If I were watching this game in a bar with my friends tonight, hereâ€™s what we would be betting on: Can the out-of-shape Vlade Divac make it through a game with the Phoenix Suns without losing his lunch? My guess is no, but Iâ€™m not sure the cameras will catch it.
I enjoy watching the Suns play just because of the pace and athleticism â€” they take 48% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Outside of that, there are only a few things of interest to Lakers fans.
First, will Caron Butler flourish in a fast-paced game? He scored 30 and added seven rebounds the last time these two met. Whatâ€™s more, he is seemingly developing good on-court chemistry with Kobe. I wrote last week that while is points per game had increased his basic numbers were the same as he had all season (and they were) â€” he wasnâ€™t playing better just getting more touches. But in the last few games that has started to change â€” his eFG% over the last 10 is 49.7%, well up from his season average. He is scoring 1.12 points per shot attempt, not only above his season average but also equal to Kobeâ€™s season average. Iâ€™m not saying Caron still isnâ€™t trade bait, but if he stayed and Lamar went â€” and the Lakers played a more wide-open system â€” he might be a good fit with Kobe.
Second, I think Sasha would flourish in a more wide-open setting, so Iâ€™d like to see him play 20 minutes tonight. He can use the minutes Vlade passes up while retching on the bench. I watched Sasha at the end of the disaster in Sacramento yesterday and thought it was one of his better defensive efforts â€” some things that looked like his fault were really Slava not sliding off picks. He may be a turnover machine against the Suns, but get the ball in his hands and letâ€™s run.
As for the Suns, I think one question remains: Can they beat the Spurs in the Western Conference finals? Weâ€™ve got a long way before that plays itself out â€” and who knows who will be healthy by the times those games roll around â€” but letâ€™s look at a couple of stats from 82games.com.
When the Spurs play the 10 fastest-paced teams in the NBA, their record is 20-8 (71%). When the Suns play one of the 10 slowest paced teams, they are 21-11 (66%). The Suns win 62% against the 10 teams that hold down shooting percentage, the Spurs win 64% against the best shooting teams. My early guess is if and when these two teams meet, and if San Antonio can limit the Suns fast break points (which every team has tried to do but San Antonio can do), they should win. But the Western Conference Finals are a lifetime from now.
Two quick things worth reading. First, in the New York Times today, one of the better NBA stat guys out there, Dan Rosenbaum, has a story about +/-.
Over at Supersonics Soul, the latest Carnival of the NBA is up. See what other NBA bloggers around the nation are saying about teams actually going to the playoffs. Well, except for Knickerblogger.