Records: Lakers 48-11 (1st in West) Suns 33-25 (9th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114 (1st in league) Suns 112 (4th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (6th in league) Suns 109.9 (21st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Suns Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Shaq
Second Verse Not The Same As the First: I don’t think this Sunday contest is going to look like the Thursday night blowout win the Lakers had.
The main reason is, I expect Steve Nash will play (although he is officially a game time decision). Thursday, without Nash, nobody was making good entry passes to Shaq in the post, and that really limits his game (especially at this point in his career). That changed against the soft front line of Toronto, and I expect that with Nash back he knows he needs to get the Big Whatever-He-Is-This-Week involved early. The Gasol/Shaq matchup is an interesting one in that neither can handle the other on the defensive end if things are going well, so help defense will be important.
Second, the Suns running game Thursday night was helter skelter, with Nash it will have focus. Nash, with his great vision (years of soccer I think helped this) and one-handed quick passes was built to run this system. He gets to the person who hustles to the right spot, and the result when teammates are rewarded for hustle is that they do it.
The other thing that always amazed me about Nash was his ability to keep his dribble going. He never seems to give it up until it is the time for the right pass. He sort of reminds me in ways of Wayne Gretzky, who used to do things that would seem counter intuitive with and without the puck, until the play fully developed and suddenly you realized he was five seconds ahead of everyone else in his mind and was already in the right spot to make the play/pass.
Finally, and I think this has a lot to do with all the close road games the Lakers have had lately — teams don’t roll over at home. Get up by 15 or so early at Staples Center and teams suddenly begin to wonder if it’s just going to be one of those nights, their eyes glaze over and the sudden step back in effort makes the blowout a self-fulfilling prophesy. But not at a team’s home court. There, they don’t want to be embarrassed. They will fight back. Throw in the national television game and I can promise that the Suns will not roll over.
The year Kobe and Nash entered the league: The 1996 draft had a lot of quality, and a lot of it dropped down the board. Allen Iverson was #1 overall, Marcus Camby went second, with Shareef Abdur-Rahim third. But keep going down and you find Marbury fourth and Ray Allen fifth.
Kobe fell all the way to 13, drafted by Charlotte and instantly traded to the Lakers. Right after Kobe was Peja Stojakovic. He was followed by Steve Nash to Phoenix at 15. A guy the Lakers may have to deal with later, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, was taken 20th The Lakers used their first-round pick at 24 to pick up Derek Fisher.
Nash went on to be the lowest-drafted player ever to win the MVP.
Keys To The Game: Here’s the numbers: Since Gentry took over as the Suns coach their offensive efficiency from 108.9 to 120.8 points per 100 possessions (much better than the league-leading Lakers). The problem is their defense went from giving up 107.9 per 100 to 112.9. As was noted before the last game, the Suns have stopped playing much defense and just want to outscore you. That’s a tough thing to do against a Lakers team that can score with anyone, and that’s what happened Thursday.
We’ve talked in the past about giving Chris Paul the “Steve Nash Treatment” so I suppose we have to give it to Nash if he plays. The bottom line is that while Nash can shoot, you’d rather have him doing that then passing and getting his teammates involved. When everyone is involved and running, that is when the Suns can outscore you.
The Lakers had success running on the tepid Suns transition defense, they need to do that, but not get sucked into the pace — if nothing is there, pull out and run the offense.
When the Suns go small, punish them with Odom and Gasol and Powell. The Lakers are a bigger and my experience on the playground is that the bigger team often wins. Control the boards, crash the offensive glass. Also pressure Dragic and he will turn the ball over, we’ve seen that.
The Suns are overmatched against the Lakers. This is a game the Lakers should win, but it will not be a piece of cake like the Thursday effort.
Where you can watch: 12:30 start on ABC.