Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  December 6, 2009

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Records: Lakers 15-3 (1st in West) Suns 15-5 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (14th in league) Suns 115.3 (1st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.3 (3rd in league) Suns 110.5 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Channing Frye

The Lakers Coming in:Well, I asked for it. I said I wanted to see the Lakers tested and we got that. You can thank me later, because without that we get no dramatic Kobe bank shots.

But we should not be under the impression the Lakers played a great game. In particular, their fourth-quarter pick and roll defense was painfully bad. It’s not the kind of thing you freak out about in December, but it gives the team something to think about and work on as they start to travel a little and play some more quality teams (two games against the Jazz coming up, then there is that Cleveland team on Christmas).

The Suns Coming in: The Suns may mot play the best defense in the league, but they wouldn’t let a guy tie his shoe during the game and do nothing about it.

Phoenix comes into this game on the second night of a back-to-back, having beaten Sacramento last night (Phoenix in Sacramento then LA, they should call this the Purple Road Trip for them). The Kings put up a good fight and none of the Suns stars got to take the fourth quarter off. The Suns had lost their two previous games to the Knicks and Cavs.

The Suns have played 17 of their first 26 on the road and apparently have no friends in the NBA Schedule Maker’s office.

What’s been interesting, especially after those two losses, was the words coming out of the Suns locker room. Coach Alvin Gentry said the team seemed to lack confidence. Nash and Amare echoed those thoughts (as did some opposing players). It’s interesting and odd to hear a 15-5 team say they lack confidence, especially a Suns team that a few years back played with such swagger. Their system and style is only going to work if they play with that kind of confidence, and apparently that is lacking somewhat.

Blogs and links: A couple good Suns blogs out there, Valley of the Suns and Bright Side of the Suns.

The quote of the day comes from Get Banged on (via JE Skeets): “If Brad Miller jumps … does he really leave the ground?”

Also, off topic, long time reader/commenter here AusPhil is coming out to Los Angeles from Australia for a few days starting later this week. He wants to attend a Laker game or two, so if anyone has tickets they want to sell to the upcoming home games (T-Wolves, Kings, just not the Cavs on Christmas) shoot me an email and I’ll try to hook you two up.

Keys to game: We tend to think of the Suns as the run and gun squad, the Lakers slowing it down and getting the ball in the post. But so far this season, the Suns average 0.3 more possessions per game more than the Lakers — the two teams play at almost the exact same pace. Part of that is that the Lakers do push the ball off turnovers and Bynum/Gasol run the floor well and get early position down low and score quickly that way. (Plus, other teams are working hard to slow the Suns down.)

The Suns are shooting well from three as a team, 43.8%. They get good looks from their the same way they generate all their offense — via Steve Nash’s great decision making. Bill Bridges did a great breakdown of the early season Suns last meeting and his description of how they get points is still spot on:

1. Nash penetration. Usually to his left. Swing out with his left hand to the right corner 3. Or a further swing from the corner to the key and wing for open 3’s

2. Kick out from left block by Richardson or Hill after a double. Usually to the right wing to Frye/other shooter for open 3

3. PUJIT – no need to say more

Unlike most right handed players, Nash tends to penetrate going left. This is function of two factors,

– Amare tends to pick to Nash’s left – this naturally leads to his rolling from the right side or popping for a shot on the right and Amare is a strong right-handed player.

– Nash has a deadly jumpshot off the dribble to the right. He is not nearly as comfortable shooting over his right shoulder.

So force Nash to the right to discourage penetration and live with the jump shots.

In the past we have called this the “Steve Nash treatment” which is to let him dribble (no player in the league holds on to his dribble better) and make him the shooter. He’s a pretty good shooter, there is a price to pay, but better Nash scores 25 and has 7 assists than if he scores 14 and has 14 assists, that is when the Suns are dangerous, when the whole team is flowing. The Lakers did a good job with this last game, and Nash got frustrated and frustrated with the officiating (remember he made the glasses gesture to Violet Palmer?).

On offense last meeting, the Lakers won by establishing themselves in the post, both Bynum and Kobe. Bynum really gives Stoudemire fits. But tonight the Suns can give minutes to a true center in Robin Lopez as a counter. Of course, last meeting the Lakers were without Gasol, so the Lakers have their own counter move waiting.

Hopefully this is another game where we get to see The Taco Unit.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start at Staples Center, you can watch on Fox Sports and listen on 710 ESPN radio.