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Suns Win Season Series vs Rivals

By Brad G. Faye,
Posted: April 18, 2006

It seems like only yesterday the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers were battling it out in a grueling 2006 opening round series, which went the distance. A number of clutch shots, the war of words between Raja Bell and Kobe Bryant, and a 3-1 deficit overcome by Phoenix, all helped contribute to one of the most memorable playoff series of all time.

Although their four regular season meetings in 2006-07 will take a backseat come Sunday, when the Pacific Division rivals tip-off Game 1 at US Airways Center for this year’s playoff rematch, they may just provide a preview of what's to come. In preparation for the big game, we invite you to take a look back at the season series, which the Suns won, 3-1.

Oct. 31, 2006
Lakers 114, Suns 106

The Suns opened up the 2006-07 season on Halloween night against who better than their arch rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. Even without Kobe Bryant, who missed the contest due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee, the STAPLES Center was still more than ready for a rematch of last season’s Opening Round playoff series.

As expected, without one of the NBA’s all-time best scorers, the Lakers struggled in the early going. Leandro Barbosa’s red-hot play off the Suns bench did not help matters much for Los Angeles, who trailed by 15 points after the first quarter of play.

It would indeed prove to be a tale of two halves, however, as the Lakers were the ones who caught fire in the third and fourth quarters. Led by Lamar Odom’s 34 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, the Lakers were able to pull away late for a 114-106 victory.

"They looked good," guard Raja Bell said following the loss. "They beat us on just about every hustle play that there was. They did a good job defensively."

Added Odom, “We stayed focused throughout the whole game. Those guys can always go on a run and we were able to keep our distance. We defended well and rebounded the ball.”

While the end result was not what Phoenix had hoped for, there were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Barbosa had scored 30 points in the game, a sign of things to come for the Brazilian Blur who would go on to enjoy his finest season as a pro. Steve Nash meanwhile notched his first of many double-doubles, finishing the contest with 15 points and 13 assists.

“We came out really strong,” Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Then it started looking like we were in one of those “Texas hold ‘em” games, when you just dish everything out, then we didn’t have everything left. Then they started hitting everything – you gotta’ give them credit. They played well and hit big shots. We made a couple of runs at them, but they held us off. Obviously we have to play better.”

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Mar. 4, 2007
Suns 99, Lakers 94
US Airways Center

The Suns did indeed play better in their second meeting, a lot better. The next time the two division rivals met, Phoenix was not only riding a 6-1 run following All-Star Weekend, they were also coming off winning streaks of 15 and 17 games, respectively which had helped Phoenix to the second best record in the NBA.

The Lakers meanwhile were still ailing, this time without the services of forward Lamar Odom, who was out indefinitely after tearing his left labrum. As they had in the first meeting, the Lakers gave the Suns everything they had despite being short handed, but it wasn’t enough as Phoenix held on for a 99-94 Sunday victory.

Although the end result was a win, not all the Suns players were satisfied with the effort.

“We weren’t very energetic,” Steve Nash said. “We were sloppy, and we didn’t really force our tempo. It wasn’t a typical performance for us but we were tough enough to make it happen.”

Nash finished the contest with 23 points and 10 assists, and was one of five Suns players to finish in double figures in scoring. Not surprisingly, the Lakers were led by their captain Kobe Bryant who finished with 30 points – 18 of which came in the second half. The scoring did not come easy for the All-Star, however, as Raja Bell held him to 11-of-28 shooting from the field.

“If I started thinking about Kobe two weeks in advance, I wouldn’t be able to play the games on the schedule,” Bell said of the always-anticipated match-up. “But you always know you are in for a tough night when you play him, that’s the way it is. As far as guys in the league that are unstoppable, there are a couple of them and he’s one of them.”

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April 8, 2007
Suns 115, Lakers 107

Hoping to build momentum heading into the postseason, the Suns met the Lakers in an Easter contest broadcast nationally on ABC. And again the Suns emerged victorious, 115-107.

Unlike the last time the two teams had met, the Suns appeared satisfied with the effort in Los Angeles.

“It was great,” Steve Nash said. “We bounced back, were mentally tough, great game. We shot the ball well, and played good defense.”

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni agreed with the two-time MVP, “Good game from us. Good energy, we played good defense. Obviously the fourth quarter was huge - we made a lot of fast shots going down the stretch and I thought we played well.”

The fourth quarter indeed proved to be the difference as the Suns outscored the Lakers 41-34 to pull away for their second-straight win. Steve Nash led all Suns in the contest with 25 points, as fellow guards Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell finished with 23 and 22 points respectively.

“We had crisp movement - player and ball movement,” Bell said. “That’s when we’re at our best, so hopefully we can continue to duplicate that, especially in the playoffs when teams are going to have time to scout you and game-plan you. The only thing they can’t account for is us being in transition and running free. So we need to be able to get back to that.”

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April 13, 2007
Suns 93, Lakers 85
US Airways Center

Less than a week after meeting in Los Angeles, the Suns and Lakers again went into battle – this time at US Airways Center. With the once blurry playoff picture becoming a bit clearer, all the talk was about the possibility of this being a potential first round preview.

If it was, the Phoenix Suns certainly had to be happy with the results, sending Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to their sixth loss in seven games, 93-85. It wasn’t the prettiest of affairs as the Suns shot a disappointing 38.2 percent from the field, but solid defense down the stretch was able to get the job done.

“It wasn’t what we set out to do in terms of the bad shooting, but it happens,” Leandro Barbosa said. “The important thing is Raja Bell played great defense and everybody did what they needed to do to get the win.”

Bell had again forced Bryant into a number of bad shots, holding him to just 17 points on 7-for-26 shooting from the field.

“They did a great job of collapsing and closing down my lanes,” Bryant said of Phoenix’s defensive effort. “When that happens, we need to move the ball and hit the open man, to see if we can get something going to get the lanes back open later in the game.”

As far as whether three meetings in the last two months followed by another first round match-up will ever get tiring, Amaré Stoudemire doesn’t believe so.

“I don’t think Suns vs. Lakers can ever get old,” STAT said. “This is one of the top rivalries in the NBA, maybe only behind us and Dallas. They obviously gave us some problems last year in the playoffs and Dallas is the team that eliminated us, so they’re both definitely up there.”

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