The Los Angeles Lakers play their first game back in the arena where last season came to a disappointing end as they visit the Phoenix Suns on Sunday afternoon.

These teams haven't met since the season opener, when Los Angeles (33-26) was without an injured Kobe Bryant and Phoenix (45-14) was at full strength. However, it was the Lakers who came away with a 114-106 home victory behind Lamar Odom's 34 points and 13 rebounds.

It was the first meeting between these Pacific Division rivals since last year's playoffs, a first-round matchup which saw the Lakers blow a 3-1 series lead and get blown out 121-90 at Phoenix in Game 7. Bryant had a playoff career-high 50 in Game 6 only to see Los Angeles lose in overtime.

The Lakers' only win in eight games at Phoenix over the past three seasons came in Game 2 of that series.

It's possible these teams could meet again in the opening round if one of them falls back a spot in the Western Conference standings. The Suns, owners of the league's second-best record behind Dallas, have a 12-game division lead over the Lakers, who are sixth overall in the West.

Defense has been the difference lately for Los Angeles, which is facing a Phoenix team that leads the league with 110.7 points per game.

Over their last seven games, the Lakers have given up more than 100 points four times and lost them all as opponents shot a combined 52.3 percent from the field. In the other three games, all wins, Los Angeles held the opposition to an average of 91.7 points and 41.9 percent shooting.

Despite Bryant's 30 points and 10 assists, the Lakers had a three-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 116-108 defeat to Sacramento. It was their seventh loss in 10 games overall.

"I am frustrated that we can't play defense as a team," said Odom, who had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. "We have the athletic ability and the height. We should be a much better team."

Phoenix, meanwhile, is looking to hold an opponent below 100 points in a fourth consecutive game for the first time all season.

Having Shawn Marion back in the lineup could help that cause. The All-Star forward, leading Phoenix in steals and blocked shots, may be ready to return after sitting out the last two games with a bruised right hand.

His absence, as well as the back problem that has kept Boris Diaw sidelined, led coach Mike D'Antoni to give extended playing time to a pair of little-used reserves on Friday and that decision paid off. Eric Piatkowski and Pat Burke combined for 21 points as Phoenix beat Indiana 115-90 for its sixth win in seven games since the All-Star break.

D'Antoni might have discovered a new option off the bench, even admitting he may have made a mistake by not letting Piatkowski play more this season. The 13-year veteran, who had played just seven minutes all season, made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in 22 minutes.

"I should have looked at it earlier," D'Antoni said. "I should have trusted him earlier, and I didn't do it. He proved me wrong tonight, and that was great."


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