West's worst -- Lakers, Suns -- meet before break (Feb 15, 2017)
The unglamorous title of Western Conference's losingest team in the first half of the season will be on the line Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns close out the pre-All-Star Game portion of the schedule at the Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Lakers (19-38) and Suns (17-39) will take the West's two worst records into their third meeting of the season. The teams split the first two, with both games having been played in Los Angeles.
Both teams might be losing regularly, but it is clear from their most recent outings that they haven't given up.
The Lakers rallied from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to tie the Sacramento Kings late in an eventual 97-96 home defeat Tuesday night.
Los Angeles had won two of its previous three.
"Whether you're the Golden State Warriors or Brooklyn, every team in between, (a priority now) is keeping your guys focused," first-year Lakers coach Luke Walton said before Tuesday's loss. "This part of the season, it's been long, it's been hard, everyone's tired. Guys are banged up. We're aware of that. We talk about it, and we'll continue to do our best to stay focused."
That focus not only helped rally the Lakers from what appeared to be a sure defeat early in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, but it also gave them a chance to win on a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt by Lou Williams.
The super-sub, who hit two key 3-pointers in the comeback, misfired on a potential game-winner.
A defeat Wednesday night would give the Lakers the same number of losses as the Suns at the break. If it is any consolation, Los Angeles already is significantly better off than last season at midseason, when the Lakers had compiled an 11-44 mark.
The Suns were 14-40 at All-Star time a year ago, and they would reach the 40-loss mark at the break for the second straight season with another setback Wednesday.
Like the Lakers, the Suns' previous defeat was a little hard to swallow.
Phoenix led the New Orleans Pelicans 108-107 at home with 1:12 remaining Monday night, only to fail to score again in a 110-108 loss. The Suns missed three shots to force a possible overtime in the final 24 seconds.
Eric Bledsoe, who scored 37 points in the loss, had the first of the three misses. P.J. Tucker subsequently grabbed his 15th and 16th rebounds of the night, but he couldn't convert short-range follow shots after either as time ran out.
When it was over, Suns coach Earl Watson -- like Walton in defeat one night later -- applauded the effort.
"Amazing hustle, amazing play," Watson said of Tucker's sequence. "I thought he got fouled twice, but I'm not the referee. He kept the ball in play; he gave us fight all the way to the end."
Bledsoe enjoyed a big game two days after he was given a healthy night off in Houston. He started each of Phoenix's first 54 games. The point guard shot just 22 of 66 in his previous five games, prompting the breather.