I’m not going to say much about the win over Portland, the Lakers beat a team they should. Especially since Sunday’s game looks a lot like a first-round playoff preview. While things can certainly change, for now letâ€™s pretend it will be for two reasons: 1) Itâ€™s a likely scenario; 2) Iâ€™ve done a lot of research on the Suns/Lakers match up, stuff I donâ€™t want to redo for the Spurs. Iâ€™ve got a life, you know.
One thing we can agree on is that the best way to stop the Suns is to stymie Steve Nash. Easier said than done, but not impossible. So here are two things to look for today, things Phil Jackson may be trying out for the upcoming series.
First, who do you put on Nash, Smush or Sasha? Or, is there a third option? I went back over the game flows from the first three meetings between the Lakers and Suns, trying to isolate when Nash was on the court against just Smush and just Sasha, to see how they did (this is assuming they had the primary defensive responsibility on him). The bottom line â€“ Smush had a lot more success (but he was playing mostly with the other starters). In the 10 times Smush and Nash were isolated, often at the start of games, Smush was a total of -3, which is fairly close to even. Sasha, in just four such times, was -10. Smush had positive and negative runs against Nash, Sasha was lucky to stay even. The book on Nash is that long defenders bother him, so look for Phil to try a few things, but Smush does have length and may have had more success than it seemed to me on a gut level.
Second, in the last game one of the things the Lakers did was switch on most picks â€“ meaning if Marion came out and set a pick at the top of the key for Nash, Odom often left his man for Nash. The problem was, the Laker bigs were afraid of Nashâ€™s quickness and dared him to shoot from the outside, so he did and hit some threes. Remember, on the season Nash is shooting 42.7% from beyond the arc (ninth best in the league). They canâ€™t give him a good look from there.
Of course, the flip side problem is you donâ€™t want him blowing by the big for a lay-up, which the Lakers gave up a lot of in the last game as well.
One final note, see what tempo the Lakers run their offense at against the Suns â€“ or if they do at all. All season long, the Lakers have pushed the ball after a miss, but more than any team I can remember they also pull up if the D gets back at all. Except against the Suns. The Lakers rarely worked their way through the offense and often either shot on the break or took a quick jumper in the half-court, a system Kobe can thrive in the rest of the Lakers canâ€™t (Kobe shot 65.2% [eFG%], the rest of the Lakers 40.8%). There are moments to run, but the Lakers need to slow the pace and run their offense.
And they need to pound the ball inside â€“ other teams have had good success with that against the Suns, but by my count the Lakers took just five shots inside of four feet in the first half of last game (some of the start was missed due to ESPNâ€™s coverage sucking). In the last game Marion was matched up on Odom, and when the Lakers posted Kobe the Suns worked hard to deny the entry pass, so some of the other Lakers are going to have to get inside to loosen things up.
A win Sunday by the Lakers will not only clinch a playoff spot but also likely ensure this as the first-round match up. It will be interesting to see how Phil adjusts and tries different things to slow the Suns down, as much as that can be done.