I had ever so much fun with the last playoff history piece that I decided to bring you more. Maybe it will be good karma or something, right? This one goes back quite a bit further than the 1992 beginning that Suns/Spurs had. In fact, the first time the Suns ever made the playoffs -- in their second season in 1970 -- they met up with their neighbors to the west.
The Suns and Lakers have met in the playoffs 11 times since 1970. You'll have to bear with me a bit because although my appetite for history is quite large, I wasn't actually AROUND the first few times the Suns and Lakers got together. As we did with San Antonio, here is a broad recap of the history:
- Los Angeles has 7 series wins while Phoenix has just 4.
- Los Angeles holds a 34-22 edge in the 56 playoff games between the two.
- The teams have met in the first round 4 times, with the Suns having the 3-1 advantage.
- The teams have met five times in the Western Conference Semifinals, with the Lakers holding a 4-1 advantage.
- The teams have met twice in the Western Conference Finals (1984 and 1989), with the Lakers earning both trips to the NBA Finals.
1970 Western Conference Semifinals: 2nd seeded Lakers defeat 3rd seeded Suns (4-3)
- Phoenix Suns: 39-43, coached by Red Kerr (38 games) and Jerry Colangelo (44 games)
- Los Angeles Lakers: 46-36, coached by Joe Mullaney
- Background: By the time the Suns and Lakers met in the 1970 playoffs, franchise histories were even more unbalanced than they are now. Phoenix was in just their second season of NBA existence while the Lakers already had 5 championships and 12 NBA Finals appearances under their belts (all 5 titles occurred when they were in Minneapolis). Although the Suns had lost a coin flip for the right to draft Lew Alcindor, they did win the rights to ABA/Globetrotter/street ball legend Connie Hawkins. With Hawkins and the recently acquired Paul Silas, the Suns snuck into the 4 team Western Conference playoffs (in a 7 team conference...in a 14 team league) for the first time and, along the way, improved their win total from 16 to 39 despite surrendering more points (121.1) than they scored (119.3). As for the Lakers, they were coming off two consecutive Finals losses to the Celtics and kind of cruised through the regular season on their way to 9 fewer wins than the season before. This record certainly wasn't helped by the fact that Wilt Chamberlain missed 70 regular season games with a serious knee injury.
1980 Western Conference Semifinals: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 4th seeded Suns (4-1)
- Phoenix Suns: 55-27, coached by John MacLeod
- Los Angeles Lakers: 60-22, coached by Jack McKinney (14 games) and Paul Westhead (68 games)
- Background: Phoenix was coming off a loss to Seattle in the Western Conference Finals the season before (a heart-breaking 7 game defeat) and used that as motivation to post their best record in franchise history. The Suns featured a starting lineup with 5 former All-Stars -- Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams, Don Buse, Walter Davis, and the recently acquired Truck Robinson -- and put Westphal and Davis on All-NBA teams (1st and 2nd team, respectively). Yet their 55 wins was only good enough for third in the division behind Seattle and you guessed it ... the Lakers. LAL entered the season not having been to the Finals since 1973 and were in the midst of the championship-less Kareem Abdul-Jabbar era when a happy point guard from Michigan State showed up. With Magic, the Lakers won their most games in a season since 1973 (60) and cruised into the playoffs with the West's first seed. Kareem won the NBA MVP.
- The Series: As if the Lakers needed any more help winning the series, the Suns were without Truck Robinson, who suffered a knee injury in the previous series against Kansas City. LA took Game 1 easily and won Game 2 after Paul Westphal's 15 footer with 15 seconds left in overtime fell short. To add to the Suns misery, Westphal was suffering from flu-like symptoms in Game 3 and without 2 starters (Robinson was still out), Phoenix fell into an 0-3 hole and although they claimed Game 4, LAL put the series away in 5.
- Suns Leaders: Phoenix was led by their All-Star tandem of Westphal and Walter Davis, who both averaged over 20 a game in the series. They also received 16 a game from Alvan Adams and right around 13 from Mike Bratz, who you've probably never heard of.
- Lakers Leaders: Kareem was dominant (31/12), Magic Johnson almost averaged a triple-double (18/10/9) and Jamaal Wilkes averaged over 20 points a game. This was a really good Laker team in case you didn't pick up on that.
- Fun Facts: 3 of the Suns 5 starters are currently in the Phoenix Ring of Honor.
- To the winner: The Lakers took care of the Sonics in the Western Conference Finals and then beat the Sixers for the NBA championship. Magic Johnson had 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists in the Finals clinching game which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed with an ankle injury.
1982 Western Conference Semifinals: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 5th seeded Suns (4-0)
- Phoenix Suns: 46-36, coached by John MacLeod
- Los Angeles Lakers: 57-25, coached by Paul Westhead (11 games) and Pat Riley (71 games)
Background: During the previous season, the Suns had won 57 games and the Pacific Division before shockingly losing to the Kansas City Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals. Adding first round pick Larry Nance to the core of Dennis Johnson, Walter Davis, Truck Robinson, and Alvan Adams seemed to put them in position to go even further in 1982. However, an elbow injury sidelined Davis for the first two months of the season and he never really regained full effectiveness, as the Suns slipped by 11 wins. The Los Angeles title defense in 1981 ended disappointingly when they were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Rockets. 11 games into the 1981-82 season, coach Paul Westhead was replaced by Pat Riley and the Lakers took off again and grabbed the top seed in the West in 1982.
- The Series: The Lakers brought Showtime front and center and basically dismantled the Suns in a 4 game sweep. Phoenix lost Games 1 and 2 by 19 points a piece, and while they played LAL closer back at Veterans Memorial -- losing by 8 and 5 -- they couldn't take a game in an almost non-competitive series.
- Suns Leaders: DJ was the leader of the team at 22 points per game, while Walter Davis began to score a little more than he did in the regular season but shot just 44.8% -- not impressive for a 51.1% career shooter.
- Lakers Leaders: Basically the same story as the 1980 playoffs except for the fact that point guard Norm Nixon put up 20 a game at the expense of some points for Kareem. Wilkes went for 20 per again, while Magic (again) almost averaged a triple double (17/11/9).
- Fun Facts: The Suns final game of the 1982 season (Game 4 of the Lakers sweep) was the same day The Weather Channel debuted on TV. (Yes, I'm reaching. Bad.)
- To the winner: In what is a growing theme of the Lakers stepping over the Suns on the way to a championship, LAL beat the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals and then dispatched Philly in 6 for their 2nd title in 3 years.
1984 Western Conference Finals: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 6th seeded Suns (4-2)
- Phoenix Suns: 41-41, coached by John MacLeod
- Los Angeles Lakers: 54-28, coached by Pat Riley
- Background: Citing a need for increased size, the Suns made the curious decision to trade Dennis Johnson to the Celtics in exchange for reserve forward Rick Robey. While this may have helped Boston, it caused the Suns to take a 12 win dip from their 53 win total from a season before. Walter Davis was back in full form for Phoenix, as he made the All-Star game for the first time in three seasons. As for the Lakers, they sort of rolled to 54 wins and the first seed in the West (again). They endured a bit of change during the season, as guard Norm Nixon was dealt to the Clippers prior to the season and replaced by Byron Scott. The star players stayed pretty much the same.
- The Series: Although the Suns were just .500 on the season they managed to slide past the Jazz and Blazers on their way to the WCF. The series with the top-seeded Lakers started just about as expected, with LA taking the first two games at home. The Suns managed to win Game 3, but following a Game 4 win for the Lakers the Suns found themselves in a hole they couldn't dig out of. Phoenix managed to fend off elimination in Los Angeles for Game 5, but the Lakers managed to put the series away when the Suns' last second shot in Game 6 fell just short.
- Suns Leaders: Phoenix was primarily led by Walter Davis and his 20.0 points per game and he was flanked by Larry Nance (17.7) and enforcer Maurice Lucas (15.9).
- Lakers Leaders: Even at 36, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still the primary scoring threat for LAL (23.9 ppg), but having 5 other postseason scorers in double figures (Magic, Cooper, Worthy, Bob McAdoo, and Mike McGee) certainly helped fill out the scoring.
- Fun Facts: Not sure if it's exactly "fun," but the Suns had a 31-10 record at home (pay no attention to the 10-31 road record). Also be aware that NBATV will occasionally play Game 6 of this series during the summer.
- To the winner: LAL advanced to the Finals (again), where they lost to the Celtics in 7 games.
1985 Western Conference First Round: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 8th seeded Suns (3-0)
- Phoenix Suns: 36-46, coached by John MacLeod
- Los Angeles Lakers: 62-20, coached by Pat Riley
- Background: For all intents and purposes, the Suns season ended when Walter Davis hurt his knee in a preseason game with the Lakers in October 1984. Having Davis for just 23 games helped limit the already talent-challenged Suns to just 36 wins and the 8 seed in the West. Larry Nance was the top scoring option for Phoenix, but anytime you are relying on James Edwards as a second banana, you know you're in trouble. The Lakers, on the other hand, were a machine, having won 62 games during the season and poised to win their first title in three years.
- The Series: It was a mismatch on paper and it was a mismatch on the court. The Suns had apparently sworn off defense for the series, since they surrendered an average of 136 for the 3 game sweep -- including a 147 point Laker performance in Game 2. Larry Nance and James Edwards missed the entire series. Not much more I can say. Total ass-kicking.
- Suns Leaders: Without all the good players, the Suns were led by Maurice Lucas' 19.7 ppg and 11.0 rebounds per game. Phoenix also got 17.0 a game from Alvan Adams and double figures from the murderers row of Mike Sanders, Jay Humphries, Charles Pittman, and Kyle Macy. Not pretty.
- Lakers Leaders: I don't want to waste your time so I'll just say: tall guy from "Airplane" and the host of the short-lived talk show "The Magic Hour."
- Fun Facts: 1985 marked the first All-Star appearance for Suns forward Larry Nance, and the only of his three appearances while with Phoenix.
- To the winner: You guessed it ... the Lakers beat the Blazers, Nuggets, and Celtics on their way to another NBA championship.
1989 Western Conference Finals: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 3rd seeded Suns (4-0)
- Phoenix Suns: 55-27, coached by Cotton Fitzsimmons
- Los Angeles Lakers: 57-25, coached by Pat Riley
- Background: This was quite the resurgence year for Phoenix as they were coming off three consecutive non-playoff seasons. The season prior, Phoenix dealt Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and a first round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, and rookie guard Kevin Johnson. Together with the off-season steps of adding unrestricted free agent (the first) Tom Chambers and rookie Dan Majerle, the Suns improved dramatically from 28 wins to 55 -- one of the largest boosts in NBA history. LAL, on the other hand, was coming off back to back championships and was already well on the way to weening themselves off of Abdul-Jabbar (who was in his final season). With a 41 year old Kareem limited to under 23 minutes a game, the star-studded Lakers still produced 57 wins and the Western Conference top seed. Magic Johnson won his second of three NBA MVPs.
- The Series: The Suns had swept Denver and had the good fortune of playing seventh seeded Golden State in the second round to get to the conference finals where they ran into the Laker buzzsaw. Again. Although the largest loss in the series was 8, the Suns still went down in a sweep to Magic and the Lakers. With a sweep, how much can you really say? Watch the video or something.
- Suns Leaders: The all under-30 core of Chambers (29), KJ (22), Eddie Johnson (29), Majerle (23), and Hornacek (25) all produced in double figures in the playoffs. Chambers averaged a double-double with 26.0/10.9 while young KJ was arguably more impressive in posting averages of 23.8 points and 12.3 assists.
- Lakers Leaders: James Worthy turned into the Lakers top scoring threat at 24.8 points per game, while Magic Johnson continued to produce impressively with 18.4 points and 11.8 assists per game. Byron Scott averaged nearly 20 a game for the playoffs.
- Fun Facts: Indicative of the lack of emphasis put on the three pointer at the time, future sharp shooter Jeff Hornacek missed all 7 of his three point attempts in 12 playoff games and hit just 27 for the entire season.
- To the winner: Los Angeles moved into the NBA Finals where the Pistons prevented them from winning their third consecutive title, with a 4 game sweep.
1990 Western Conference Semifinals: 5th seeded Suns defeat 1st seeded Lakers (4-1)
- Phoenix Suns: 54-28, coached by Cotton Fitzsimmons
- Los Angeles Lakers: 63-19, coached by Pat Riley
- Background: Phoenix featured basically the same core as the previous season, only adding Kurt Rambis for a little extra toughness, and won just one less game than the season before. Yet in the competitive Western Conference, this caused them to back step to the fifth seed. Los Angeles was dealing with the retirement of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but you wouldn't have known it from their record, as they won 63 games. The core of Magic, Worthy, Byron Scott, and A.C. Green trucked along just fine as Vlade Divac and Mychal Thompson attempted to fill the Kareem void in the middle.
- The Series: It took 6 tries, but the Suns FINALLY got a playoff series win over the Lakers. Phoenix took Game 1 of the series -- which ended a 21 game losing streak at the Great Western Forum -- while LA took Game 2 to even things up. The Suns managed to take both games back in Phoenix in front of a nicely excited crowd at Veterans Memorial and then held on for a 3 point win in Game 5 to win the series. The city was so enthused by the victory that over 9,000 fans greeted the Suns when they arrived back at Sky Harbor Airport. Enjoy the final moments of Game 5.
- Suns Leaders: Chambers, KJ, and Hornacek again. Chambers took a bit of a dip scoring wise at 22.4, while KJ averaged his second consecutive playoff double-double (21.3/10.6). Jeff Hornacek averaged 18.6 a game and did so on an outstanding 51% shooting.
- Lakers Leaders: Regular season MVP Magic Johnson took his game to the next level in the playoffs, scoring 25.2 points a game and dishing out 12.8 assists. James Worthy also averaged over 20 a game while the remainder of the scoring came from Byron Scott, Orlando Woolridge, and A.C. Green.
- (Not) Fun Facts: 1990 kind of reminds me of 2010. Suns got over a hump they had struggled with for years and still had to somehow get back up for the Western Conference Finals. I hope I'm wrong.
- To the winner: Finally with a series win over the Lakers, the Suns went into the WCF and promptly lost to the Blazers in 6.
1993 Western Conference First Round: 1st seeded Suns defeat 8th seeded Lakers (3-2)
- Phoenix Suns: 62-20, coached by Paul Westphal
- Los Angeles Lakers: 39-43, coached by Randy Pfund
- Background: I feel like I can do the Suns background without any research whatsoever. After failing to reach "the next level," the Suns traded Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang to the 76ers in exchange for power forward Charles Barkley. With Barkley, and newly appointed head coach Paul Westphal, the Suns ripped off the NBA's best record and held the city of Phoenix in the palm of their collective hands. Charles Barkley won the NBA MVP -- a first for a Suns player. Over in Los Angeles, they were in the second year of the post Magic Johnson era and the results were slightly worse than the season before (43 to 39 wins). Randy Pfund took over the head coach gig after Mike Dunleavy fled for Milwaukee and led a core of Sedale Threatt, Worthy, Scott, Sam Perkins, Green, and Vlade Divac.
- The Series: This was a relatively famous series for Phoenix fans as the Lakers got off to a 2-0 series lead -- both wins occurring in Phoenix -- before Paul Westphal made an impassioned speech about how the Suns would win three straight and win the series. As instructed by their coach, the Suns won both games in Los Angeles and came back home where they won the clincher in overtime to avoid an embarrassing first round defeat. The conclusion to Game 5 is below:
- Suns Leaders: In a shocking surprise, the MVP was the Suns leader averaging 27.6 and 14.4 for the series. KJ missed Game 1 but still posted averages of 17.8 and 10.0 assists. After scoring 18 points in both Game 1 and Game 2, Tom Chambers only scored 6 points in the remainder of the series. Rookie center Oliver Miller carried the Suns in Game 5 with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 blocks.
- Lakers Leaders: Sedale Threatt and Vlade Divac both averaged 18 points a game while Elden Campbell chipped in 14 a game. A.C. Green controlled the boards, as he averaged 14.6 rebounds a game in the five game set. Threatt went for 35 in Game 1, but didn't go over 20 the rest of the series.
- Fun Facts: 1992-93 was the only full season Randy Pfund was ever an NBA head coach (he coached part of '93-94).
- To the winner:The Suns took down the Spurs and Sonics on their way to just their second NBA Finals berth. Unfortunately this is where Michael Jordan awaited. Destiny denied.
2000 Western Conference Semifinals: 1st seeded Lakers defeat 5th seeded Suns (4-1)
- Phoenix Suns: 53-29, coached by Danny Ainge (20 games) and Scott Skiles (62 games)
- Los Angeles Lakers: 67-15, coached by Phil Jackson
- Background: The Suns were led by the adorable Backcourt 2000 and the jokes just write themselves there. Phoenix lost 269 player games due to injuries during the season and had to replace coach Danny Ainge, who resigned 20 games into the season. Through all the strife they still managed to make the playoffs. Shaq and Kobe were already in place for the Lakers but it was the addition of coach Phil Jackson that pushed the two superstars over the top. Jackson helped lead the Lakers to the NBA's best record while Shaq won his one and only NBA MVP. LAL getting back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991 seemed like a foregone conclusion, as the second best team in the NBA (Indiana) won 11 fewer games.
- The Series: Phoenix lucked out a bit in the first round, as San Antonio didn't have Tim Duncan, so to say they were over-matched against LAL was a bit of an understatement. The Lakers won Game 1 by 28 and while the Suns were more competitive in Game 2 and Game 3 losses (and actually won Game 4 going away), Los Angeles won in 5 with a dominant Game 5 performance, in which they held the Suns to 65 points on 28.8% shooting.
- Suns Leaders: Phoenix got over 20 a game from both Penny Hardaway (21.4) and Cliff Robinson (21.2). Jason Kidd had a triple double in the Suns Game 4 win, but for the series didn't exactly blow anyone away with his 10 point average. Shawn Marion averaged 9.2 points per game in the 5 games.
- Lakers Leaders: The LAL core was Shaq and Kobe and this series was no different. O'Neal was truly dominant, averaging 30.2 points and 16.2 rebounds a game, while 21 year-old Kobe Bryant put up 21 points a game. Not that they did anything special, but the rest of the starters were Glen Rice, Ron Harper, and A.C. Green.
- Fun Facts: Kevin Johnson, Mark West, and Oliver Miller all returned to play for the Suns during the 1999-2000 season. And in a nice little bridge to the future, they all played with Suns rookie Shawn Marion.
- To the winner: LAL went on to a wildly entertaining Western Conference Finals series with the Blazers in which they trailed by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter before rallying for the win. The Lakers then defeated Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers for the championship. Their first in the Kobe/Shaq era.
2006 Western Conference First Round: 2nd seeded Suns defeat 7th seeded Lakers (4-3)
- Phoenix Suns: 54-28, coached by Mike D'Antoni
- Los Angeles Lakers: 45-37, coached by Phil Jackson
- Background: Even without Amar'e Stoudemire (microfracture), the Seven Seconds or Less era was in full swing and the Suns managed to have an impressive season. Boris Diaw won the NBA's Most Improved Player award and filled in admirably for STAT. Shawn Marion had probably the best season of his career with 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds while Steve Nash won his second consecutive MVP. The Lakers were in the second year after Shaq, with the first year being a 34-win disaster where new coach Rudy Tomjanovich quit 43 games into the season (though the Lakers were 24-19 at the time). Phil Jackson returned to coach LA in '05-06 and led Los Angeles back to the playoffs. If you remember much about this Lakers roster, you probably remember they had Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom ... and not much else. Just for kicks, check out some of the guys who started for LAL: Smush Parker (82 games), Chris Mihm (56 games), Brian Cook (46 games), Kwame Brown (49 games). Bryant obviously carried the team and averaged 35.4 points a game for the season, by far his career high.
- The Series: The Suns entered the series a heavy favorite and predictably won the first game. However, Los Angeles took the next three games including a memorable Kobe Bryant buzzer beating jumper to win Game 4. Backs against the wall, the Suns went back to Phoenix and won Game 5 to stay alive. The Lakers held a 3 point lead late in Game 6 when Tim Thomas hit a three off a Shawn Marion offensive rebound to send the game into overtime, where the Suns would pull away. With the series tied, the Suns dominated Game 7 and took the series. This series is known primarily for two Kobe Bryant-related incidents: (1) Raja Bell clotheslining Bryant in Game 5 (earning himself a suspension for Game 6) and (2) Kobe opting to take just three shots and scoring one point in the second half of the decisive Game 7.
- Suns Leaders: Phoenix was relatively balanced as five guys averaged in double figures for the series. Steve Nash led the way at 22.1 (and 9.6 assists), Boris Diaw was at 18.3, Shawn Marion at 18.1 (with 9.4 rebounds), Tim Thomas
got paidaveraged 15.6, and Leandro Barbosa was good for 12.7 off the bench.
- Lakers Leaders: Kobe Bryant was good -- no surprise there -- scoring 27.9 a game on 49.7% shooting. Yet he actually got a bit of help in the series from Lamar Odom -- who averaged a double-double (19.1/11.0) -- and Kwame Brown (!) and Luke Walton, who both averaged over 12 points a game for the 7 game series.
- Fun Facts: Jim Jackson, who had played for the Suns the season before when they made the WCF, was a deep reserve for the Lakers in the series.
- To the winner: Phoenix completed its Staples Center sweep by taking care of the Clippers in the second round, but fell to Dallas in 6 games in the WCF.
2007 Western Conference First Round: 2nd seeded Suns defeat 7th seeded Lakers (4-1)
- Phoenix Suns: 61-21, coached by Mike D'Antoni
- Los Angeles Lakers: 42-40, coached by Phil Jackson
- Background: With Amar'e Stoudemire back in the fold, the Suns rolled to 61 wins -- although it wasn't easy at first. Phoenix began the season 1-5 before producing win streaks of 15 and 17 games and gaining the Western Conference's second seed (Dallas won 67 games). LAL hadn't exactly changed a ton from the previous season, outside of a mildly increased role for young Andrew Bynum and almost 23 minutes a game for Maurice Evans. What helped cause the Lakers to slip back to 42 wins was probably the injury troubles of Lamar Odom, who played just 56 games during the regular season.
- The Series: This one wasn't nearly as competitive as the previous season. Phoenix held serve at home this time, and although the Lakers would edge the Suns in Game 3, the Suns rolled through the next two games and won the series in 5.
- Suns Leaders: The Suns got standard production from Nash, Stoudemire, and Marion but Leandro Barbosa really stepped his game up in the playoffs. LB scored 26 in both Game 1 and Game 2 and averaged 21.2 points per game off the bench. In case you did want to know how the big three did, they were all good: Nash 16.0 ppg and 14.0 assists per game, Marion 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds, and Stoudemire 24.2 and 13.6. Nash had an astounding 23 assists in Game 4.
- Lakers Leaders: Kobe and Odom were basically the only bullets Phil Jackson had in his gun. Bryant averaged 32.8 points for the series, while Odom put up 19.4 a game. Nobody else on the Laker roster averaged more than 8.6. I just can't believe why Kobe would have demanded a trade unless they improved the talent ...
- Fun Facts: Just to remind you of what it was like, in 4 of the 5 games only 8 Suns players played even a minute.
- To the winner: The Suns lost to the Spurs in the second round ... it really sucked. Steve Nash's nose got all bloody then dudes got suspended later in the series.
Pretty much exactly what you had to have expected. The Lakers have won a bunch of championships and been quite good while the Suns have gotten by them a few times, but mostly in the first round. And again, as I said with the Spurs history, none of this really matters. Unless you believe in ghosts ... or Scooby Doo. So enjoy the look back and heap me with praise. Thanks in advance.