LOS ANGELES (AP) The Lakers have been giving playoff-contending teams more trouble over the past week than clubs that are way out of contention – like themselves.
Chris Kaman had a season-high 28 points along with 17 rebounds while starting at center for the vertigo-stricken Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks scored 22 points, and Los Angeles snapped the Phoenix’ Suns’ six-game winning streak with a 115-99 victory Sunday night.
It came just five days after the Lakers put a crimp in the New York Knicks’ postseason plans with a 31-point drubbing at Staples Center. In between that game and this one were a pair of road losses to the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who beat the Lakers by 36 points Friday night.
”We’re trying to be the player-haters of the year. That’s definitely what we’re trying to do, and we embrace it,” said point guard Kendall Marshall, who had 13 points and 11 assists. ”We want to keep teams out of the playoffs and mess up seedings. That’s our motivation right now. Any type of motivation we can get to grow as a team is good for us right now.”
The undermanned Lakers shot 53 percent from the field, avoiding what would have been Phoenix’s first season sweep over them since 2004-05. The Suns won the first three meetings by an average margin of 13.3 points, including a 117-90 rout on Dec. 23 at US Airways Center. This was the first meeting between the teams in 2 1/2 months.
”I don’t know if we had a single guy who came with the energy that they usually have,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. ”We’ve had games like this before, where they think they’re just going to show up and win a game. We’re not good enough to do that. These guys have been winning games lately because they’ve been focused in, but tonight they just weren’t.”
The 25-48 Lakers beat a team with a winning record for only the eighth time all season. Gasol missed his fourth straight game because of his ailment, joining Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar on the inactive list.
Gerald Green scored 22 points off the bench and Goran Dragic added 17 for the Suns, who missed their first 11 shots from 3-point range and finished 8-for-36 from behind the arc against a defense that came in having allowed an average of 119.1 in their previous 16 games and 108.9 overall – second-worst in the league behind Philadelphia. The Suns shot 38.5 percent overall.
”They’re not shooting them to miss them,” an agitated Hornacek said. ”They all thought they were going to make them, and it’s not always going to be there. So at that point, quit shooting them and drive to the basket.”
The Suns’ first loss since March 17 at Brooklyn dropped them to 44-30 and put them into a tie with idle Dallas for seventh place in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of Memphis.
”Our schedule gets a lot harder after this,” Hornacek said. ”Play all the top teams now in the next six or seven games, so that’s why this game was so important. I mean, if this happens against Oklahoma City or the Clippers, then fine. But this team is not a playoff team, so that’s why it’s disappointing.”
Kaman, an 11-year veteran in his first season with the Lakers, secured his sixth double-double of the season before halftime with 18 points and 10 rebounds to help Los Angeles build a 61-43 lead at intermission.
”Chris can do that. He has talent, and he came ready to play,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Dragic, who came in with a team-best 20.6 scoring average, got seven of the Suns’ first 13 points – but didn’t get another until his driving layup with 8:39 left in the third quarter trimmed the Lakers’ lead to 70-48.
The Suns, who came in fifth in the league in 3-point shooting at 37.7 percent, didn’t get their first one until Markieff Morris ended their drought with 8:45 left in the second quarter. His brother Marcus drained another one 34 seconds later and Green made a three-point play with 7:41 left in the half, tying it at 31 after Suns trailed by 13.
But the Lakers responded with a 28-9 run that included nine points by Meeks, and Ryan Kelly capped the rally with a pair of free throws to give Los Angeles a 59-40 cushion with 1:06 left in the third. The Suns got no closer than 11 points with 3:43 to play.
”They made a few runs and killed us. We didn’t know how to stop them,” Dragic said. ”I think our intensity was really bad. It’s like no one wants to play in the playoffs – or at least it seems like that. ”
NOTES: The longest winning streak in Suns history was 17 games in 2006-07, under D’Antoni. … Kaman received a technical foul from referee Derrick Stafford after getting called for an offensive foul with the Lakers leading 80-55. … The last time the Lakers hosted Phoenix on Dec. 10, they lost 114-108. That game was one of only six that Bryant has played in this season. … The Suns are only 16-19 when Dragic is their high-point man. The rest of the time, they are 28-10.