Shaq Shows Up, Lakers Don't; Phoenix Cruises Past LA

Three nights before, the Lakers had been the aggressors on both ends of the floor, taking the Suns out of their game by not allowing them to run or to get the ball into Shaquille O'Neal ‘s hands near the basket, all the while attacking the basket themselves.

Sunday, the Lakers did none of that — Kobe Bryant called the team lethargic and tired. The transition defense was nonexistent, Shaq was getting the ball wherever he wanted on his way to 33 points and while Kobe countered with 49 he did it almost all on jump shots. And he was the only one hitting them.

The result was a 118-111 win for a Suns team that looked like the desperate ninth-seed team it is, one that needs every win it can get to make the playoffs. The Lakers looked like a team that desperately needed a good night’s sleep or something to get their heads screwed on right,.

Kobe and Gasol (with 30) were the only Lakers to score in double digits, or seem to bring their “A” games. When Lamar Odom got in foul trouble — including on some questionable calls — the Lakers got spotty play off their bench (the usually solid Josh Powell was error prone and Sasha Vujacic, to borrow an old Chick Hearn phrase, couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean right now). The foul calls threw Odom off his game and he returned to being the passive, thinking-not-reacting Odom Lakers fans had hoped was a thing of the past after his recent stretch. Although, he kept fouling and was gone fairly early in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Pau Gasol gave it his best effort, but he gives up at least 50 pounds and a lot of leverage to Shaq and could not keep the big man away from the basket.

But that was only part of the reason Shaq finished with 33 points, there were plenty of mental mistakes, too. Shaq circa 2009 can only really do damage if you allow him to spin from the block into the middle of the paint. Sunday the Lakers brought the double from the wrong direction and forced him into the paint, where he either dunked or hit a very effective little jump hook.

In a key stretch of the second half, Shaq missed the second of his free throws but nobody boxed him out so he charged down the lane, caught his own miss and threw down a thunderous dunk. Not boxing out the free throw shooter is the kind of mental mistake the Lakers made all night.

When things aren’t going well for the Lakers, you can expect a lot of Kobe. He was the only Lakers scoring consistently on the perimeter and he went into his nova mode. He scored 17 points in one six-minute span early in the third quarter that saw the Lakers go on a 19-4 run and take a 75-70 lead.

That was followed by a 13-0 Suns run that gave it all right back, For the Lakers it felt a little like getting on a little winning streak in Vegas and going aggressive trying to make that a big payday, only to end up back at square one.

The Suns ended up shooting 22 more free throws than the Lakers (but only made five more). While the officiating favored the home team, as it tends to do in the NBA, part of the reason for that was the Suns were the aggressors, the team that went right at the basket.

That will win a lot of teams games. And the Lakers need to get back to it.

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