the following night's game in Denver. With Steve Nash sidelined by an ankle injury, things were even easier than expected for L.A., as they led by 15 at the half on the way to a 132-106 victory at Staples Center.

The Suns really didn't have a fighting chance in this one. With Amare Stoudemire out for the rest of the regular season with an eye injury, and with Nash being unavailable as well, Phoenix started seldom-used Alando Tucker alongside Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, and of course, Shaquille O'Neal. The small lineup was able to hang around for a little more than half of the first quarter, before the Lakers were able to impose their will for the rest of the game.

After the Suns led 20-17, L.A. finished the quarter with a 22-6 run, and led by 13 after one. Just two minutes into the second quarter, the Lakers had stretched the lead to 19 points, before finishing the half with 70 and leading by 15 at the break.

The Suns cut the lead to 11 early in the third, before the Lakers put on an extremely quick 9-0 run in less than a minute and a half that extended their lead to 20. Phoenix called timeout, and that was effectively the game. With L.A. leading by 25 points and under a minute to play in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant left the game to a standing ovation, and was able to rest the entire fourth quarter after playing just 27 minutes -- mission accomplished.

Bryant was really on his game against Shaq and the Suns. He scored on a series of contested jumpers and had a couple of highlight finishes at the rim, and ended up with 22 points on an efficient 10-of-13 shooting. Bryant also grabbed four rebounds and handed out eight assists. Lamar Odom had an even stronger statistical night, as he was able to use his muscle against the undersized Suns to make 11 of his 12 field goal attempts, good for 23 points while also hauling in nine rebounds.

With rest being the secondary goal after securing the victory, the bench saw a lot of action. All 12 Lakers got into the game and scored, including of course D.J. Mbenga (8), Adam Morrison (5), and Shannon Brown (3).

Shaquille O'neal was active early, and had a couple of powerful dunks that the Staples Center faithful have seen more than a few times over the years. But with his team out of it so early and with the Suns having a back-to-back situation of their own to worry about, Shaq played just 21 minutes, and finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.

These two teams will go at it again on Sunday in Phoenix, for a nationally televised afternoon game on ABC. If Steve Nash is able to go, then that one should be a little closer. But with the Suns still being undermanned inside, the final outcome is likely going to similarly end up in the Lakers' favor.

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