Lakers look to be spoilers down the stretch

LOS ANGELES -- Call them the “player-haters of the year.”

That’s the term Kendall Marshall used postgame after the Los Angeles Lakers reeled off another victory against a playoff hopeful on Sunday night, defeating the Phoenix Suns 115-99.

They say misery loves company, and that’s exactly what the miserable Lakers want at this point -- to spoil other teams’ seasons and gain company at the bottom of the standings. With essentially nothing meaningful left to play for this season, Nick Young said they’ve found another motivating factor: hate.

The Lakers want their opponents to hate them. They want to knock postseason contenders down a peg or two in the standings, if not fall out of the playoff picture altogether. That, more than anything else, is their primary motivation for the rest of the season.

“We embrace trying to be the ‘player-haters of the year,’” Marshall said postgame. “We want to mess up seedings, keep teams out of the playoffs, and any type of motivation we can get to grow as a team is good for us right now.”

Prior to the game, coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if the Lakers reveled in their wins against playoff contenders such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks earlier this month.

Without hesitation, D’Antoni said it’s something Los Angeles has been focusing on and talking about recently.

“We want everybody to hate us by the end of the year,” D’Antoni said. “We did get New York and now we’re trying to get Phoenix and then we’ll try to give them a favor by getting Portland. We’ll have our chances, so hopefully we can do that.”

Against the Suns, everything went according to the Lakers’ spoiler plan.

L.A. led by as many as 26 points, dominating the Suns inside in large part because of Chris Kaman’s season-high 28 points on 13-of-19 shooting, 17 rebounds and six assists. Phoenix simply had no answer for the 7-footer. At one point, it was so bad that Suns coach Jeff Hornacek resorted to inserting seldom-used centers Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph to double-team Kaman for a brief stretch.

Kaman’s performance was flanked by impressive outings from several teammates, including Jodie Meeks (22 points on nine shots), Kendall Marshall (13 points, 11 assists) and Ryan Kelly (17 points, five rebounds). With six guys in double figures, it was a collective effort for L.A. -- one that left the visitors with actual postseason aspirations feeling a bit down.

“You’re going to have bad nights where things aren’t going right,” Hornacek said. “But for it to happen in a game like this, when you have to win [that’s bad]. If it happens against Oklahoma City, or the Clippers or something like that, then fine, but this team’s not a playoff team, so that’s why it’s disappointing.”

Except it shouldn’t be disappointing -- at least not in D’Antoni’s eyes.

As the season winds down, and the reality that this squad will probably go down as the worst Lakers team of all time (literally and figuratively) sets in, D’Antoni feels the Lakers have actually played better. There has been subtle improvement, and, even though their record doesn’t necessarily reflect it -- L.A. is 5-9 in March -- their stinkers have been fewer and farther between.

“I think we’ve had better performances in the last month than bad ones,” D’Antoni said. “When it’s bad, it’s really bad. You can’t play that way. You can’t not share the ball. We’re not quick enough, athletic enough to be able to have any kind of lack on the defensive end. It comes from not sharing the ball.”

Los Angeles shared the ball aplenty on Sunday, registered 29 assists on its 44 field goals. That, in turn, allowed the Lakers to play better defense, if D’Antoni’s theory is indeed correct.

They held the Suns to 38.5 percent shooting and, more impressively, 22.2 percent on 3-pointers (the Suns still managed to bomb away 36 attempts). Phoenix’s dynamic starting backcourt -- arguably the best in the league -- of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was limited to “just” 27 points and eight assists, and the remaining three starters chipped in only 12 points.

So, mission accomplished, at least for one night. The Lakers spoiled the odds of a playoff hopeful, and that’s all they can ask for at this point, right?

Well, not so fast.

“We still have something to play for, too,” Meeks said of the team’s internal motivation. “We have pride to play for. Individually, each person has something to play for. Anytime you have a chance to play, you don’t want to lose.”

Kaman, who snuck out without speaking to the media after the game, also played a more deferential tune, claiming that he doesn’t keep track of the playoff standings anymore or care about playing spoiler, for that matter.

“I don’t know where everybody’s at,” Kaman told Time Warner Cable SportsNet in a TV interview. “I just care if we’re going the same every game, trying to win and trying to play hard. For me, it’s just about doing that, and I don’t really keep track of where everybody’s at.”

Up next for the Lakers is a home date with Portland, the playoff team they just beat by one point nearly four weeks ago. After going through a rough patch, the Blazers have gotten All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge back from injury and are gaining some momentum. Plus, they'll definitely be looking for some much-needed revenge.

That doesn’t faze the Lakers, though. They’re ready for the challenge. If you thought they’d be lacking motivation at this point in the season, guess again.

“It is what it is,” Kent Bazemore said. “We have nine games left. Let’s go home with a little pep in our step.”