(AP) – Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry believes he needs someone other than Grant Hill to defend Kobe Bryant in order for his team to contain the league’s scoring leader.
Bryant doesn’t think it makes any difference who guards him.
Coming off another big performance against the Suns, Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers look to win a fourth straight game and sweep this home-and-home series Sunday night at the US Airways Center.
After finishing with a season-low 10 points on 5-of-18 shooting in Tuesday’s 86-78 win over Atlanta – the sixth time in seven games Bryant shot less than 40.0 percent – the 14-time All-Star busted out of his shooting slump Friday against the Suns. He finished with 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting to lead the Lakers (18-12) to a 111-99 victory, their third in a row following a 1-3 stretch.
“Obviously, Kobe went off,” said center Andrew Bynum, who finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds. “He had (36) points, and the rest of us were just kind of filling in the gaps.”
This wasn’t the first time Bryant, who averages 28.9 points, overwhelmed the Suns (12-19). He had a season-best 48 points and went 18 for 31 in a 99-83 victory Jan. 10.
In Friday’s matchup, Bryant scored 18 in the third quarter, with most of the damage coming after Hill went to the bench with his fourth foul.
“It’s the same thing that happened here last time,” Gentry said. “I had to take Grant out of the game and (Kobe) seems to explode every time I do that. I think he had 16 (points) when we took him out then he had 32 when he got back in. Somebody else is going to have to step up to slow him down at least.”
Despite Gentry’s high praise for the 39-year-old Hill, Bryant thinks Phoenix could have better luck slowing him with double teams.
“Doesn’t matter if Grant’s in the game or not,” Bryant said. “If they’re not going to double and I have room to go to work, I’m going to go to work.”
Bryant routinely has made things difficult for Hill and the Suns, averaging 31.3 points in the last 24 meetings including the 2010 Western Conference finals. Los Angeles has won 18 of those games.
While Bryant has led the way against Phoenix, the work of Bynum and Pau Gasol on the boards has also been key. Los Angeles, which averages a league-high 45.6 boards per game, outrebounded the Suns 52-36 on Friday and had a 49-35 advantage in the first meeting.
Bynum and Gasol have totaled 55 points and 47 boards in those victories.
The Lakers improved to 13-2 at home Friday, but are just 5-10 on the road – tied for the second-worst road mark of the 17 teams at or above .500.
The Suns, meanwhile, have lost four in a row and have been awful at the US Airways Center. Phoenix’s 5-8 home record is the worst among the 25 teams with at least 10 victories.
Marcin Gortat, the only player to start all 31 games for the Suns, is averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds at home compared with 16.7 points and 11.4 boards on the road. He’s averaged 20.3 points and 14.7 rebounds in his last three games against the Lakers, all at Staples Center.
Steve Nash matched a season high with 17 assists Friday but also had a season-worst seven turnovers. The two-time league MVP leads the league in assists at 10.9 per game, but Phoenix is just 3-9 when he gets 12 or more.
Updated February 18, 2012