Records: Lakers 47-10 (1st in West) Suns 32-24 (9th in West, half a game out of 8th)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Suns 111.8 (4th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Suns 109.5 (20th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Suns Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, Shaq
Lakers Coming In I think it’s a sign of how good things are going that what has Lakers fans upset is a perceived slight by John Hollinger over at ESPN. If that’s the biggest problem we have — a power ranking that has no bearing on the playoff seedings or anything else — then we are in good shape.
We are getting to the point in the season when we can start to look at potential first-round matchups. Right now, teams 7, 8 and 9 are Utah, Dallas and Phoenix. The only team I really wouldn’t want of that group to start with is Utah — not that the Lakers couldn’t beat them, I don’t think there is a team in the West that beats a healthy Lakers squad, but you want a first-round series you can end early and get some rest for your players. Utah will not be an easy out, and with the right matchup is a team that can pull a first-round upset. Dallas and Phoenix are good as well, both teams have players that can single handedly win a game or two in the playoffs, but it takes a team to win a series, and they don’t have that.
I expect that Utah will be seventh or higher, they are healthy now and playing well. Which means either the Suns or Mavs will be the odd team out (barring a major injury from a team above them). It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.
TOP CHEF SPOILER ALERT!
Hosea Is Top Chef? On one hand Hosea deserved it, he had the best overall meal on the last night of the show. I think Carla would have won this thing if she stuck to her guns and did what she wanted, Stephan could have won with a Top Chef Finale worthy desert, not ice cream. If you’re going to go desert in the finale, you better have a spectacular one in the cookbook.
Hosea was good and safe the entire show. He rarely ever was bad, but he was rarely ever spectacular. He was steady good, and that was good enough. But if I were opening a restaurant he would be the last of the final three I would hire — with some work you could get Stephan or Carla to put together an amazing menu, you just have to get the misses out of the lineup. Hosea’s menu would be good, but not great. I just wanted to see great win, not steady. But good on Hosea, who at least seemed like a guy you’d want to have a beer with.
The Suns Coming In: No Steve Nash tonight, that’s the report. I got that info from Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse, who has been the best source of Suns info this year. Here are his thoughts on the Gentrified Suns:
We all know by now that the Suns have reverted to D’Antoni ball under new head coach (and former assistant under Mike D.) Alvin Gentry. Phoenix is 4-1 since they made the switch, with the only loss coming to the Celtics. Since Amare Stoudemire has left the lineup, Phoenix has decided to try to run even more if that’s possible, buy going extra-small in the starting lineup.
It’s been Nash, Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, and Shaq. Barbosa has been playing out of his mind in the new (old) system, including putting up a crazy line of 41 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and six steals (!) against Oklahoma City last week. But a team like the Lakers should have little trouble handling this lineup — if they play smart and don’t get caught up in a track meet.
While the Suns have crushed some lesser NBA squads, what hurts them in the new system is their defense. Again, here’s Brett, this one from Fanhouse:
For a team that prides itself on being so quick offensively, the Suns are extremely slow when it comes to defense. The veterans have trouble staying in front of their man or fighting through screens, and the help comes late or not at all — so they end up fouling.
If the NY Times magazine piece taught us anything about beating the Lakers, one big key is keeping them off the free throw line. OKC did not do that the other night and it cost them. The Lakers should be able to get to the line tonight.
Keys To The Game: Phil is not one to adjust to what another coach is doing, he wants you to adjust to him. So look for the Lakers to try to use their size advantage tonight. If Shaq is on Gasol, put Pau in the high post and pull the big man away from the basket. Odom will be able to dominate the boards if Shaq is 15 feet out trying to run down Pau.
Here is the scoop on beating these Suns from Brett:
The way to beat the Suns is to push the ball like they do, but only when the opportunities are available. This is important, because if you start taking long jumpers (or three-pointers as the Lakers sometimes like to do) early in the shot clock, unless they’re all going down, it’s going to feed into the Phoenix running game. And obviously, you don’t want to do that.
The rest of the time — after made baskets or in the rare instance that the Suns get back on defense after a miss — the key is to run the offense, and have patience in waiting for high percentage shots to open up. And inevitably, they will. The Suns are a horrible half court defensive team, and they know it — which is why they try to avoid that scenario by pushing the tempo at all costs.
Run when you can, work for (and make!) high percentage shots in the half court set when you can’t. And don’t get sucked into taking bad shots early in the shot clock. That’s how to beat the Suns.
So Fish, although you hit them, lay off the PUJIT’s tonight. That recipe above is what the Celtics followed — they shot 60% against the Suns last week. The Lakers can do the same.
Also, because the Suns like to run now, they leave the rebounding to Shaq and just take off. If Gasol and Odom crash hard on the offensive glass, the Lakers should get some second chance points and put backs.
Where you can watch: It’s the second TNT game, so the official start is 7:30, the actual will be 7:45 and we will still miss the first five minutes.