If Kobe Bryant is being slowed down by a bruised right shin, that figures to be good news for the Phoenix Suns.
The NBA's leading scorer has dominated the Suns this season and gets another look at them Saturday night in the opener of a three-game trip for his Los Angeles Lakers.
Los Angeles (35-21) had its Pacific Division lead over the Clippers cut to 1 1/2 games after falling 112-107 at home to Houston on Friday. Bryant, playing with a shin injury that kept him out of the morning shootaround, made 8 of 20 shots for 28 points and had no assists for the first time all season after averaging 31.7 points on 61.9 percent shooting over his previous three contests.
Any sign of weakness for Bryant would be welcome by Phoenix (28-27). He's averaging 38.7 points on 53.8 percent shooting in three meetings with the Suns this season for his best such numbers against an opponent he has faced more than once.
The home team has won all three meetings between these clubs heading into the Lakers' second trip to Phoenix, where Bryant caused a stir in his last visit for lashing out at Los Angeles' front office over the issue of whether teammate Pau Gasol will be traded.
That tirade came after he made 11 of 24 shots for 32 points along with a season-high 10 turnovers as the Lakers trailed by as many as 27 points in a 102-90 loss Feb. 19. The Suns were pleased with their defensive effort that night.
"Even though Kobe still had a good game and shot the ball a lot, I want him to shoot the ball like that on the run and not get his teammates involved," Phoenix swingman Jared Dudley said about that contest.
Phoenix sits in 10th place in the Western Conference after its three-game win streak ended Friday with a 105-99 loss at Denver. The Suns were outscored 13-2 to close the game.
"It was a bad loss for us,'' said guard Steve Nash, who had 14 points and 11 assists. "We had a bad close to the game and didn't make plays down the stretch.''
The Suns missed a chance to tie the Nuggets for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot, instead falling two games back of Denver and Houston for the final two postseason berths.
"We have no margin of error,'' coach Alvin Gentry said. "We have zero margin of error.''
Nash is averaging 13.0 assists against Los Angeles this season, with top scorer Marcin Gortat averaging team highs of 19.3 points and 14.3 boards in the season series. Gortat is fourth in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 56.5, with the Lakers' Andrew Bynum second at 58.3.
Bynum, meanwhile, was ejected Friday with two technicals, the second for mouthing off to the Houston bench after hitting a hook shot with 11:17 left. He finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes.
"It's always tough when you lose somebody like Bynum because he's a 20-and-10 type of guy," point guard Ramon Sessions said. "I think he was just starting to get rolling, too, and getting hyped up right before that. We definitely needed him down the stretch.''