Off to their best start in 29 seasons, the Phoenix Suns are thriving in their up-tempo style.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t surprised at all.
The Pacific Division-leading Suns look to win their fifth straight game Thursday night, when they’ll face the defending champion Lakers for the first time this season.
Back home following a 4-1 eastern trip, Phoenix (8-1) routed New Orleans 124-104 on Wednesday. Amare Stoudemire had 21 points, Grant Hill(notes) added 18 and six other Suns scored in double figures as Phoenix set a season high in points while matching Boston with the league’s best record.
After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004, the Suns are off to their best start since opening 11-1 in 1980-81. Phoenix has scored 100 or more in each of its first nine games for the first time since 1990-91.
“It was a great win for us,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we played as well as we could in the first half. Offensively, we did a good job of staying in attack mode.”
Since Gentry took over for the final 31 games last season for the fired Terry Porter, who tried to implement a slowed-down approach with the Suns, Phoenix has scored 98 or more in 39 of 40 contests.
The Suns lead the NBA in points per game this season with 112.3.
“They just upgraded their speed and went back to the style they were running three, four or five years ago,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team has won five in a row.
He averaged 7.5 points and 9.5 assists in two games versus the Lakers (6-1) last season before missing the final two matchups with a sprained right ankle.
Los Angeles center Andrew Bynum(notes) was sidelined those two contests with a torn right medial collateral ligament. He is expected back in the lineup Thursday at Staples Center after missing two games with a strained right elbow suffered in a 103-102 overtime victory at Houston on Nov. 4.
“There was a little bit of pain today (Tuesday), but it’s something I can play through,” said Bynum, averaging 20.0 points and 10.6 rebounds.
With Bynum sidelined, DJ Mbenga(notes) has done a solid job making his third and fourth career starts. He had five points and a career-high 13 rebounds in Friday’s 114-98 win over Memphis, then posted his first career double-double Sunday with 10 points and 12 boards in a 104-88 victory over New Orleans.
“We believed this was going to be a really, really tough game,” Kobe Bryant(notes) said after scoring 26 of his 28 points in the first half. “Because of that, everybody’s antennas were up, and everybody was really focused. We got a lot of help from DJ, Shannon, all the bench guys. There are going to be nights when we struggle, and we’ll need their help.”
Bryant averaged 28.3 points and 6.8 rebounds as the Lakers won three of four versus the Suns in 2008-09. In the teams’ last matchup March 1, Bryant had 49 points and 11 boards in a 118-111 loss in Phoenix.
“I don’t have any hopes for him on Thursday for sure,” Jackson said Tuesday.