PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix Suns are a different team without Amare Stoudemire in the lineup. Kobe Bryant doesn’t care one bit.
The Suns will unveil their new-look team without Stoudemire for the first time at home Friday night against Bryant and the Lakers in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.
Los Angeles (1-0) won in six games over Phoenix (1-1) last season to advance to the NBA finals for the third straight year. Bryant averaged 33.7 points and 8.3 assists in that series.
It was a satisfying feeling for the Lakers superstar, who still had bitter memories of Los Angeles’ playoff exits at the hands of the Suns in 2006 and 2007. He doesn’t feel bad the Pacific Division rival seems to have gotten weaker with the departure of Stoudemire.
“We beat them in the playoffs last year,” said Bryant, who capped the series with a spectacular 37-point performance on the road. “They used to kick our butt all the time in the playoffs. So I have no sympathy.”
Stoudemire averaged 25.0 points and shot 69 free throws in the series, and was a major reason why Lakers center Andrew Bynum was in foul trouble for many of those games.
“Stoudemire is right up there as a player that gets a lot of finishes and gets a lot of foul shots,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “So that’s a high-percentage shot, he shot in the high 50s and consequently they’ll miss that accuracy that comes along with that productivity.”
It’s clear that the Suns will have to use a more balanced attack without Stoudemire’s 23.1 points per game. That’s exactly what Phoenix displayed in Thursday’s 110-94 win at Utah.
Steve Nash and Hakim Warrick scored 18 points apiece as seven Suns players reached double figures. It was a far cry from Tuesday’s 106-92 loss at Portland in which three Suns had at least 10 points.
“It was undoubtedly an important game for us tonight,” Nash said Thursday. “We learned our lesson and held our composure for longer stretches and, in particular, we held it together at the end of the game.”
Warrick managed just 10 points and two rebounds in the opener. He was much better Thursday with a team-high 11 rebounds.
“Hakim was great on the glass and hustled,” Nash said. “He finished and got to the line. He did a lot of little things that matter. But he also scored and when he can do that, it makes us a better team.”
The Lakers opened with a 112-110 victory over Houston on Tuesday. Pau Gasol had 29 points and 11 rebounds while Bryant scored 27 points.
The Suns will likely have Warrick, Grant Hill and newcomer Josh Childress take turns to try to slow down Bryant.
Bynum remains out for Los Angeles after recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery, but his presence won’t be needed anymore to try to combat Stoudemire.
“The combination with Stoudemire and Nash has been great in the last few years, so that will need a little timing,” Jackson said. “But this will be a good team, Phoenix will still be a real good team.”