Lakers/Suns Series Preview Part 1: When The Lakers Have The Ball

Darius Soriano —  May 12, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id="3007350"]

The Suns are known as an offensive team.  Over the course of the regular season, they had the top ranked offense measured by both points per game (110.2) and in offensive efficiency (112.7).  Said in the simplest way possible, they are a juggernaut on that side of the ball.  However, after throwing the Spurs to the side in a 4 game sweep what’s been getting the Suns a lot of ink lately is their improved defense.  The Suns may not be the most athletic group and they may not possess the most size, but they’re playing disciplined on that side of the ball and are using their smarts to rotate well, contest shots, and then rebound the ball.   And since the Suns have been showing that they are a capable and somewhat improved defensive team, I thought it would be best to start our series preview with what the Lakers need to do when they have the ball vs. the Suns defense.

When looking at the Lakers offense against any opposing defense, there will always be two questions that need to be examined closely: 1). Does the opposition have a player to guard Kobe? and 2). Does the opposition have enough size to defend the Lakers’ big men?  Against OKC and Utah, how the answers to these questions played themselves out on the court were a major factor in the difference between a 6 game slugfest and a 4 game sweep.  In this case, when looking at the Suns, I think it’s fair to say that the Suns have decent options in answering both questions but none that should inherently scare the Lakers.  The odds are that the Suns will deploy either Grant Hill or Jason Richardson on Kobe and then play the Lakers bigs straight up with Amar’e (on Gasol) and (a returning healthy) Robin Lopez on Bynum.  As I mentioned, these options are good but not in the caliber of some of the better defensive players in the league at their respective positions.  Meaning, the Lakers should be able to score on the Suns defense if they play to their strengths.

First and foremost, that means getting the ball into the post.  Both Pau and Andrew will have distinct size advantages inside.  Much like in the Utah series, the Suns front line is a bit undersized compared to the Lakers’ twin 7 footers (though Amar’e/Lopez are more athletic than Boozer/Fesenko).  So, the Lakers will need to work the ball inside and use their big men as the offensive initiators from the low post.  As we’ve seen throughout this season, the Triangle offense is at its best when the ball goes into the post where our bigs can create offense for themselves and others.

However, going into the post doesn’t only mean attacking with our bigs.  As we’ve seen over the course of this season (and was put on even greater display against the Jazz), that Kobe Bryant guy is also a pretty skilled post player.  So going at either Richardson or Hill on the low block should also be a priority on offense.  If Kobe has proven anything over his recent run of 30+ point scoring games, it’s that he’s still very much wanting to get his shots close to the hoop and his work from the weak side pinch post has been a devastating weapon in fueling his offensive success.  When Kobe makes his catch at the elbow against any defender he just has too many options and his game is too versatile to completely stop, so making the Suns choose between single covering him down there or sending the double team is just another way for the Lakers to exploit the Suns D.

But the Lakers’ advantage in size isn’t only limited to taking the ball into the post.  As Zephid points out, another way to beat the Suns on the interior is to go after the offensive rebound after the shot goes up:

One statistical area that the Lakers can exploit is the Suns porous defensive rebounding.  The Suns are the 2nd worst defensive rebounding team in the league with a defensive rebound rate of 70.8.  Only the Warriors are worse, and the Lakers are 9th at 74.4.  However, the Suns are comparable to the Lakers in offensive rebounding, 27.7 for the Lakers and 27.6 for the Suns.  Thus, it is key for us to get offensive rebounds and tip ins, mostly for the points, but also because this will prevent the Suns from getting out in transition for easy scores.

As was the case against Utah, the Lakers must use their advantage inside in as many ways as possible.  I’d love to see the Lakers play volley ball on the offensive glass against Amar’e and co.  And this shouldn’t only be limited to when Bynum and Gasol share the court.  Odom is a very good offensive rebounder and since he’ll likely be in the game marking Frye (more on that match up later in the week), LO should use his quickness and athleticism advantages against Channing to snare the Lakers some extra possessions.

Lastly, the Lakers just need to attack.  Sure, going with a Kobe/Gasol centric offense is always a good bet, but the Lakers mustn’t get too focused on only going at the specific defenders that are guarding those two guys.  As Kwame A. noted in a recent email exchange the Lakers must also:

Make Nash, J-Rich and Amar’e defend:  When they are in man-to-man, we must make these guys exert effort.  With Nash, this may mean posting him up, with J-Rich and Amar’e, we need to also work them on the block, and try to get them in foul trouble.  This will fall mostly on Artest, Pau and LO.

Recently, the Lakers have been much more committed to executing their base offense.  Yes, Kobe and Pau have been featured within the offensive sets, but we’ve also seen much better cutting and screening off the ball and greatly improved ball movement in the half court.  So, if the Lakers can continue in these efforts they’ll be able to effectively go at Nash and Richardson (if they’re on Fish/Artest) by moving without the ball, sliding into open space, and cutting the basket on dives and hand offs to get these other guys on their heels.  The Lakers can also use some of the finer intricacies within the Triangle to get favorable match ups on these players.  For example, we could see more guard on guard screens where Fisher sets a screen on Kobe’s defender that can ultimately either give Kobe some free space or force the switch where Nash (or Dragic) ends up on Kobe.  We could also see more of the scissor cuts from the sideline initiation where after the ball goes into the post, the top side guard (Kobe for example) screens the defender on the corner man (Artest) to get Ron free to either get an open jumpshot or a handoff and drive to the basket against a switching or screened off defender.

In the end, the Lakers offense will be the stiffest test the “improved” Suns defense will face.  The Lakers have diverse threats on both the inside and on the perimeter and have two of the hotter offensive players still alive in post season (Kobe and Pau).   Mind you, the Suns can still throw defensive wrinkles at the Lakers by going zone like they did with good success earlier this year, by fronting the post (ala OKC), or by double teaming in non traditional ways.  However, with the talent level and offensive schemes the Lakers have in place, there should be counters to all of these tactics.  Will the Suns be able to slow the Lakers attack?  This will be very important to their success in this series because as we’ll cover in future parts of our series preview, the Suns won’t be able to simply outscore the Lakers.

Darius Soriano

Posts

52 responses to Lakers/Suns Series Preview Part 1: When The Lakers Have The Ball

  1. Brought over from the last thread:
    ————————————-
    Hollinger had the best take on last night’s Crabs-Leps game: “Games 2, 4 and 5 came with just one day of rest; in those three, he shot 0-for-13 on 3s and 17-for-47 overall. Games 1 and 3, on the other hand, had an extra day of rest beforehand, which seemed to allow his elbow to feel much better: In those two contests, he was a one-man wrecking crew, making 26 of 46 shots from the floor and scoring 73 points. Needless to say, those were the two Cleveland wins in this series.”

    In my opinion, that’s the best explanation for what’s going on with Lebron. Lebron has a very low pain threshold. Remember a couple years ago when Kobe missed no time despite tearing a ligament on his right pinky and also suffering an avulsion fracture on the pinky? The same season, Lebron suffered only a SPRAINED ligament on his LEFT index finger, and missed six or seven games. I think if this were the regular season, Lebron would not be playing with his sprained elbow. Since it’s the postseason, he has to play, but it’s bothering him enough that he’s checked out mentally, and his teammates have picked up that signal as well. The whole team (except Shaq) is pretty much done.
    ————————————

  2. Good writeup. I really hope the Suns try to zone up the Lakers. Pau will just flash to the FT line and carve them up. I’d also like to see Fish(?!), yes, Fish, post Nash up down low a few times. What concerns me is our bench. I hope Shannon, Jordan, Sasha, et al don’t try to outscore the Sun bench by jacking up long jumpers early in the shot clock. All they need to do is maintain the lead our starters give them.

  3. And Lebron had 4 days off before game 3.

    Regarding the Jamison trade mentioned in the last thread, anything that takes playing time away from Hickson can’t be a good move. And Big Z never really got back into playing form.

  4. I said a week or two ago that Lebron’s style of play incorporates a lot of physical contact – both for others and for himself. With a low pain threshold (like Magic) and his 1-man gang status (unlike Magic), he may not last until he is 34. In any case it is an argument for him to move to a team able to spend to put the right people around him.

    At the moment, if his injury is really bothering him, the one day turnaround until the game in Boston really hampers the Cavs and the Cs should really go all out to end it in 6.

  5. 1,
    That’s a great observation from Hollinger. Also, it’s what I think most people by temperament prefer: it’s not a big dramatic explanation (Lebron has a fatal character flaw that is preventing him from playing big–untrue, by the way) but something mundane. Dude doesn’t have the endorphins to distract him from the bodily discomfort. That sounds more plausible.

  6. re: The Suns – I think some people here are underestimating the Suns. They dismantled the Spurs – and that is no small feat. I think the Lakers will win, but not thinking it will necessarily be a short series.

    The Lakers have had a size advantage over all their opponents so far and if they go to their bigs that will be the key. Is Kobe willing to do that? Will the others remember to do that?

    Will the Lakers’ outside shooting stay hot? To me those are the key issues.

    re: Lebron – people are writing like they have already been eliminated. Weird. A couple of games ago it was the LeBron taking the Celtics’ lunch money and I thought the series was over then. So let’s see who actually wins the series before making statements about what it all means for LeBron.

  7. Staying with the “Lakers on offense theme”, Kurt has a good post up (no pun intended) with some comments from Jerry West on Kobe’s work on the low block. Check it out.

  8. ReignOnParades May 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Dudley, in his appearance on Bill Simmons podcast, seemed to tip their strategy that the main guys on Kobe would be him and, more prominently, Grant Hill.

    Kobe feasts on dumb athletes and these guys are just the opposite: smart, bigger defenders who aren’t overly athletic. This’ll be a Battier type series for Kobe.

    Richardson could be an option because he’s good in the post and because of cross matching, but I really think it’ll come down to how well Kobe negotiates the defenses of their SFs

  9. Not to jump the gun too much on future previews. But I’ve trying to figure out where the Suns supposedly showed their improved D against the Spurs. Unless I’m looking at the numbers wrong, here are the offensive ratings for Spurs in that series.

    G1 – 104.3
    G2 – 109.5
    G3 – 105.8
    G4 – 104.9

    Those aren’t spectacular defensive numbers for Phx by any means. If the D had really improved, shouldn’t we be seeing numbers closer to a hundred? Phx’s D rating for the year was 110.2. But maybe I’m reading it wrong, someone correct me if I am.

    Watching the games, I thought it was SA being unable to stop Phx more than Phx stopping SA. If the improved Phx defense is really a mirage then Lakers should not have a problem scoring. It’s just a matter of using the right schemes and making Phx work as Darius pointed out.

    It really then up to the Laker D more to defend Nash and Amare which the Spurs were unable to do.

  10. I think if the Suns cross-match with Hill or Dudley on Kobe, then we back out and post up Ron, who by default will have to be checked by Richardson. Artest may not be as effective a post player as he once was, but he still has an inch or two and 40 lbs or so on Richardson, not to mention a significant advantage in both strength and affection for contact.

    Yes, this gets us away from what we do best, but one of the great things about the triangle is that it can be changed up to take advantage of a mismatch. And if he’s not effective at it, we can always go back to our bread and butter.

  11. I think ReignonParade is right: Kobe will be seeing Grant Hill and Jared Dudly. “Long” defenders give Kobe trouble at this stage in his career.

    But I also think Boozer is a better defender than Amare, and if the Suns think they can put Amare one on one with Pau….

    By the way, Brian is right on with how to counter matching Hill/Dudley on Kobe. Posting up Ron on Richardson.

  12. I look forward to all the great analysis this site will provide. With that said, I have just one question:

    Can anyone see Kobe Bryant losing to the Suns this year? I mean really. I can’t. It will be a tough series. I give the Suns all the credit in the world for what they did to the Spurs. But I just can’t see Kobe letting the Lakers go down the Suns again, not as defending champs.

    It may get ugly, it may get dirty. But unless they carry Kobe off the floor on a stretcher the Lakers will prevail.

  13. Great notes, but what I keep hearing is that the Suns’ second unit is going to do damage against the Lakers. They seem to be playing well during the play-offs and Dragic and Dudley are having great runs. How will the Odom/Farmar/Brown crew do against these guys?????

  14. Bob French,
    It has been mentioned before — the Lakers play an 8 man rotation, while the Suns play 10.

    This means there will normally be a couple of starters in with the 2nd unit. This makes a big difference and you can’t just go down the player chart and compare numbers.

    The key for the Lakers will be to have someone who is able to direct the offense in at all times (Fish, Kobe, Luke, sometimes Lamar). We shouldn’t have Farmar, Shannon, Ron, Lamar in together.

  15. I just hope that PJ can fire up Artest the way he did in game 3 against Utah. If Artest can play with the mindset he had that night, LA will be on their way to the finals. Artest might get a little bored on defense considering he will be checking Richardson or Hill( not bad players), but not in the same breathe as an Anthony, Bron, or Pierce. Maybe putting him on Stoudemire in the post to get his juices flowing would be a great idea.

    So Phil, use your jedi mind tricks and show Alvin G. how its done on the big stage. Everybody has been talking player matchups, but the biggest mismatch of them all is on the sideline.

  16. I’m not sure if this is going to be easy by any means. The Spurs, a very veteran, a very very execution-oriented coach’s team, tried their best to stall the Suns’ fast break, attempting very few 3 pointers and all, but PHX still managed to run.

    Thankfully, our veteran core has had experience with PHX at their arguable best (I don’t really buy the improved defense thing; I think it’s more that the Spurs have been playing short-handed) but we do have Ron, who’s penchant for 3s (and missing them) could be fatal.

    Still, Fisher is pretty good against fastbreaks, something that may come in handy (although you can only be so good against fastbreaks by yourself), and we’ve got a peaking Pau who is a one-man fastbreak himself. He could be a 7 ft tall Magic ;)

    As for LeBron and his elbow, anything that requires an MRI is something that’s going to be painful enough for normal people to play. I remember the pain I felt when I had my wisdom teeth removed, and that was with painkillers ;) Can’t imagine what it must be like playing with a broken finger and arthritis, and honestly, I can’t blame LeBron for not being at his best with a bum elbow.

    More reason to admire and respect Kobe, but nothing to disparage LeBron with. Unless of course, he claims to be more macho than Kobe…

  17. One reason why the Suns easily dispatched the Spurs was because San An had no interior offense. Duncan (who is, in my opinion, the greatest Power Forward ever) is not the Duncan from years past. And after him, no one within the Spurs rotation posed a semblance of a threat in the paint (McDyess: Perimeter PF who’s too short, Bonner: Un-athletic jumpshooter & Blair: Inexperienced rookie who’s also too short, with no lift.)

    We, on the other hand, pose numerous amounts of threats in the paint/on the box. Starting with Pau, Bynum (health permitting) & Kobe (who is, arguably, our best post player), Phoenix will recognize early and often that we’re nothing like their 1st two playoff opponents (Portland only had one option, with size, in the paint: L.A.) Honestly, I would even like to see us post-up Ron Ron on some occasions. As I do not believe that G. Hill ( or J. Rich, if they cross match) is physical enough to deal with him on the box.

    Eventually, they’ll have to either double our interiors or play a weak zone defense. As Zephid points out within the analysis, they’re a poor defensive rebounding team, so playing zone will leave them even more vulnerable to second chance points for us.

  18. brought from the previous thread
    -
    Brett(suns) said I’m ignorant and pompous for saying…The Lakers can win games in the half court set, an uptempo game, a physical and sloppy game, a grind it out game, by pounding the ball inside or firing from the perimeter, you name the Lakers can win in that manner. Why do I say that, because over the past 3 seasons and in this current post season they have. And I’m ignorant for saying the only way the suns are going to beat the lakers is in an uptempo game while shooting a bunch of 3′s. That’s the only way they know how to win. Somehow I’m ignorant for stating the obvious.

    Am I wrong, please tell me. Brett if your here? Can the Suns beat the lakers in a half court game, Can the Suns beat the lakers by relying on their defense? No, the only way the suns can beat the lakers is by putting up 110+ points and hoping the lakers get cold.

    Darius you being too kind by saying the suns have “decent options” for defending Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum. I applaud your professionalism and that’s what makes this site great.

    Now I’ll say what you and every one knows. The suns do not have defenders that can bother Kobe, Gasol or Bynum. Kobe’s shooting ohhh 54% vs Jrich and Hill. I stated a few days ago, kobe has a higher shooting % only against the Nets, Wizards and Grizzlies. Hill, Jrich and Dudley cannot defend bryant. Nobody can defend Bryant. So why should I believe J Rich and Hill who have never been able to bother Kobe, all of a sudden be able to guard Kobe. Like J Rich and Hill red the Shane Battier manual on how to defend Kobe and Battier put out a Dvd.

    If that series vs the Spurs is the standard of new and improved Suns defense, then it’ll be a sweep. I’ve never watched Duncan just fall apart as he did last series. I mean the guy couldn’t buy a lay up. Giniboli wasn’t right after he broke his nose and had 2 stinkers. I hate that we have to wait until Monday to shut the Suns fans up.

  19. another good read from BS today, this time on the LeBron situation (but, you have to ignore the Kobe sidebar, that’s just his Celtic bias coming out).

    here’s his summation, to give you a taste:
    “At the same time, every career has a tipping point when you have to pour cement on the foundation of a career, have it harden and say, “How this plays out will probably determine who this player is going to be.” For Jordan, it was the 1991 Finals. For Bird, it was the 1984 Finals. For Ewing, it was the 1994 Finals. For Magic, it was the 1985 Finals. For Malone, it happened late (the 1997 Finals). For Kobe, it happened early (the 2000 Finals). And so on. Always — without fail — it happens in the Finals, because it’s the ultimate test of pressure.

    Only this time, with LeBron James, it’s happening right now. Round 2. At the age of 25. With the weight of a city on his shoulders. With a big decision looming. With the stench of a dreadful Game 5 still lingering. With an experienced Boston team (and crowd) waiting. On Thursday night, the cement will be poured for LeBron James. It’s time. I have no idea what will happen, and neither do you.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2vgje4q

  20. #18. I moderated that comment. I was a bit busy earlier and didn’t get around to reading all of the comments, but after I read that one the name calling got deleted.

    As for your overall point, I think the Lakers do have the more diverse attack on offense. That said, the Suns have shown to be a stronger half court team this season and, while still very effective in transition, aren’t completely dependent on transition baskets for their offense. We’ll get more into why their half court sets are effective and some of the things that the Lakers can do to slow it down in future posts, but I’ve been impressed with the Suns attack this year and especially in the playoffs. (However, I do think it’s true that just as the Lakers offense will be the Suns stiffest test so far this post season, the Lakers D can be described the same way. Overall, it should be clear that the Lakers are the best team the Suns have faced – the opposite is also true for the Lakers – and both teams will be tested in ways that they not yet been in the playoffs.)

  21. for now, all i can think of posting is…GO DARIUS GO!

  22. for some reason in me that i can not account for, i had the same feeling about the orlando series last year.

    i know, different teams. no howard on D but with an explosive amare like d-12, may be trigger-happy from 3 like orl, no jameer and vince but with nash-j-rich-hill, both with wings who run and jack-up shots and add to that pho bigs who can hit 3s too. if it were about matchups and style of play, i’d say they had the same upsides and different downsides.

    many points for disagreement here, but just sharing a fan’s look.

    still, i have the feeling it will be eerily the same. good thing is, we took that in 5. our lakers are peaking though not as sharp and as deadly as the 09 finals team YET. we can be deadlier than that now that our D is steady.

    GO LAKERS!

  23. oh omit vince from that list…

  24. I definitely agree with Darius that the Lakers will be tested in different ways than in the two previous series.

    However, I think some of the good things the Lakers did in the Thunder series to slow down their transition game will be extremely beneficial against the Suns. With the Lakers dropping four into transition defense and not crashing the offensive boards will help in stifling the Suns transition game. If you can slow down the pace on the Suns their offense will become much easier to defend.

    Then again, the Suns are horrendous on the defensive boards. This in addition to the Lakers rebounding ability will provide them with ample opportunity to get offensive rebounds and gain extra possessions. This can also assist in slowing down the pace.

    I think the optimal decision would be to force the Suns to run a more half-court oriented offense as it is not their strength. In addition, our half-court defense has been strong in the playoffs. It plays into the Lakers hands if the Suns run a half-court offense.

    For the improvement A’m'a’r'e’ has seemingly made on defense in the posteason, his rebounding numbers have been pedestrian at best.

    The Suns top 3 rebounders by RPG.

    A’m'a’r'e is averaging 7.0 rpg, 10.7 ORB%, 12.9 DRB%, 11.8 TRB%.

    Grant Hill is averaging 6.7 rpg, 3.8 ORB%, 23.1 DRB%, 13.6 TRB%.

    Jason Richardson is averaging 6.3 rpg, 4.9 ORB%, 17.9 DRB%, 11.5 TRB%.

    The Lakers top 3 rebounding by RPG.

    Pau is averaging 13.1 rpg, 11.4 ORB%, 22.7 DRB%, 17.1 TRB%.

    Bynum is averaging 8.9 rpg, 11.0 ORB%, 24.1 DRB%, 17.7 TRB%.

    Lamar is averaging 8.1 rpg, 10.1 ORB%, 22.9 DRB%, 16.7 TRB%.

  25. Darius,
    “Overall, it should be clear that the Lakers are the best team the Suns have faced”

    I’m not sure about that. Personally, I think that the Thunder are better than the Suns.

  26. Funky Chicken May 12, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Darius, this is an honest question and not intended to be a criticism, but I have written several posts asking the same general question: what is the evidence of the Suns improved defense?

    I’m not trying to poke a stick at you here, it’s just that I have watched the Suns recently and I don’t see them as an improved defensive team. I wonder if I am missing something that everyone else can see (since “improved Suns defense” is the mantra these days), but then I check the stats and sure enough, this year’s Suns team actually gave up more points per game than the WORST defensive team that D’Antoni ever had, and nearly 2 ppg worse than D’Antoni’s average Suns team gave up.

    So, if they are letting opponents score even more than they did during their run and gun days under D’Antoni, what is the evidence of the newfound commitment to defense under Alvin Gentry?

  27. Carlos(Lakers Fan) May 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Love this site!!!

  28. #26. Funky Chicken,
    The numbers back you up, so I don’t take it as any sort of criticism of me. So if you want statistical evidence, I don’t have it. However, based off what I’ve seen, there’s been an improvement. As I mentioned in the post, I’ve noticed better defensive rotations on the perimeter, better handling of the P&R, better help schemes (especially in the last series against Ginobili), really just an overall better team defensive performance. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with Amar’e moving to PF and playing a more traditional line up. Also, the emergence of Hill and Dudley as capable wing defenders has helped them as well. So, when you combine everything together, I think they’re performing better than their season numbers and are playing solid D. (On a side note, it helps to score as well as they do; it’s much easier to set up your defense – especially against slower paced teams like Portland and SA – when they’re taking the ball out of the net and inbounding rather than grabbing defensive boards and running out.)

    That said, they’re not world beaters on the defensive end and I think the Lakers will severely test their ability to defend the entire court. With the Lakers post game + Kobe + the (hopefully continued) improved outside shooting the Lakers will be a tough cover. And if I was going to play devils advocate against the “Suns are improved on D” argument, I’d say the same things that a lot Lakers fans are saying – “They played a Portland team with an injured Roy”, “They played a Spurs team with a banged up Manu, an aged Duncan, and a not fully healthy looking Parker”. I get that. However, I also think that you have to give the Suns some credit for those efforts, right? The other teams inability to score isn’t just the failure of the offensive team, imo. Plus, Phoenix turned close games against the Spurs into double digit leads/wins – I don’t think you do that solely by scoring baskets; stops are involved.

    All in all, I think the Thunder are the toughest defensive team the Lakers have faced. In the post, I think I laid out that the Suns have only decent options to defend the Lakers best offensive threats (while I would say that the Thunder, for example, had strong options and a great scheme to defend those players). So, I don’t want to oversell the Suns defense. But they’ll have a decent big man rotation and can throw Hill/Richardson/Dudley at Kobe. I’m not sure it will be enough, but they’ll play hard and try to scheme their way to stops. But we’ll talk adjustments to all that stuff when we see a game….you know….in about another year or so (if this was twitter I’d say #isitmondayyet?).

  29. exhelodrvr,
    Have the Suns faced the Thunder in the playoffs? Don’t think so – the Lakers eliminated them in the 1st round.

    The Suns have faced Portland and San Antonio. Of the three opponents, I think the Lakers are easily the strongest defensive team and also provide more matchup problems for the Suns.

  30. Funky Chicken;

    the proof is in the wins. they’ve won, so their defense has improved.

    j/k.

    I have a hard time seeing the improved defense myself (#16), so I did some looking up. The only time they compare favorably to the ‘past’ is when compared with last year’s group, and even then the improvement is like 2 points per 100 possessions, from 112 to 110.

    http://www.82games.com/0910/0910PHO3.HTM

    http://www.82games.com/0809/0809PHO3.HTM

    (don’t have stats for respective playoffs, so that maybe worth looking at)

    You can just switch numbers and get the stats for the other seasons, and you’ll see that before they’ve had numbers like 106, 107, which are 3~4 points better than this year’s squad.

    To me, even their ‘improved rebounding’ seems worse numbers wise, so I have a feeling that this improved defense is actually a byproduct of their improved offense.

    As funny as this sounds, they actually score more efficiently than back when Marion was there and with Nash a few years younger.

  31. #25. exhelodrvr,
    That’s a close one for me. I think OKC was tougher on D, but Phoenix is much, much better on offense. Phoenix is also much more experienced with a strong post season history (only they kept running into the same buzz saw in SA). I think there’s an argument to be made about OKC, though, so I don’t think what you’re saying is far fetched. I would still lean towards Phoenix though. If I was doing a power rankings, I’d have Phoenix above them because of the “if those two teams played on a neutral court” philosophy in which I think the Suns would come out on top.

  32. Defense?

    nash/no
    Richardson/no
    Frye/no
    Amara/no
    Hill/maybe

    Call me stupid but this team has worse defensive players then in the past.
    There best defensive players were Marion , Barnes and Shaq. They are gone.

    Call me stupider but this is a worse defensive team. Right?

  33. 32, at the very least, hill is a yes. he’s really been playing brilliantly on that end of the floor. amare probably should also be upgraded to a maybe. point taken on the rest of the team.

    the crazy thing is that I think the lakers win every offensive matchup, including posting fish on nash . on the otherside of the ball, i see advantages for nash over fish of course, and that’s pretty much it, other than their bench which is clearly superior to ours, but as others have stated, it’s not like we’re going to put 5 non-starters on the floor. add to that phil>gentry and HCA and it’s hard not to be optimistic that the Lakers will end up in the Finals for the third straight year. We got very lucky– I still think we would have had a tougher time against Den or Dal than anyone we have or are about to face in the road to the Finals.

  34. 33, but the problem with offensive mismatches is that it could really turn into a me-me-me fest with everyone pointing fingers after a loss since everyone thinks they are superior to their respective opposition.

    Defensive mismatches, at least, don’t really turn to that, so the subplot could be that their chemistry improves while ours plummet. That’s where our veteran-ness will hopefully save the day, but really there are ingredients of failure here, especially with PHX baiting our players with their style.

    Thankfully, Gentry is not known to manipulate the media to nudge Kobe, so hopefully he can keep things in check.

  35. while i certainly believe that phil is a great coach i dont understand why everyone is so down on gentry. dont get me wrong, im not saying he can outsmart phil or should be inlcuded into the hall of fame already, but you have to give this man credit.

    credit for handling the amare situation and getting him to play better defense (i dont care if numbers back it up or not, but you can see that opposing players dont just get layups against him anymore, like the last couple of seasons).

    he is also getting the best out of his bench (would anyone have guessed that we´d even speculate how to handle guarding frye, dragic, etc. before this season began?).

    lets be honest here: when nash re-signed, most of us felt sorry for him because nobody thought that this suns team was capable of another run. everyone assumed that amare would be traded and that nash would end his career teaching dragic while playing for the 8th seed. now look how much they´ve accomplished. gentry is definetly a big part of their success and gets everything out of the talent that he has. they dont give up, they are confident and they have nash. that alone should get out respect.

    by the way: how sad is it to even think how much better this suns team could´ve been if they played in a bigger market and didnt have to give joe johnson, a couple of first round picks away for NOTHING. imagine the lakers giving up pau and farmar just to save some bucks and get nothing in return (somewhere, memphis fans are still hurting…)

  36. lil pau not sure about Hill. Who has he stopped recently? I guy with a broken nose and a guy coming off losing a leg.

    These guys are not Kobe. Kobe will torch Hill Street Blues.

    And what will Pau do to Amara?

    The big mismatch is Nash and their bench. I hope Sasha is back to grind on Goran. This is the North aganist the South for Ugo’s. I also do not want to see much of Farmer. i think he is getting worse on defense and shooting for a contract on offense.

    We will score over 110 in all 4 of our wins. That is for sure.

  37. defensively, what the suns have shown me this post-season is some aggressive trapping and blitzing of certain ballhandlers, and being able to rotate and recover. they were able to successfully get the ball out of aldridge’s hands in round 1, and to make ginobili more of a distributor, as opposed to a penetrator.

    both portland and san antonio did not have optimal spacing out there, though. they’re going to have cover a lot more distance when the lakers have the ball.

  38. #32

    Barnes a defensive player? Maybe you were referring to Raja Bell of the infamous Kobe clothesline.

    I feel sorta bad that he was traded btw… I still wish he was in Phoenix right now, just so our planned revenge would be all that much more sweeter.

  39. Re: 35

    Speaking of Sasha, does anyone know if he’ll be back for maybe the tail end of this series? Last I heard we was on schedule to be game-ready in two weeks from two days ago.

  40. The Suns will be just as outmatched in size as the Thunder, but without the athleticism and length on the wings to make up for it. The Durant and Sefolosha scrambled to make up for their bigs being out of position, Westbrook hit the boards hard. I don’t see the likes of Dudley, Nash and Hill having the same impact on help. And without this you cannot front the post or double effectively.

  41. Does the Cleveland Cavs LeBron jersey become a collector’s item tonight?

  42. Can Monday already get here….. This is like waiting on my Dallas Cowboys to play but that is for a different day. As mentioned by numerous people on this site NO ONE on the Suns is going to stop MR. Bryant. Kobe will go down as maybe the best offensive player of all time and I do not think Grant Hill will come close to stopping Kobe, maybe the 1994 Detroit Pistons Grant Hill could have slowed Kobe down a bit. Kobe is either going to make his shots or miss. But more often is makes his shots. And KOBE is not going to let the Suns beat his team. KOBE will go all out and rip the hearts out of the Suns. As please can people stop mentioning LeGone in the same breath as MJ. He is not MJ!!!!!

  43. It is so easy to dis a team (Suns) after a great win over another team (Utah). It is so easy to ‘scream to the sky’ after a loss to what we thought was an inferior team (Thunder).

    Get off it people.

    The playoffs get tougher as they go on for a reason. Many of us seem to forget that each new opponent we face has already faced, and beaten, the same number of opponents we have.

  44. I’d like to second what Craig W. said about the bench advantage. Just to add.

    We were discussing it early in the season when the bench was giving up huge leads that the starters worked hard to get. It’s true that we have an 8 man rotation, but with Sasha presumably coming back, Phil will try to get him some p/t. What I suggested back then was that instead of putting in 3 or 4 of our bench guys at the same time, which is usually how we start the 2nd and 4th quarters, Phil should substitute only one bench player for a starter through out the game at a time (with the exeption of LO). This way the starters can get rest when needed, but there won’t be a potential major drop off in play. This can also work to our advantage, in that PHX bench will be going up against mostly starters for the Lakers. A clear advantage for us.

  45. 39, my understanding is that sasha will be ready for game 1 and in fact may have been able to play (gametime decision) even as early as game 5 against utah on wed, had that game been played. can’t remember which lakers beat writer posted this, but should be google-able.

    he should be fine for game 1, although i’m still not sure he’ll play more than a couple of minutes on tr– dragic

  46. First off, with regards to Lebron: You don’t have to have endorphins to ignore pain, though they help. All you need is the ability to single-mindedly focus on something that matters a lot more to you than your discomfort (no matter how great). That’s what Wade did when he played hurt in 2006 and took his team to victory, what Kobe did last year, and what every other winner has done when it was what he had to do in order to keep winning. Focus. Focus, focus, focus.

    I’ll happily buy the explanation that Lebron is lacking the endorphins that regular human beings have, but I still refuse to acquit him of simply being a wuss. If all it takes for him to mentally check out and give the game away is pain, what’s he doing trying to make a living as an professional athlete?

    Yes, it’s a perfectly valid question. If you can’t stand pain, you should not try to play professional sports at the highest level.

    After saying that, I’m now going to drop the whole Lebron thing. I’ll watch the game tonight to see if he can redeem himself, and turn my attention back to those that deserve it: The Lakers :)

    As for the Suns:

    Nash is still scary. He knows how to focus, and his team follows wherever he leads them. He’s also a very confident guy and an exceptionally skilled and effective point guard — a position that I think we all agree is out weakest.

    We are going to need to hit our outside shots a lot better than we did against the Thunder and the Jazz. The shooting did improve considerably towards the end of the Jazz series, but that needs to last. If we can’t spread the floor nothing will stop the Suns from collapsing their defense and suffocate our size advantage in the point. We’re not going to get a lot out of giving Pau the ball if he’s doubled or tripled every time he touches it.

  47. Do you think there is any way to put in the “big” lineup of Kobe, Artest, Odom, Pau, and Bynum in certain sets to force Nash to guard either Kobe or Artest? (Kind of like when OKC put in Jeff Green at the 2, and Fisher was forced to guard Green).

    I know there are spacing issues and outside shooting issues, but that would allow Artest or Kobe to punish Nash on the post. I wonder if there is any plan to put Artest on Nash for limited periods, though Artest doesn’t have the footspeed to match Nash, but may find a way to “balance” out Nash’s “eye injury.”

    Most of the times, it appears Nash can simply rest on offense against our PGs (and please, no DFish post-ups). Maybe this can work for small spurts?

  48. 46 @DY I hope we don’t overreact and put Artest on Nash, a la Lebron on Rondo, as that could get Richardson going. Great defenders shut down one on one players, not players going through a myriad of screens.

  49. Regarding the Suns D, and whether it is improved or not (sorry Funky Chicken, I know you asked this in the last thread too, and I didn’t get around to it then):

    I know that the improvement in the Suns D has been a mantra that the media has repeated over and over, but it seemed to me to pass the eyeball test. Whenever I watched them play, they seemed to putting out far more effort on the defensive end than they had in years past – particularly being more aggressively doubling and switching. It seemed like the emergence of Lopez as a physical presence down low (not that he’s a skilled defender, because he’s not, but he’s a legit NBA 5 with a big body and good athleticism) had really improved their overall scheme. From a statistical standpoint, the big difference from this year to at least last year lies in their FG% allowed. This year they were at 45.2% FG%A, which was 11th in the league (for the sake of comparison, the Lakers were 5th at 44.6%). That’s a big jump from the 2008-2009 season, when they were 22nd in the league at 46.7%.

    However, when looking at those numbers over the past 5 seasons, it seems that last year was the outlier, and that their performance this year is more in line with years past. Here’s a quick rundown of their FG% allowed (and league rank) over the last 5 years:

    05-06 45.4% (16th)
    06-07 45.7% (14th)
    07-08 45.6% (13th)
    08-09 46.7% (22nd)
    09-10 45.2% (11th)

    So there’s that. But I have to admit that by virtue of every other defensive stat, the Suns are not a good defensive team. According to Basketball-Reference.com, their team defensive rating for the season was 110.2 (23rd), whereas the Lakers were at 103.7 (4th overall). (On the other end, the Suns had the top offensive rating in the NBA, and the Lakers were 11th). And, as others have noted, the Suns are an atrocious defensive rebounding team (29th – the Lakers by comparison were 9th, and interestingly, the teams were tied as the 7th best offensive rebounding team), and were even worse at forcing turnovers (30th).

    So maybe I was wrong after all. :) One thing I didn’t delve into was the Suns’ post-All Star break improvement. They had the best record in the West over the last 2+ months of the season, and I’m curious if their defensive performance was signficantly better during that time span than it was over the whole years.

  50. #26 Funky Chicken, I don’t think you’ve gotten an answer this is satisfactory to your question about the Suns defense, so I thought I’d give you my arguments, or at least my thoughts.

    If you’re looking only at ppga without any other context then, yes, this year’s Suns are worse defensively than in the D’Antoni years, BUT….

    PPGA is, I think at best, an incomplete barometer of a team’s defensive prowess (or lack thereof) because it’s predicated on alot of things that don’t necessarily indicate how good a team is. For example, tempo has a big impact on ppga. This year Charlotte lead the league in ppga at 93.8; do you think they’re the best defensive team in the NBA? Now certainly, the better a team is defensively the slower the game as a whole becomes (due to making it harder for your opponent to score, therefore they take longer in their possessions), but that a lower, or higher, ppga is often controlled by how fast a team plays on their offense, and a poor(er) offensive team can often bring the tempo down to give themselves a better chance to win, like in Charlotte. Also, what if a particular team plays in more blowouts (for and against), therefore causing more garbage time; how does that effect ppga? What about injuries? What if a team misses a key player for 25 games, that can mess up an entire season’s worth of ppga stats. The Suns went through a strech around games 20 thru 40 in which their defense was significantly worse than earlier and later in the year (which can mess up the season’s average).

    All I’m saying is that ppga, while informative, is not the be-all-end-all of a teams’ defensive ability.

    Over the years Popovich has repeatedly stated in trying to get his team ready for the playoffs that he doens’t care about ppga AT ALL, but only looks at opponent’s field goal %. To me, that is a far better indicator of team’s defensive prowess. I don’t know, and unfortunately don’t have the time to look myself, but what were the
    Suns’opponent FG% during the years in question? During an earlier round Doug Collins showed some stat’s that showed post-Allstar break the Suns’ opponents FG% being something like 2% lower than prior, which doens’t sound like alot, but in fact is (Orl was #1 at 44%, ATL was #16 at 46%; that’s half a league’s difference in 2%)

    Something I’d be even more interested in: what are/were the Suns ppga and oppFG% in the FOURTH quarter of games? Even better, in the fourth quarter of *close* games? During a tough playoff run series can be won or lost based on getting just 3 or 4 key defensive stops in the final 4-8 minutes of a tight game. (I don’t know if this kinda stat is even available). Living in Phoenix, I can say that the feeling both now, and then, is that the D’Antoni Suns simply were incapable of getting key defensive stops in the fourth quarter, and that this year’s team is better.

    All of this is a long-winded (sorry!) way of saying that stats alone are almost never a better tool than simple observation with your own eyes. It’s pretty much a given that the suns are better than before. They play harder (defense is a combination of skill and effort), they’re better prepared (Gentry actually practices defense, which
    D’Antoni did not). Also, as Darius says, due to Lopez they have an actual natural center. Just as the Lakers’ are better defensively when Pau plays PF rather than center, the Suns are better with Lopez at center, rather than Amar’e. The Suns don’t have an individual as good as Marion was, but *teamwise* they’re better.

    I think what a lot of the people who say the Suns’ aren’t any good (or better) defensively is in fact a recognition that in *this* series they don’t have good answers for the Lakers’ offense. Playoff series are often determined by the matchups of that particular series; the Lakers made Utah look worse than they really are. (were the Rockets last year better overall than Orlando, or was that just a tougher matchup for the Lakers?) I think, even though the Suns are better defensively, that due to matchups the Lakers have a great chance of making the Suns defense look worse than it is.

    We talk about the Laker size inside, but in many ways the teams that give us the most trouble with their defense aren’t always the tallest, but are those that make Kobe work the hardest (or our guards work hard to pass the ball to the post). Utah couldn’t make Kobe work as hard as OKC did, and ultimately I don’t think the Suns will either.

  51. Funky Chicken May 13, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Wow, ask and ye shall receive. This is what makes this a great blog.

    Darius, thanks for the response last night, and same to Harold, Brian and SBC this morning.

    I’m not a huge proponent of selectively using facts to prove a point, so I totally agree that ppg is not the be all and end all of a team’s defensive prowess (the point about Charlotte being spot on).

    I think the biggest factor in the real or perceived improvement in the Suns D may well be the return of Amare to the power forward position. As a center, the matchups were odd and not very favorable for Phoenix. Additionally, the emergence of a bench player like Dudley is a huge defensive upgrade over Barbosa, who was the Suns’ primary reserve player from the D’Antoni years.

    You can’t argue with success, and sweeping even an old and banged up Spurs team shows a mental toughness that prior Suns teams did not seem to have, so I can see this team being a tough out. However, until the Suns show me that they can build and hold a lead against the Lakers, I will stick by my prediction of Lakers in 5. Previous Suns teams were great at going on runs, but had difficulty holding leads (that defensive issue again), so I guess I need to see it to believe it.

    Thanks to all who commented on this issue!

  52. New post is up. We’re continuing our series preview with a look at the match up of the benches.

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2010/05/13/lakerssuns-series-preview-part-2-looking-at-the-benches/