Lakers-Suns Preview

The Associated Press

Kobe Bryant will be out again, but the Los Angeles Lakers are doing just fine without him.

With Bryant missing a second straight game, the visiting Lakers attempt to continue their surge and create some breathing room in the Western Conference playoff race Monday night against the Phoenix Suns.

Bryant is hampered by a sprained left ankle and an apparent flu, but Los Angeles (36-32) has won both games since he sustained the injury in Wednesday's 96-92 loss at Atlanta. He returned two days later, but exited after 12 minutes and no points in a 99-93 win over Indiana.

The Lakers knew they would be without their star guard Sunday, but they overcame his absence to beat Sacramento 113-102.

"We're just not making any excuses," said forward Antawn Jamison, who helped pick up the scoring slack with 27 points - his highest total in over three months - to match Bryant's season average. "We just looked ourselves in the mirror and said, 'It's up to us to turn this thing around.' And I think we've been doing that since the All-Star break. We're finally playing the way we're capable of playing."

Los Angeles is 11-3 since the All-Star break, averaging 105.8 points while hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc. That's moved the Lakers into eighth in the West, one game ahead of ninth-place Utah and one-half back of Houston.

They have a chance to pull level with the idle Rockets, and will likely opt to keep the ball moving through Steve Nash with Bryant out again.

"That ball moves, and there are some good guys out there on the floor," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That ball needs to move, and if it does, then we're really good."

Nash's contributions have been key in the last two games. He had 19 points and 12 assists against the Kings, two days after getting 15 and nine, respectively, versus the Pacers.

The point guard is making his second visit to Phoenix (22-45) since being dealt for two draft picks last summer. He had 11 points and two assists while hitting 3 of 8 from the floor in a 92-86 loss in his last game there Jan. 30.

Metta World Peace is averaging 18.0 points while making 10 of 23 from 3-point range to help the Lakers win two of three season meetings with the Suns.

The forward is enjoying a terrific stretch entering this matchup, scoring 20.3 points on 56.8 percent shooting over the past three contests, including a 22-point effort Sunday.

Los Angeles may be in for another strong offensive performance against a Suns team that has been outscored by an average of 20.0 points during a four-game slide. They're surrendering 113.3 points per game during that stretch, while allowing opponents to shoot a staggering 50.6 percent from long range.

Phoenix is tied with New Orleans for the worst record in the West, and the team's defensive issues were at the forefront Saturday. They surrendered 14 3s en route to a 127-105 loss at Washington.

"I was embarrassed, and I know our guys feel the same way," coach Lindsey Hunter said. "The amount of points we gave up, the amount of 3s we gave up, rebounds, there was no aspect that we brought our focus to."

Michael Beasley, who scored 21 points against the Wizards, had a season-high 27 with five steals in the latest home meeting with the Lakers.

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