Game Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 2, 2007

Records: Lakers 0-1; Suns 1-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.1; Suns 99.5
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4; Suns 87.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown;
Suns: Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire.

Lakers Notes: It was the Lakers offense that looked out of sorts in the season opener, but remember that was against the best defensive team in the NBA last year and a team with two of the best shot-blocking centers in the league patrolling the paint. They make a lot of teams look awkward. The question is how do the Lakers come out and respond tonight — and do other Lakers step up early so Kobe doesn’t feel he has to take over the game single-handedly.

One thing the Lakers did much better than in the past against Houston is defend the pick-and-roll. The bigs showed out — meaning they stepped out on the small guard and forced him away from the basket — then the rotations and recovery behind them were good. It was the best we’ve seen the Lakers defend that in a long time.

Which is good, they are going to see a lot of it from the Suns. Like every trip down.

Two great Kobe posts: In all the media noise about Kobe and trades, there were two that I wanted to point out to people. First is the latest from Roland Lazenby, which talks about the Lakers and Kobe being together for better or worse.

The second is Matt from the great Blog-A-Bull, talking about the dead-for-now trade from a Bulls (and very rational) perspective. It is worth the read. (This link does not mean we are opening this comment thread up to Kobe trade proposals — I don’t care how you think the Lakers can make a fair swap with the Bucks, we’re not talking about it. For right now, the Kobe trade talk is dead and this will not become a message board trade forum.)

The Suns Coming In: Tonight will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Suns, with travel in between as well. Last night the Suns looked very rusty for three quarters but pulled it together for a very Suns-like 12 minutes at the end and knocked off the Sonics 106-99.

It was the Suns Bench that led the way back — Phoenix started its run with a lineup of Marcus Banks, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw along with Amare Stoudemie and Grant Hill. Barbosa led the way with a +8 for the Suns, but the bigger shock to me was the Marcus Banks looked much more confident and comfortable in the system than he did last year. It should be noted that only seven Suns played significant times.

Most of what I saw was a very sloppy Suns defense (which in turn was hurting their fast break), with Amare getting in first quarter foul trouble and unusually slowness from Marion (something I think he will not do two nights in a row).

But offensively there was no great new wrinkle — it’s the break and then the pick-and-roll, and the wisdom of Steve Nash running the show. Grant Hill still seemed to be finding his way, spending more time than he should hanging out at the three point line for spot ups. We’ll see if he adjusts for tonight’s game.

For more Suns background, check out Phoenix Suns Rising.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: For those of you other NBA stats fans out there, you need to check out this new site, Basketball Value. Not only does it have a lot of individual stats, it has a great breakdown by five-man units. The sample sizes are way too small right now to mean much, but this is going to be a great tool as the season wears on. (For the record, I did not use Basketball Value’s offensive and defensive ratings at the top of this preview, I used Hollinger’s off, the two are different, likely because they are using a different multiplier for pace. I need to see which is using what, but haven’t looked around their sites.)

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King, part deux: Jerry Buss is serving a two-game suspension, part of the penalty for his summer DUI in San Diego (that and a $25,000 fine from the league). So, exactly what good does suspending an owner from attending a couple of game do again?

Keys To The Game: Most teams struggle with the Suns because their style of play is an anomaly in the season. After seeing somewhat similar offenses for a month, in come the run-and-gun Suns, and with the grind of the NBA season there is little chance to really prepare for what is coming, and before they know it teams get swept up in the style.

The Lakers are different — after two consecutive years of playoff series against the Suns, the Lakers know how to defend and play the Suns. The basics are pretty simple — pound the ball inside, pound the glass and make Nash a shooter and not a distributor — but are easier said than done against such an athletic lineup.

Tonight a lot of the Lakers success will be on the Bigs — can the deep Lakers rotation take advantage of the smaller and shallower Suns lineup. The Sonics were able to get Stoudemire in foul trouble last night (Amare averaged 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season) and the drop-off from him to Brian Skinner is pretty far. The Lakers can run a lot of guys — Kwame, Bynum, Turiaf, Mihm, Radmanovic — at the Suns, but those Lakers need to have a good night for it to work.

If the Lakers are grabbing a lot of offensive rebounds, it’s a good sign. Making Nash shoot a lot would also be good, although he certainly can score (he had a good shooting fourth for the Suns last night). But a Nash shot is less dangerous than a Marion dunk, so make the Canadian shoot.

One other key — can Farmar and the rest of the second unit keep Barbosa from tearing them up. He killed them in the playoffs last year.

Thoughts/Prediction: This is the best situation the Lakers can hope to catch the Suns in — it’s a back-to-back with travel for them, so their legs shouldn’t be as fresh. That said, as it is the Suns home opener, they will be pumped.

I might have predicted a Lakers upset if Odom were healthy — Marion just can’t handle him on the block and Odom may have been the best player on either team in last spring’s playoff series. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers win, but the Suns have beaten the Lakers in eight of the last 10 regular season meetings, so I’ll say the Suns 103-99.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get ESPN, and online check out the scoreboard page.