The holiday season has not exactly been a joyful one for Phil Jackson, the LA Lakers' coach. He had a dismal Christmas Day when Lakers fans threw foam fingers and water bottles on to the court as his team went down 102-87 to the Cleveland Cavaliers without putting up much of a fight.
On Monday, the Lakers let themselves down again, losing 118-103 to the small but stubborn Phoenix Suns. OK, they had managed to sandwich a scrappy win over the Sacramento Kings, in double overtime, between these two defeats. But Jackson was far from amused with his high-priced help after the loss to the Suns, and he expressed his displeasure tersely after the game. "I wasn't comfortable with my starters or my bench," said Jackson. "I didn't like either group. Guys didn't play right. It was a very irritating night."
The Suns, who had lost to the Lakers by 19 points in November and 20 earlier this month, stood tall on Monday, burying the visitors in a barrage of third-quarter three-pointers. Amare Stoudemire had 26 points, with no play in the game standing out more than his dunk on a drive against Andrew Bynum, which put the Suns ahead 89-73 toward the end of the third quarter. And no statistic stood out more than this one: the Lakers had 13 assists as a team. The Suns' guard Steve Nash had 13 by himself.
Medical reports were as gloomy as the scoreline for Lakers' fans. For starters, Ron Artest did not play in a second consecutive game, staying in Los Angeles because of a concussion and sore elbow, the result of a Christmas night fall in his home. Kobe Bryant wore a black protective sleeve on his right elbow, which he strained Saturday against Sacramento, and got smacked on his right index finger during the first quarter against the Suns. He winced, bent over and grabbed the finger, which is still tender from an avulsion fracture.
Lamar Odom was the latest Lakers player to get hurt when two of his fingers were bent back after making contact with Leandro Barbosa on a pull-up jump shot by the Suns guard early in the second quarter. Odom, who sprained the index and middle fingers on his right hand, went back in the game a few minutes later and finished with nine points on four-for-13 shooting. "Gonna need to ice them," he said after the game, holding out his fingers to show how swollen they were. "If Kobe doesn't miss games because of a broken finger, I'm not going to miss any," he added.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies secured a dramatic 116-111 victory over the Washington Wizards in overtime. The Grizzlies almost squandered a 10-point lead in the final quarter and needed two free throws from Zach Randolph with less than a second left to force overtime. But they made no mistake in the extra period, outscoring their opponents 14-9 to seal a fourth straight home win.
Gerald Wallace scored 21 points as the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Milwaukee Bucks 94-84, while the Oklahoma City Thunder won a third straight game with a 105-89 victory over the hapless New Jersey Nets, Kevin Durant doing the most damage with 40 points. The Philadelphia 76ers eased to a 104-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to 61 points in the second half. Elton Brand scored 25 points for the 76ers and grabbed nine rebounds.
Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points but his Denver Nuggets went down 106-101 to the Sacramento Kings, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Boston Celtics by 103-99. * With agencies