Lakers/Suns: A Recap and Links Hybrid

Phillip Barnett —  January 6, 2011
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

For the third straight time this season, the road team came away with a victory in the Lakers/Suns season series. And for the second straight game, the Lakers come away with a victory, with a 99-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Last night’s game was a little reminiscent of the Lakers of last season. The Forum Blue and Gold didn’t get out to a scorching start, but midway through the first quarter, the Lakers went on a quite impressive 16-0 run, with the offense moving the ball beautifully and the defense rotating like the top-5 defense that led them to the title last season. However, the starting group headed to the bench, and watched while the reserves let a 12-point lead turn into a new ball game when Jared Dudley tied the game at 44 with his second of three 3-pointers of the second quarter. The Suns would go on to take a one-point lead on the back of Dudley’s 19 points.

Coming out of the half, Kobe became more aggressive on the offensive end. As explained by Silver Screen and Roll’s Dexter Fishmore:

What proved crucial was a stretch at the beginning of the third period, when Kobe, after a strong but reserved first half, became more forceful at the offensive end. In the first six possessions he collected eight points and an assist. This turned a one-point halftime deficit into a six-point cushion that the Suns spent the rest of the night struggling and ultimately failing to overcome. For the third quarter as a whole, in which the Lakers scored a scrumptious 1.41 points per trip, Kobe scored 12 on six shots and handed out three dimes. Who’s killing who now?

Gasol, who didn’t have his best night offensively, did dish out six assists and grab nine of the Lakers 47 rebounds. There were five Lakers who grabbed at least five rebounds, forcing Alvin Gentry to go with lineups that the Suns weren’t accustomed to having on the floor to combat the Lakers size, Valley of the Suns Michael Schwartz explains:

he biggest reason the Suns lost this one is that they got crushed on the boards once again, this time by a 47-31 margin. That’s despite the Suns starting a front line of Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat, but Lopez was once again ineffective with two points and one board and poor defense against Andrew Bynum.

Gentry was pleased with his twin towers, but they inherently ruined the spacing on offense (aside from the fact Gortat isn’t used to playing the four and wasn’t always in the right spot) and their defense/rebounding didn’t make up for it. When asked about this lineup, Steve Nash said it was necessary to combat the Lakers’ size but he doesn’t expect it to become a Suns staple.

However, in Laker like fashion, they allowed the Suns to stick around. The Suns moved to a zone defense in the fourth quarter, slowing down the offense that had scored 1.4 points per possession during the third quarter. The ball movement that was witnessed during earlier quarters disappeared allowing the Suns to slowly chip away at the Lakers lead. With 2:24 left in the game, Vince Carter knocked down a three to cut the Lakers lead to one — but that was as close as they would get.

After Shannon Brown’s free throws extended the Laker lead back to three, Vince Carter missed a shot, giving the Lakers the opportunity to attack the Suns defense before they set their zone, allowing Kobe to find a wide open Ron Artest in the corner for a game-icing three. Land O’ Lakers’ Brian Kamenetzky explains the play:

His biggest moment, though, came with ninety seconds left in the game and the Lakers up three, when Bryant found a wide open- take-a-moment-to-tweet-your-peeps-and-ask-them-if-you-should-shoot wide open- Artest set up behind the arc in the left corner. To say the Suns conceded the shot would be an understatement. I swear I heard them quintuple dog dare him to fire away. Artest hesitated, saw nobody was going to contest the shot, gathered, and rose (by Artestian standards) for the jumper. Bucket.

A couple things to note, here: First, Artest hit a huge shot late in the game, something he badly needs for his confidence. Second, that he was even on the floor to have the opportunity was a positive, because it hasn’t been the case throughout the year.

I’m not calling Artest “back,” but the last two nights- more comfortable on offense, some signs of life on the other end- have seen steps in the right direction.

With :41 seconds left to play, Channing Frye knocked down the Suns’ 11th three pointer of the night (a far cry from the 22 they made at Staples in November), cutting the Lakers lead to four. Kobe missed a 17-footer on their next possession, leading to Vince Carter taking a three pointer on the right wing to potentially cut the lead to one with 10 seconds left. However, Pau rotated beautifully and blocked the attempt, thus closing the Lakers’ second victory in Phoenix this season.

The Lakers play New Orleans on Friday and play the Knicks on Sunday.

Phillip Barnett

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22 responses to Lakers/Suns: A Recap and Links Hybrid

  1. The Lakers looked good last night in stretches (the second half of the 1st quarter) and in the third. Although it was against a hugely Outsized Suns team.

    Pau just does not seem to be himself. I don’t know what it is. Without Pau playing at the level that has him labeled as one of the best (if not the best) big man in the game, then it will be hard for the Lakers to repeat. But there’s still plenty of time for Pau to get back to that level of play.

  2. In spite of the Lakers letting the Suns hang, it was a collaborative effort in arguably one of their best defensive effort in weeks. I wouldn’t worry too much about Pau, at least one Laker usually goes through something of a “funk” in a long, drawn out season … hopefully they’ll be back to ’10 playoffs level by April. Knock on wood …

    N.B. Is it me or does Kobe particularly enjoy playing against and beating the Suns? He always plays put up statistically healthy numbers against them, and was quite efficient doing it, shooting 50% from the field. He made some difficult shots, some of which haven’t been falling as of late. Me thinks those two eliminations in 2006 and 2007 still resonate clearly in his mind

  3. What a scare last night with Lamar going down. Sure looked bad there for a moment. I was shocked to see him out there so quickly when he looked to be in so much pain. He certainly didn’t look like he was faking the pain or being a drama queen like wheelchair boy.

    The other scare was when they panned to Bynum and mentioned someone falling into his knee. My heart skipped for a second until I heard Ireland say he was alright. How big of a hit did he get to bend a titanium brace?! In the previous post someone mentioned Drew should wear braces on both knees. If he’s going to keep getting these kinds of hits, I’m all for it.

  4. Pau may have had an off night on the O, but the block at the end could have been a game saver.
    it’s great to see shades of the old (young ) drew.
    and what’s the skinny on LO getting an all-star nod?
    he deserves it!

  5. I’m happy for the victory, but this Laker team is playing like a 4th seed. I know that there is a lot of season left and that “we shouldn’t panic,” but I just don’t see this team competing for a championship given their play up to now. I think some people feel that the time to hit the panic button is if we reach the point that we are in danger of missing the playoffs, but I see it differently. This is, after all, the Lakers, so Championships are how we measure success for this franchise. Since I believe that this team has not been playing championship caliber games all season long, then I ask, why is it that we can’t agree that its time to hit the panic button? I’m confused, because if not know when? When the Lakers are in danger of not making the playoffs? Personally, I’d rather have this team not make the playoffs than go under in the first two rounds. I know I will annoy a lot of you with my comment, but this is how I feel right now.

    Feel free to bash away.

  6. I must have been watching a totally different game than everyone else because I thought the Lakers played terribly last night, especially defensively. It wasn’t until the last 2 minutes of the game that they started playing defense. Phoenix got open looks the whole game, they just weren’t making them. In fact, had it not been for Pietrus’ bad shooting night it would have been a totally different game.

    The one positive I saw was that Bynum was active, but what has happened to Pau Gasol? He has been a non-factor in these games recently. Do you see where he catches the ball in the post? Sometimes defenders push him out almost to the 3-point line. He is not doing a good enough job trying to develop post position. So how could he and fans complain that they don’t give him enough touches if he isn’t fighting for post position?

    I was not satisfied at all. If we play like that against a good team, we will lose. We play the Knicks Sunday which plays a very similar game as the Suns do. If we give the Knicks the same looks we gave Phoenix, we will lose.

  7. In addition to the great block at the end of the game, I liked Pau getting the rebound off a missed free throw (can’t remember who) a few minutew before. Pau did a nice job of fighting off Carter for it. Nice win off a back to back.

  8. Rudy, that’s what I have been saying for a month now, Gasol does not look himself and he is the biggest reason the Lakers have looked average during this period of struggle. If he wants more touches he needs to fight for better position because no guard wants to pass to a big man that can’t shoot 3′s so far outside the paint. He also needs to be more aggressive and decisive with the ball.

    On the other side of things Bynum and Odom look incredible right now and I cant wait to see Bynum’s progression to the end of the season. Odom SHOULD be an all-star even over Gasol because he has been more consistent all season. Like most are saying a win is a win and I see more individual improvements which will only lead to better team play, which gives me reasons to be excited.

  9. 1. gasol- i am no TMZ reader, but does he have relationship issues or something else of a personal nature? the drop off from his MVP-esque season is so stark, it begs the question. it doesn’t look physical, he should be better rested vs. prior years given the summer off, bynum’s return is taking minutes down.

    2. we need a let-odom-allstar effort, like a let-shannon-dunk deal last year. he should get in as a reserve- coach pop should recognize his efforts, no?

    3. i am not all doom and gloom but both MIA and BOS scare me unlike prev. seasons where i felt the lakers could beat any team. part of that is the play of the current lakers but the other is that the primary challengers have improved plus have HCA.

  10. #6, #8 (aka Rudy and Lakers8884):

    Pau isn’t going to get more touches in the post until he becomes more aggressive and assertive in the paint. No one (read: Kobe) wants to waste valuable shot clock on a pass to someone who doesn’t create an opportunity either for himself or for a team mate.

    That said, I’m reminded of a post by a Spurs fan whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten, a few days ago. He was comparing Pau’s play this year to Tim Duncan of last year, when Duncan had to play very heavy minutes early on, and as a result simply was too tired to be himself later in the season. The obvious suggestion is that Pau is in the same situation. He had to fill in for Bynum for a couple of months, and just doesn’t have the energy to be himself right now.

    I don’t think that’s the entire answer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s contributing to the problem. Well, that and the lack of angry and/or hungry. :)

    I want the old Pau back. I want the Pau that faced down Garnett and refused to give ground to Perkins, and I want the flat glare followed by the soft catch, the spin, and the strong layup when someone tries to trash talk him. We need Play-Off Pau back! The sooner the better.

  11. All this “what’s wrong with Gasol” talk is giving me a headache. I heard it best last night: the dude is Robin, not Batman. It’s the very reason why he’s been so successful in LA and not so much in Memphis. When Bynum plays, it also changes the composition of the team and Pau’s role. It’s his job to adjust and figure it out, but don’t expect him assert himself as the #1. It’s not his disposition or strong suit.

    That said, Gasol has been absolutely amazing throughout his entire LA tenure, and I’m sure the guy is EXHAUSTED considering he never even won a playoff game/series before he came and how hard he has worked since.

    Ron Artest’s drop-off is significantly more disconcerting than anything happening with Pau. Let’s talk about that.

    In the words of MannyP, feel free to bash away.

  12. I thought this was a good win, and a good effort from the defense (not great).

    The Good: Bynum did a great job of manning the paint and for the majority of the game, the Lakers challenged the perimeter. Despite this, the Suns made a high percentage of 3s and deep 2s. This is out of the Lakers control, and any NBA team can do this to beat the Lakers defense.

    The Bad: You’ve all mentioned it Pau didn’t look like himself. Artest needs to be set when taking shots. Those off-balance jumpers scare me more than his ability to finish a fast break.

    The Ugly: When Phoenix transitioned into a zone defense, the mentality of the Lakers offense changed immediately. Players looked puzzled, shots were forced up, instead of over. C’mon now! You guys have been in the league way too long, to not have seen this defense. Make the extra pass to shoot over, and have someone fill the lane once the D adjusts.

  13. @11. What Artest drop off? His numbers this year are within a shade of last year some better, some worse but pretty close. The eyeball test shows that he’s a little more comfortable in the offense than last year. His D seems to be about the same. He’s still got same motor.

    Not sure where you’re seeing the dropoff.

    Nobody’s asking Pau to assert himself as #1. But we are asking him to assert himself like the strong #2 he was showing earlier in the year and the last two years.

    I agree that he’s probably tired from carrying the load while Bynum was out. But he also can be a lot more assertive and decisive when receiving the ball.

  14. I’m with Jane; numbers aside, Artest’s play hasn’t been the same this season, and last season he was a far cry from what he was in Houston the year before.

    I realize his role is different in L.A. and the scoring will go down vs. early in his career. Still, he’s got to get over his absolute unwillingness to do anything on offense aside for taking a three every now and again. His defense also hasn’t been as solid as one would like, probably because his O is so empty they can’t leave him on the floor as much as he should be.

    The past two games, when he’s been more involved on offense, have been more of what’s needed.

  15. A new post is up. Continue your thoughts here or in the new thread:

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2011/01/06/something-to-think-about/

  16. 11 – Ron Artest is very valuable to the Lakers. All we have to do is recall last season’s playoffs for a reminder. Still he is in no way as critical as Pau Gasol is. The Lakers can get by with a struggling, distracted Ron Artest. However, they are basically dead in the water with a struggling, distracted Pau Gasol. That is the difference.

    Pau Gasol is too dang on good to stay down for too long. He just may be gassed from all the mintues earlier in the season. At some point (probably after the All Star break) I expect to see Pau hit his stride.

  17. Time off during the offseason may have had an adverse effect on Pau. It’s almost as if he and LO switched places this season. LO played over the summer and did not have to play his way into shape over the course of the season and it has payed off with a consistent effort night in and night out. Pau on the other hand did not play this summer and it looks like his conditiioning is the real culprit. No explosiveness, his feet look like there stuck in mud, when catching the ball in the post or when defending the paint on the defensive end.

    Pau has averaged about 34 minutes a game since Bynums return, hopefully the less minutes he’s on tghe court it will allow him to get his legs back and get back into form. LA does need Pau at his best to be an elite squad, but if Phil could get some other players to contribute while weathering the storm(Artest, ShanWoW, Blake) everything will be alright for now.

  18. Again, I ask, what dropoff with Ron? Can we get some examples? To me, by numbers and eyeball, it doesn’t seem like there’s a substantial difference in his play this year versus last year.

  19. 17. Chownoir

    I dont think its an offensive dropoff, its more of a defensive dropoff too me. I dont expect Artest to put up good numbers on the offensive end, anything extra in that category is gravy. But he is on the team to be the defensive MVP and just by the eyeball test alone he hasnt caused as much havoc as he did last year.

    Someone mentioned before that Artest needs to get back to playing with an edge, get a tech, put someone in a headlock. Artest biggest asset before he came to LA was players were scared of what he might do next. I just feel that players dont fear him because of his subdued manor as of late. He is LA’s junkyard dog, he needs to start biting.

  20. A relative lack of endurance or tendency to get nagging injuries would be a logical explanation. Last season, he played in the summer, but then missed a good chunk of the regular season (and all of the pre-season, if I remember correctly). So overall he didn’t play that much. 2006-7 and 2007-8, he played only 59 and 66 games (regular season). 2008-9 he had 81, but it’s not like he has always chewed up tons of minutes.

  21. @19, maybe. I think people were surprised at Ron’s intensity last year and it was in such contrast to what the team had.

    I still think he’s pretty intense this year and has had a fair amount of games where he’s wrecked havoc. The Indy game comes to mind immediately. I think part of it is human nature, people got used to seeing what he did and they don’t necessarily see how the day to day effort is still pretty high. There’s just not a drastic difference to observe. Throw in the team’s struggles and he gets caught up in that too.

    That said, it would be interesting to see the numbers on how he’s done in his matchups this year versus last year. Last year, there was a lot of talk of how he consistently shut down his guy. This year, people haven’t talked about it but again, it’s also expected so unless his guy has a breakout game, it’s old news.

  22. Artest was pretty scary in manner during the Xmas day game with the Heat.

    And the Lakers still got blown out.

    I think we need some advanced stats on Artest this year vs last … anybody?