The first time the Suns came into the Staples Center nearly a month ago, they were sporting a four-game winning streak and had a chance to tie the best 10-game start in franchise history (9-1).
More importantly, they had a chance to add to their list of impressive victories that included wins over the Celtics and the Heat. At the time, the Suns were averaging 112 points, the best in the NBA, with a shooting percentage over 50 percent.
Phoenix played a Lakers team that was minus a recuperating Pau Gasol. The Suns left the Staples Center with their heads handed to them in a 121-102 loss and a season-low shooting percentage of 36.5.
Their excuse: the schedule; seven cities in 10 days. "We were a tired team," said Steve Nash. "We came out really flat. We missed a lot of easy shots that we normally knock down. It's been a tough stretch for us and I'm glad it's over."
Phoenix returned to the Staples Center Sunday night. This time Gasol was on the court for the Lakers, and the result was even worse. The Suns had their heads handed to them once again, 108-88. It was Phoenix’ lowest point total so far this season.
It has to be demoralizing to be blown out by your division leader and fall three games back in the loss column.
Understandably, Steve Nash downplayed the loss.
"They're a little bit better than us right now," Nash said in perhaps the biggest understatement so far this season. "They've been playing together a little longer, and they're bigger. We've got some ground to make up. We've done well, but we've got a lot of work to do before we're in they're class, so it's O.K."
Is it really O.K.?
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry sounded a little more concerned.
"They're just so long," Gentry said. "They're a long team and they bottle up everything you to do."
The question is how are the Suns going to make up the ground that Nash mentioned?
The problem for Phoenix is that the Lakers are so versatile. They can kill you in different ways.
The Lakers can play you big or small. They can post you to death or hit from outside.
In the Suns’ first loss to the Lakers, even without Gasol, Los Angeles put up 78 points in the paint.
On Sunday night, Gentry double-teamed Gasol and Andrew Bynum, holding the Lakers to only 40 points in the paint. But the Lakers piled up points from the perimeter, hitting 10-of-21 from behind the arc.
The Lakers defense stifled the Suns all night long. They picked the Suns' pocket eight times, five by Ron Artest.
When guards Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown are on the floor, the Lakers have too much speed and quickness for the much older Suns to handle.
I’m sure Gentry realizes that his Suns cannot win the Pacific Division. If they should get far enough into the playoffs to meet the Lakers, there is no way Phoenix can win in a seven-game series.
They have two choices: Either play out the season with the team they have and try to improve next year, or make a trade.
If they are at all serious about making a run at the Lakers this season, then they need to get on the phone and see who might be available.
But at this point, Nash is right. The Suns do have a lot of work to do before they are in the same class as the Lakers.
Most of that work, however, has to be done on the trading block rather than the practice court.