The Arizona Republic
By BOB YOUNG
The Arizona Republic
LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix Suns are still O-for-the Staples Center against one of the building’s tenants.
Since the Lakers moved into their downtown digs in 1999, the Suns have found the place impenetrable – except when they’ve occasionally beaten the other NBA tenant, the Clippers.
But after trailing by 18 points in the third quarter and rallying to within three in the final minutes, the Suns lost to the Lakers again here.
The 107-101 Lakers victory stretched their regular-season streak against the Suns to nine games at Staples, and the Lakers also won three games in a second-round playoff series in 2000.
A two-minute lapse at the end of the first half allowed the Lakers to turn a four-point lead into a 13-point advantage.
“That was big,” said forward Shawn Marion, who gave the Suns 23 points and 10 rebounds. “We’ve got to learn to finish the ends of quarters and games.
That put us in a tough situation in the second half.”
Behind their small lineup and with Stephon Marbury scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists, the Suns made their second-half run.
But when they got close, it was rookie Luke Walton, the former Arizona Wildcat standout, who made some big plays down the stretch to quell the threat.
“He did a couple things that hurt us, good for him,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He can play.”
In the last six minutes of the game, Walton made a three-point play and also had an assist on Devean George’s dunk to help key the Suns at bay.
Walton finished with five points, two assists and one rebound in seven minutes.
The Lakers played most of the game without Karl Malone, who sprained his right knee when Suns center Scott Williams challenged a shot near the Lakers bench.
“I didn’t hit him, but our feet got tangle up,” Williams said. “As we were falling, I heard a pop. I told their trainer I heard something. He didn’t yell out in pain or anything, but he grabbed at his knee.
“When he got up to shoot the free throws I thought he was all right.”
But after shooting the free throws, Malone came out of the game and did not return.
The Suns trailed by only four with 1:59 to go in the first half after a Marion tip-in of his own miss, but the Lakers closed the half with nine unanswered points for a 61-48 lead.
The Lakers dominated the offensive glass in the game, and their bench players outscored their Phoenix counterparts 24-5 in the first half.