Open Thread — game six

Kurt —  May 4, 2006

Just what does the suspension of Raja Bell mean for game six?

When Bell has been on the floor in this series, the Suns have had a team defensive rating of 104.7 (points per 100 possessions). When Leandro Barbosa (his replacement as a starter) is on the court, it is 113.2. That’s a massive 8.5 points per 100 possessions difference (yes, there is some dirt in that number, but it is still too dramatic to ignore). Or think of it this way — even if the game is played at the Lakers pace of 90 possessions per team, that is more than 7 additional points for the Lakers.

Here is another way to look at it — when Barbosa is sitting the Suns defensive rating is 99.1, 14.1 points per 100 better than when he is playing. So far in the playoffs, the man Barbosa is matched up against has shot 50% eFG%.

Here’s still another way to look at it: The Suns’ regular starting five is averaging a +24 per 48 minutes in this series, but remove Bell and insert Barbosa in that lineup and that falls to +6.9.

The Lakers should — should — be able to break out of their offensive slump tonight. Look for a host of people to take their turns on Kobe (Barbosa, James, Marion) with the quick doubling continuing. However, no other Suns defender is as physical as Bell, so Kobe should have more room to operate.

Whatever Kobe does, for the Lakers to win they need to get back to the pound-it-inside style that got them three wins. Odom has to get the ball in the block. Kwame has got to become a force in the post, and getting him some early baskets and confidence would help. Post up Walton and Smush, too.

The tempo picked up last game because the Suns created turnovers and made it hard for the Lakers to establish the inside game that had worked so well. Getting the ball inside is the key because that is at the heart of slowing the Suns — force Diaw and Marion to defend the basket, don’t let them just get out and run. The Lakers need to make getting offensive rebounds a priority for the same reason.

The Lakers also need to return to the defensive efforts and rotations that slowed the Suns in the half court. Last game, Nash and the other Suns took their Laker counterparts off the dribble seemingly at will, and help rotations were tardy (or non-existent). The Suns drove the lane a lot last game, the Lakers need to make sure there is a price to pay for that.

This is must-win — we do not want to go back to Phoenix for a game seven. With Bell out and the team at home there will never be a better chance.

This game is going to be desperate and a lot of fun to watch. And I think at the end we’re all going to have a smile on our face.