Preview and Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  February 20, 2008

Records: Lakers 36-17 (3 seed); Suns 37-16 (2 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (2nd); Suns 115.2 (1st)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (8th); Suns 107.9 (15th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radminovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Suns: Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O’Neal

Lamar Odom talks: Over at Lamar Odom’s personal website, there is a new 12-minute interview with the man just before the All Star break where he talks about a wide range of topics. While at no point does he mock Coby Karl, the video is still worth watching. Among the highlights:

• Says that the last road trip was very good for him, and people are now noticing the little things he does more, in part because the team is winning.

• “With the addition of Pau, I can have a great game getting 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, helping control the tempo on the perimeter.”

• He talked about his slower start to the season, saying it part that was due to an inability to train like he wanted in the summer and through training camp. He feels like he is coming around now, starting to peak.

• “We could change basketball here in America if we counted the hockey assist.”

• He compared the eventual pairing of Bynum and Gasol to an effective twin-towers duo — Tim Duncan and David Robinson. He said that with the two of them protecting the rim the Lakers could be a force on defense.

• He talks about his music label.

• “If we all get healthy at the same time, we can definitely go to the big dance, we can compete for a ring.”

Lakers Notes: Coby Karl has a career high in scoring last night to go with a surprising big-air dunk — you know good things are happening when that is the case.

The Lakers used a pressure defense to force 19 first half Hawk turnovers, and that was your ball game. Not a lot of breakdown warranted, the turnovers led to a very efficient Laker offense. The Hawks, in their first game with a new PG, looked lost and were quickly demoralized, which in turn led to a half-assed effort on defense from them as the first half wore on.

The best part for the Lakers — the starters got plenty of rest heading into a big, nationally-televised back-to-back.

The Suns Coming In: You’ve got to say this for the Suns under Steve Kerr — they were willing to take the big risk. Tonight is the first step in seeing if that will pay off.

With Shaq the Suns certainly gives them a bigger, more traditional inside presence. I have no doubt that Steve Nash can get him the ball in places he can succeed some on offense. I think the Suns will still score, the question (as always in the Valley of the Sun) is defense. One thing not to overlook — part of the Suns problems on defense is they are a weak rebounding team, the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA this season (allowing opponents to grab 31% of their misses). Shaq will help change that.

One Sun who has been on a tear lately is Amare — is averaging 25 and 10, while shooting 59.2% inside the arc, in his last 10 games. Nash continues to be Nash. And let me admit that before the season I questioned the Suns getting Grant Hill, I didn’t think there was much left in the tank. I was wrong, he’s been a solid fit, not taking up too much of their offense (just 17% of shots when on the floor) and shooting a solid 53.2% eFG%.

Keys To The Game: If the Lakers do one thing on offense tonight when Shaq is in the game, it should be a ton of high pick-and-rolls. Both with Kobe and Fisher handling the ball. The reason is simple — in 2000, in (arguably) his prime, Shaq was unimpressive at defending the pick and roll. He’s worse now. If he comes out to defend it, there are no intimidating Suns guarding the rim (or, Amare can leave Odom/Radminovic and pay that price). If he stays in the paint, Pau pops out and drains the 18 footer. Also Fisher should handle the ball a lot in that situation because Nash is poor at defending the P&R as well — combined with Shaq the Lakers should be able to exploit that.

Shaq or no Shaq, it is Nash that stirs the drink in Phoenix and the game plan to stopping the Suns is the same as the last two meetings (which the Lakers won) — make Nash the shooter, don’t let him start feeding Amare or Hill or Shaq for easy dunks. And when he drives the lane everyone cannot collapse off their man to protect the paint, leaving three point shooters open. Lamar, I’m looking at you. Let Nash have a big scoring night, that’s not how the Suns win.

And, of course — transition defense. Go after offensive rebounds so the Suns all can’t take off early. Run back fast. Make them jump shooters and try to take away the easy buckets.

Where you can watch: The game is at 6 pm (Pacific) on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles and ESPN everywhere.