LOS ANGELES (NBA.com exclusive) -- In what was billed as the biggest challenge for the Lakers in the early going, the defending champions answered in resounding fashion, thrashing the Suns 121-102 Thursday at the Staples Center.
The Suns did not put up much of a fight, finding themselves down by as many as 27 points.
"We just beat them inside of the paint," said Kobe Bryant, who had a game-high 29 points. "We got a lot of easy opportunities."
After missing consecutive games due to a right elbow strain, Lakers center Andrew Bynum seemed as if he didn't miss a beat, tying a season-high 26 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. He also recorded his sixth double-double.
The 7-footer used his 40-pound weight advantage over Channing Frye en route to making his first four baskets.
"That was the game plan, go inside, do that early and often and that paid off for us," Bynum said. "It wasn't hard getting into a rhythm. I had three good days of practice, treatment."
With both teams sitting atop the Western Conference with the best records in the league, this was an important game, but it didn't live up to the hype. With the victory, the Lakers (7-1), who own the longest winning streak in the league at six, now head to Denver to face a tough Nuggets (6-3) team on Friday.
The Suns (8-2) came in riding a four-game winning streak and had a chance to tie the best 10-game start in franchise history (Phoenix went 9-1 in 1980-81). But even more so, the Suns had a chance to add onto their list of impressive victories, already defeating the Celtics and the Heat.
Phoenix came in averaging a league-best 112 points, but it was held to its second-lowest scoring output this season. The Suns also shot a season-low 36.5 percent when they came in averaging over 50 percent.
"We were a tired team," said Steve Nash, whose team has been in seven cities in the past 10 days. "We came out really flat. We missed a lot of easy shots that we normally knock down. It's been a tough stretch for us and I'm glad it's over."
Phoenix was led by Jared Dudley's 14 points. Nash was held to 13 points and five assists, well below his league-leading 12.6 per game.
Amar'e Stoudemire struggled his way to eight points on 2-for-15 shooting and Jason Richardson scored just five points on 2-for-9 from the field.
The third quarter proved to be the deciding factor in this game.
After a Grant Hill jumper cut the Suns' deficit to 65-55, the Lakers answered with a 15-0 run capped by a beautiful alley-oop from Lamar Odom to Bryant, who flushed it down with a reverse, two-handed dunk to give the Lakers an 80-55 lead with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Phoenix did cobble together mini runs, but Los Angeles, who shot 57.6 percent for the game, had an answer every time.
"They have a really good team and now with Bynum back, I mean it is just tough matchups all around," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "Like I said, I don't know where their weakness is really. They are going to be a handful for whoever plays them."
Before the game, Suns guard Leandro Barbosa opined that the fast start to the season was because of the return to run-and-gun play.
"We're playing our basketball," Barbosa said. "We're speeding up the offense. I think this is the way we like to play, our defense is getting better so when we get the ball we can really fastbreak."
But against the Lakers, the Suns had just two fastbreak points.
"We just got back, we did a good job communicating with one another," Bryant said. "We had a lot of effort in getting back in transition."
While the Lakers were still without Pau Gasol, who has been out since Oct. 10 with a right hamstring injury, Bynum returned and established himself in the post early. He scored 16 of his 26 points in the first half.
Like O.J. Mayo and Devin Brown, smaller guards like Richardson continue to struggle against Bryant. Things did get chippy between the two at the end of the first half with Richardson drawing a technical after fouling Bryant.
Against the Nuggets, Bryant is expecting a heated competition.
"The next game, I'm sure they're going to be a little more aggressive attacking, but I'll just make my adjustments," Bryant said.