Lakers vs. Suns preview: Steve Nash's return creates divide in Phoenix

USA TODAY Sports

Point guard Steve Nash makes his first return to the city of Phoenix to face his former team, and it will surely make memories of loyalty, pain and heartbreak bubble up.

The height of American patriotism comes on the Fourth of July. Loyalty and patriotism split narrowly, and it splits when people must decide whether to stand behind a person, a group of people or a whole country's worth of them.

That idea doesn't hold ever more true than Wednesday night, when Steve Nash returns to Phoenix as his Los Angeles Lakers face the Suns. It's his first visit to US Airways Center since being traded to the Pacific Division rivals. Fittingly, the trade went down on the Fourth of July, and it couldn't be more perfect a test of how loyalty, sports fandom and patriotism narrowly split.

That day created a divide amongst Suns fans.

Like Ray Allen's return to Boston as a member of the Miami Heat this weekend, there will surely be mixed reaction. It's likely that the vast majority of Phoenix will cheer for the two-time MVP that spent eight years as "the sun, the moon and the stars" of the team, as Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby often put it.

Still, there's no denying that playing for the Lakers -- no, asking to be traded to Los Angeles because of proximity to his children -- will tear at many Suns fans' hearts. Do they cheer for the eight years of memories and painful losses in the playoffs that Nash endured with them? Do they respect Nash's wish to remain close to home, all while having a chance to win? Or do they think of that move as a selfish one, a slap to the face?

Nash's loyalty remains with his family, not an NBA team. But the feeling in US Airways Center will likely have tinges of vitriol because, after all, fandom sometimes hedges closer to patriotism than individual loyalty.

A game of teacher against protege

Kobe Bryant has seen time guarding opposing point guards, but nevertheless Nash will see his former protege, Goran Dragic, running the Suns offense. The Slovenian point guard has been given more freedom under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, and he's responded by averaging 15.8 points and 9.3 assists in four games since head coach Alvin Gentry was fired.

At center, Dwight Howard will face his former Orlando Magic backup in Marcin Gortat, who has likewise taken heat this season for speaking to the media with comments that came off as selfish.

Outside of those matchups, and looking past how much Bryant might look to pass rather than go at tough-nosed P.J. Tucker, the key matchup could be at power forward.

Luis Scola's success in the post going against Earl Clark's perimeter game might be the biggest mismatch on the court. Phoenix's former 14th overall pick -- Clark was traded from Phoenix in the deal that sent Gortat away from Orlando -- hit 4-of-5 three-point jumpers and scored 20 points Tuesday against New Orleans, the Lakers' third-straight victory. His presence and recent success will only add to the storyline of the Suns fans' dissatisfaction with the front office.

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Odds: The Lakers opened as four-point favorites.

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