LA Lakers-Houston Rockets Demoted from ESPN in Favor Of...Suns-Timberwolves?

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

DENVER, CO - December 20:  Eric Bledsoe #2 and Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns smile and walk off the court against the Denver Nuggets on December 20, 2013 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bart Young/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant's knee injury has had some far-reaching effects.

Not only are the Los Angeles Lakers struggling in his absence (they've lost three games in a row), but the NBA has decided to flex out the Lakers' meeting with the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Jan. 8, in favor of an unlikely Western Conference matchup, according to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: 

And guess what? Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni openly admitted that Phoenix is the superior squad after falling to the Suns on Monday night, according to the Associated Press (via "Right now Phoenix is a better team than us...especially in the condition we are in."

While it may seem like a rather strange move on the surface, it's a sensible one that will help expose casual fans to the wonderful work that Jeff Hornacek is doing in his first season as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. 

According to B/R's Grant Hughes, the Suns are particularly enjoyable because of the way the team's unlikely personnel have meshed during the team's 17-10 start: 

Bledsoe has panned out brilliantly, posting a PER of 21.5 and bringing the same brand of high-intensity defense that made him a devastating weapon as a reserve with the Los Angeles Clippers last season.

Dragic is having a breakout campaign, Miles Plumlee is vindicating McDonough's belief that he could be a starting center and Frye is stretching the floor like he once did alongside Nash. Gerald Green is nailing threes from all over the court, for crying out loud.

Everything is working. 

As of Thursday night, the Suns occupied the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and owned the league's fifth-best offensive rating, generating 108.9 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.

Dec 18, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) talks with guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

As for the Minnesota Timberwolves, they have plenty of appeal themselves. 

Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are a dynamic one-two punch, and Love leads the league in rebounding, pulling down 13.9 boards a night. He also ranks tops among all power forwards, scoring 25.9 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three. 

It's also worth noting that the Timberwolves and Suns play at the league's second- and 12th-fastest paces, generating 97.7 and 94.9 possessions per 48 minutes, respectively. 

While it may not be a conventional meeting of Western Conference powerhouses, a matchup between the Suns and Timberwolves figures to be an entertaining up-and-down affair that's played at a breakneck pace.