In a 117-90 drubbing of their rival Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns didn’t continue any trend of overachieving. By this point, we’re well beyond that. Talk of tanking for this team are all but dead because now it’s clear that it’s the playoffs or bust. A win against an injury-depleted team, a team without Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar or any semblance of an NBA point guard, doesn’t mean much on paper. But it was a pretty significant moment in showing just how fast these two Pacific Division teams have swapped roles. And nobody embodied how the Suns are soaring sky high over a team that was expected to win the Western Conference only a year ago better than Miles Plumlee.
To be clear, no one expected this. And if they say they did, they were lying. I don’t think even Suns general manager Ryan McDonough knew the team he assembled over the summer would look as good as Ron Burgundy’s Channel 4 News team. For the Lakers, there’s really not much you can do about the injuries that have ravaged this roster. The loss doesn’t mean much in terms of the Suns-Lakers rivalry, since Phoenix supporters can’t really gloat too much about laying waste to a Kobe-less squad. But watching Frequent Flyer Miles abuse Pau Gasol and the Lakers’ frontcourt signified a symbolic changing of the guard.
In 31 minutes, Plumlee posted 17 points, two blocks and a career-high 20 rebounds. In the paint, he absolutely terrorized Gasol, who was admittedly coming off a one-game absence because of an upper respiratory infection and only played 20 minutes. But the Lakers threw Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman at him as well and even against them Sky Miles was miles above the competition. Literally.
It wasn’t just Plumlee that looked superior at his position. The Suns continued their hot 3-point shooting and buried the Lakers under a barrage of 3-pointers, knocking down 14 of 32 of their attempts (43 percent). That marks the 19th consecutive game in which the Suns have made at least seven 3s. Phoenix’s offense is incredibly well orchestrated thanks to Jeff Hornacek and it’s hard to defend with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off pick and rolls and pick and pops. But the Lakers’ defense looked ten steps slow guarding it and twenty steps slow rotating to cover the open shooter on the perimeter.
The Suns have now won eight of their last nine games and are fifth in the Western Conference standings. Gerald Green chipped in 22 points and six 3s off the bench, Marcus Morris had 19 points and five 3s, Dragic had 12 points and seven assists and Bledsoe finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The game was out of reach by the end of the third quarter, when the Suns had amassed a 90-68 advantage. On the flip side, the Lakers were led by Nick Young‘s 19 points and Jodie Meeks‘ 18, but the two guards shot a combined 12-for-32 from the floor.
It was complete domination in nearly every facet of the game. The Suns’ offense showed why Mike D’Antoni is a thing of the past as Phoenix tallied 24 assists on 42 field goals, compared to L.A.’s 12 dimes on 32 buckets. The Suns shot 47 percent from the floor, 10 percent better than the Lakers. Phoenix out-rebounded Los Angeles 62-39. Those things are expected since Phoenix was playing a team without its best player and a legitimate starting point guard, but the realization was never more jarring than when fans on both sides watched Miles Plumlee become a terror on the court. Who knew that the Suns would enjoy acquiring Plumlee from the Luis Scola trade more than the 2014 draft pick?
After the 2010 Western Conference Finals loss, the Phoenix Suns went into a complete downward spiral. The Los Angeles Lakers had, on paper, realistic title aspirations after acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash over the summer, an acquisition that stung all the more for Suns supporters. Now, a season later, both teams are underdogs in a loaded Western Conference. And even though neither of these teams is necessarily expected to make a playoff run, the difference between the two became pretty clear last night.