Beat L.A.: Potential First-Round NBA Playoff Preview Tonight at Staples Center

With a 4-1 record in the Alvin Gentry era, the Phoenix Suns are winning the games they're supposed to win.

However, they're still faltering against the NBA's elite, evident by Sunday's ass-whopping against the defending champion Boston Celtics. But that's ok. The reason Terry Porter was run out of this joint is because his team played uninspired ball against crap teams like the Warriors and the Knicks. On the other hand, nobody cares a whole lot when you have an average team that loses some regular season games to the big boys because there's always the playoffs.

Tonight, the Suns square off against the Los Angeles Lakers, who're not only the giants of the Western Conference, but could be very well be Phoenix's first-round post-season opponent. The 47-10 Lakers - led by (who else?) Kobe Bryant, who's upped his per game points average to 27.7 - have a stronghold on the conference's top seed. Meanwhile, the resurgent Suns are hanging out just below number-eight-seed land. In two previous meetings, the Lakers have won pretty handily, although the Suns did give it a jolly good try during a 115-110 home loss on December 15.

Phoenix probably will have to try beating L.A. without Steve Nash, who rolled his ankle something fierce in Tuesday's home win against the Charlotte Bobcats. At the time of writing, it looked as if the injury wouldn't be a long-term hindrance. But it could be no Nash and definitely no Stoudimire against the Lakers, winners of 16 of their past 18. Even if Nash does play, he'll be hobbled.


Tip-off's at 8:30 p.m. tonight at L.A.'s Staples Center. National TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR-620 AM.

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