Steve Nash, forming a potent inside-outside duo with Amare Stoudemire, will lead the first-place Suns against Bryant and the Lakers in the season’s first matchup between these Pacific Division rivals.
As Bryant entered free agency after last season Phoenix was considered to be among the top contenders to obtain the superstar guard’s services if he decided not to stay in Los Angeles.
The uncertainty of that potential acquisition led the Suns to look elsewhere for help, and on the morning free agency opened, they offered Nash a six-year deal worth potentially $66 million. That was enough to pry him away from Dallas, and the All-Star point guard has led Phoenix to the top of the Pacific.
Bryant stuck with Los Angeles as he became the team’s clear-cut leader following the departures of Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson. The Lakers have been up-and-down, splitting their last eight games, but now look to win three straight for the first time this season.
Phoenix is also seeking to extend its win streak to three while dropping Los Angeles back to .500.
The Suns could have an easier time doing that if Bryant’s plantar fasciitis does not improve. He admitted the foot injury was bothering him following Wednesday’s 103-89 over the Clippers in which he had 23 points and a season-high 11 assists.
“Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s pretty sore right now,” he said.
Nothing seems to be hampering Nash or Stoudemire.
Nash has posted double-doubles in three of his last four games, averaging 19.3 points and 13.5 assists. He’s leading the NBA with 11 assists per game.
While Bryant is the NBA’s second-leading scorer with 27.7 points a game, Stoudemire is next at 27.6. The third-year power forward has totaled 72 points in Phoenix’s two wins this week, getting to the free-throw line 36 times— making 20—and shooting 65 percent (26-of-40) from the field.
Stoudemire had a career-high 38 points and Nash had 16 and 12 assists as the Suns beat New Orleans 95-84 on Wednesday.
“With a point guard like Steve the game comes a lot easier for me. He’s opened the game for everybody on the team. It’s a lot easier and a lot more fun,” Stoudemire said. “Sometimes he still surprises me and catches me off guard, but once we get used to each other, it’s going to be a heck of a 1-2 punch.”
While the Suns are averaging a league-high 106 points, the Lakers are 0-4 when giving up 100, compared to 5-0 when they don’t.
The Lakers have won 27 of the last 35 meetings with the Suns, including three straight victories in Phoenix.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 17): Lakers - 2nd place (tied), 1 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Suns - 1st place (tied), Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 27.7 ppg and 5.3 apg; Odom, 9.8 rpg. Suns - Stoudemire, 27.6 ppg; Marion, 11 rpg; Nash, 11 apg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Lakers, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 22; Lakers, 104-92. At Phoenix, Bryant had the most points by a Suns opponent for the second straight season as he scored 40 to lead Los Angeles.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 2-3 on the road; Suns - 1-1 at home.