The Los Angeles Lakers are a different team on the road than they are at home. That much has been apparent all season, but never in sharper relief than in the brief 48 hours from Friday night until Sunday night. The Lakers easily handled the Suns in L.A. on Friday, never trailing in the second half and leading by as many as 20 in their 111-99 victory. A couple days later in Phoenix, it was a different story, as the Lakers only lead was at 2-0 in the first minute of the game, and the Suns maintained a double-digit edge from late in the first quarter until the final buzzer, winning 102-90.
There has always been a distinct home court advantage in the NBA: the rigors of travel work against the visitors, while the home crowd energizes the hosts. However, the effect has seemed to be more distinct in this compressed post-lockout season, which might stand to reason with fewer days off compounding the impact of the travel. And no team has been more schizophrenic from home to road than the Lakers, traditionally one of the best road teams in the league (they were one game away from the best road record in the league last season). After Sunday's loss in Phoenix, the Lakers are now 5-11 on the road. Compared to their outstanding 13-2 home record, it is the largest home-to-road drop off in the league -- a winning percentage of 87 percent at home, compared to 31 percent away. It's somewhat baffling -- the Lakers are an established team, led by veterans Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. One usually associates road struggles with inexperienced teams that might get rattled in an unfamiliar, hostile environment. It's the last thing you'd expect from the mighty Lakers.
On Sunday the Suns jumped on them early. A 20-4 Phoenix run midway through the first quarter broke open what had been a close game, at least for a few minutes. The Suns led by 16 after the first quarter, 23 at the half, and established their biggest lead at 27 early in the third quarter. The Lakers began to chip away at the lead in the latter half of the third and into the fourth, but could get no closer than 10.
The Lakers' biggest problem on Sunday was turnovers, and the biggest offender was Bryant, who registered an unwelcome double-double of 32 points and 10 turnovers. It was the most turnovers by a single player in a game this season and only the second time Kobe's had as many as 10 in 1,342 career regular season and playoff games. Pau Gasol (17) and Andrew Bynum (16) provided additional scoring, but as has been the case all season, the supporting cast was not very supportive. No other Laker scored in double figures, and only one had more than five points. Starters Metta World Peace and Derek Fisher combined for two points between them.
Phoenix was led by Jared Dudley with 25 points and Marcin Gortat with 21 and 15 rebounds. As you might expect, Steve Nash was orchestrating the whole thing, piling up 14 assists in the game to add to his league-leading total. The Lakers had no answer for the Nash-Gortat pick and roll. Nash remains the master of that simplest of plays, exhibiting extraordinary patience to allow the advantage to develop and unfailingly delivering the perfect pass when it does.
With the win the Suns improve to 13-19 overall. The loss drops the Lakers to 18-13.