Preview and Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Darius Soriano —  February 17, 2012

Records: Lakers 17-12 (5th in West), Suns 12-18 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.9 (16th in NBA), Suns 101.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (10th in NBA), Suns 105.5 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Derek Fisher (probable); Suns: none

The Lakers Coming in: While I take my role in looking at the Lakers objectively very seriously, writing about where they are from game to game is becoming more and more difficult. The reasons for this vary, but mostly it’s because this team doesn’t give you a good read from game to game on where they actually are. They’re simply too inconsistent.

I could tell you this team is finding its stride, having won 3 of their last 4 games and beating a decent Hawks team in the type of game that typically gives any team trouble (the first game back from a long road trip). I could point out the “gut it out” win in Boston, the rocking 1st half against the Raptors (and the fortitude to pull out that win even though they stumbled horribly for most of the final three quarters), and say that this team is starting to find its stride.

I could tell you that despite his struggles all yea,r Ron Artest (yeah, I’m calling him that right now) has started to play better on offense, and his defense is picking up as well. I could point out that Mike Brown is finally settling on his lineups, promoting Steve Blake to de facto lead PG (despite Fisher starting) and giving Goudelock steadier minutes, and that Brown has also settled on a big man rotation, with an assertive Pau and a beasting Bynum appearing more often than not over the past several games.

All in all, I could be happier about in-game things – the play to play effort and execution, the reliance on Kobe in crunch time, etc – but I’ve been mostly happy with the overall effort even though I can nitpick faults. Things have been relatively steady of late. And that’s good. I could also point out that I’ve no idea if any of this will last. Such is the way of these Lakers this year and to bring it back full circle, getting a beat on this team is hard.

The Suns Coming in: If you go on twitter during a Suns game and follow any general group of basketball writers or fans, you’re likely to see the hashtag #freestevenash on your screen multiple times. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, fans want better for one of the more enjoyable players of his era than the team he plays for right now. This isn’t to knock Nash’s teammates, really. But, the Suns are 6 games under .500 and simply aren’t a good team anymore. Their statistical profile shows a team in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rating and a roster that has some solid players, but not enough quality depth or top-end talent to be a contender. There was a time when the Suns were nearly guaranteed to be a playoff team, and when there, to be a tough out. Those days are long gone.

Meanwhile, Nash is an all-star again this season. He’s posting his highest PER since his MVP seasons, has a true shooting percentage of 64.5%, and an assist percentage (an estimate of the field goals assisted while on the floor) of nearly 59% (that last number is mind boggling, by the way). Simply put, Nash has been an offensive monster this season and he’s doing it all at 37 years of age. Despite it all, though, the Suns can’t win. Maybe that’s an indictment of Nash but I don’t really see it that way. What I see is a team that’s desperate for another playmaker but doesn’t have one. A team that needs a ton of pieces to be competitive each night, but hasn’t got the resources to get them. In a way, it’s sad. Then again, I remember that the Suns kicked the Lakers’ tail when they were in a similar situation (with Kobe at his apex), and my heart grows cold. I find myself not feeling any sympathy for this team. I wish nothing but the best for Nash and with this being his walk year, he can choose a new team to play for next year.

Suns Blogs: Two very good sites to check out: Valley of the Suns and Bright Side of the Sun. Both offer up strong coverage of this team.

Keys to game: In the one game these two teams played this year (a Lakers win), the formula was quite simple: give the ball to Kobe and let him work. Kobe was in the midst of a hot shooting streak and his 48 points against the Suns triggered a four-pack of consecutive 40 point contests. The output was classic Bean and if you read the quotes before the game, you could see it coming (Kobe talked about how he’s not forgotten the playoff losses the Suns put on him during the Smush/Kwame days).

Today, however, the formula will likely need to be different. Not because Kobe isn’t capable of putting up another such game, but because the style in which the Lakers have been playing lately says more balance is in order. Pau and Drew have been coming on of late and are flashing the ability to not only get their own, but to work off each other to make their lives easier. Against the Suns, the Lakers will be best served allowing that to continue by getting Pau the ball at the elbow and the left low block to attack Channing Frye, while getting Drew the ball early in possessions to force the Suns to either double quickly or let Gortat try to play him one on one. Both matchups present an advantage for the Lakers, and both should be exploited early or at least tested out to see if they can be.

Kobe, though, should still play a prominent role in the offense. Lately Kobe’s jumper has been off, but he’s still been key in facilitating the show because the Lakers have been able to get him into more actions that force the defense to make hard choices. Mike Brown is putting Kobe into more P&R actions with Gasol and camping Bynum on the weakside. This action allows Kobe to string out his dribble and either force a hard double team or stretch out the defense to force rotations that are difficult to execute. This has left Pau wide open for mid-range jumpers or has set up Bynum for quick duck ins that result in lobs or easy putbacks if the shot goes up and misses. Tonight, Kobe can do the same thing against a Suns team that will have trouble covering the entire court, making it easier for Kobe to either come off the screens looking for his own shot or to pick out Pau for the easy passes that make the Lakers’ offense hum.

Defensively, the Lakers will see a steady diet of Nash in the P&R and they’ll need to find a way to cover the  big man who pops out after he sets the screen. In the last game, Channing Frye shot 7-9 from the field (including 3-5 from three point range) and kept the Suns in the game before Kobe went nova. The Lakers’ secondary rotations will need to be tighter tonight or they’ll cede the same open jumpers that the Suns thrive on to generate efficient offense. As usual, I hope to see the Lakers force Nash into a scoring mode rather than a distributing one because even though he’ll hurt you scoring, his ability to get his mates involved is what makes this team dangerous. Nash will always be able to hurt you by scoring himself; he’s one of the great shooters in the league and can turn it on in an instant. But allowing him to get his mates going AND get himself going is how this team beats you.

Lastly, I’m looking for good bench play tonight. The Lakers have been an elite home team and one of the reasons  is that their role players step up at home and provide that needed spark at Staples. If they can continue that trend tonight, the Laker starters could get some rest in the 4th quarter and even though it’s been a slow week for games, some extra time on the bench for Kobe and company is never a bad thing.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time locally on Fox Sports West and nationally on ESPN. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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68 responses to Preview and Chat: The Phoenix Suns

  1. This home+home should be an easy 2 wins, which should put us at 19-12. The pendulum of comments here will swing back in the other direction. Also as stated before, if I were MB and got to 19-12, I would think I was doing a decent job (and I am no big fan of his). Nash is the second best PG available both now and as a FA in off season.

  2. Now that the Knicks have Linsanity, do the Lakers have a shot at getting Nash next year? I mean, his only other option is Miami, assuming he wants to get a ring, right? Or the Mavs if they don’t end up getting Deron Williams.

  3. Progress is key in these next few games. Feed the bigs early and often. Ball movement was key vs Hawks let’s hope that continues. Or will Kobe stall the offense.

    Phoenix always gives us problems with Frye at the 4 leaving Nash with operating room in the paint. McRoberts should see some action tonight good matchup for him.

  4. Darius: I am going to answer any_one_mouse @2, + you let me and the board know whether he or I violated any rules: 1mouse: IMO we have no shot in true FA. We will have no space. I say true FA, cause we could get him in a sign and trade. We also could get him prior to 03/15 but in both cases, the Suns hate us. Cuban will prob get 1 of the 2 (DW or Nash).

  5. i think the writing is on the wall as far as mcroberts is concerned. he’s going to be traded and he’s being kept on the sidelines so he doesn’t get hurt.

  6. 4,

    Robert, I have minor correction on what you said. An FA like Nash can come to the Lakers as long as he’s willing to go for mini MLE contracts that Lakers will have for next season, then re-work it again for the following season. Another reason for Nash coming to the Lakers, he believes that there is a window of getting his ring through Kobe with Pau or Bynum/Dwight Howard than any other team. At that age, he could have two motivations in his career: extended contracts with more $$$ or getting a ring.

    On the part of the Lakers, it is a calculated risk based on the F/A applying for the job at the end of the season.

  7. @4 Robert – Yeah, I was referring to a S/T. I don’t care about the Suns hating us – we have the trade exception to entice them. However, I don’t know Nash would like to come to the Lakers. I know NY was his preferred destination, but he may have been Jeremied out :)

  8. Edwin/1Mouse: Yes we could use the MLE or the TPE. However I am hoping we do not still have the TPE this summer : ) With regard to MLE, Cuban will offer more, a homecoming, a reunion with Dirk, + who knows what other FA’s they will have. If Cubes gets DW, then we have a better shot. We can get him now, but there is that evil empire thing.

  9. There is a nice story here on Bynum that has a connection with Wild Card Gym in Hollywood under the supervision of Freddie Roach.

    http://www.philstar.com/thedeanscorner/articlescontent.aspx?articleid=778684&publicationsubcategoryid=69

  10. Would be good to see Kobe get back on track tonight and hopefully, the Suns are the perfect anecdote. His shooting for the month of Feb has been Horrendous. And that’s puttin’ it mildly. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t shot over 50% in a game since Jan 20th. If my math is correct, he’s gone 12 straight outings missing over half of his shots from the field. Not a good look when it’s taking you ’round 24 fga’s per gm to get you around 28 pts per gm. Not a good look at all.

  11. 10) His numbers lately have been pretty bad. More so than numbers I’m looking for Kobe to make the right play. Sometimes the pass is there for him and he stalls it out to go Iso. Everybody seems to be getting into a great rhythm offensively Kobe has to recognize that and make sure it stays that way. He’ll get going but at the expense of it stunting the teams progress I’m not for that.

  12. Lin with 8 turnovers in the first half, I love the whole story but he sure is sloppy

  13. @4, 6-8. You guys are toeing the line ;)

    Tonight will be a good game to observe our PG defense. Nash seems to destroy Fish in the P&R every game, but Blake had no problem defending Nash’s P&R in the game earlier this season, going over the screen and staying on Steve’s back hip.

    I’m almost ready to play a drinking game…each time Fish flails his arms in trying to get the whistle for the illegal pick when he gets hung up on the high screen, you take a swig. If he does get the whistle, you take two.

  14. mojo, whats wrong with you? its not fishers fault that the coach plays him and to wish an injury on a guy who was a major part of all our rings over the last 12 years is pretty sad…

  15. Over/Under 4 Fish flails : Over

    And he gets 2 cheap fouls on Gortat. Place the bet Fish is good for it

  16. @14 – I’d simply prefer that he only gets about 12 minutes of burn per game, with Blake and Goudelock getting 36 at the PG position and the rookie getting 12 minutes backing up Kobe. Fish’s minutes have been declining steadily since Blake’s return, and if Nash shreds him again early, I’d expect him to play 18 minutes at the absolute maximum.

  17. Dude: That drinking game appears to be based on “speculation” as to whether the ref blows the whistle or not. It could violate rule #7. It definitely violates rule #9. Sounds like fun though, so it does adhere to rule #10.

  18. 13, The D.A.

    If it’s a drinking game, count me in. Luckily, I care more about the name on the front of the jerseys than the names on the back. Otherwise, I would want to see Fisher on the court for the majority of the game for the sole purpose of getting drunk (hey, it’s Friday night; meaning no work tomorrow) … In any event, my Hennessy is on stand-by.

  19. You guys crack me up

  20. I know Fish is a confident guy but at some point surely even he must be embarresed by his play

  21. Up you have tp be stone, rock stupid to continue to play Fisher Mike Mensa Brown

    My god he stinks.

  22. Finally some ball movement

  23. Nice bounce pass by Bynum to Murphy for the layup

  24. nice to see barnes moving well and making contributions off the ball. what happened to shannon brown? wasnt he supposed to become really good once he switched to a team that had no kobe bryant to hold him back?

  25. nice ball movement from the second unit

  26. James

    Without Fish and Metta they can look like a real team

  27. @5: The Lakers have made a trend under Kupchak to display players that are trade bait–Radmanovic started for quite a while when he clearly didn’t deserve to immediately before the Morrison/Brown trade, and Brian Cook played a ton of minutes right before the Ariza trade. McRoberts will officially be on the block in my book when he suddenly starts playing 25 minutes a night on 3/12 or so.

    There was something in the news a few weeks back about a hip injury with McRoberts, and Murphy’s been serviceable enough (43% on threes!) of late they haven’t needed to play him. However, since he got into it a bit with Reggie Evans he hasn’t seen any time at all, I wonder if it’s more punitive than precautionary.

  28. That’ll be the only layup fisher makes all year..

    I can say this is the only half Lakers have looked like a TEAM. PROGRESS is being made

  29. Halftime status of the Lakers: leading the Suns, 57-48
    Halftime status of The Dude: sober

  30. Hey, 57 points at the end of the third, not bad.

    …it’s halftime? What, are they playing the Sun–oh.

  31. Good ending to the first half for the Lakers. Lakers bench played well. Nice to see the Lakers have more fast break points than the opponent. Lakers have 17 points off of 15 Suns turnovers at the break.

  32. Definitely playing as ’1 Unit’ .. Murphy not looking as hesitant, Kobe, for the most part, not forcing it and Bynum showing more in more confidence in that knee ..

    D.A., also sober. Now I definitely know that I can’t rely on Fisher for anything anymore. Looks as if I’m gonna have to take matters in to my own hands.

  33. I think that last pass by MWP was the pass of the season.

  34. lol if wasn’t so tragic MWP’s offense would be hilarious

  35. that artest back lay up thing is infinity LOLz

  36. Now if we could just play the Suns 66 times this season…

  37. I think those two layup attempts by MWP just made Mike Brown go bald.

  38. How can Brown not see hom much better they play with Barnes in there.

    Or how many passes to the other team Lin Fish throws.

    What happened to play your best players?

    Thanks for Kobe!

  39. 80 points? Already? holy moly

  40. Fish and MWP jumping for MWP’s missed layup looked like me jumping after Thanksgiving dinner. Play of the game for sure.

  41. Man, Kobe really does not like the Suns :D

  42. Kobe’s on fire making sure he sits the 4th

  43. Like I mentioned earlier, looks as if Phoenix is the Medicine for Kobe’s shooting sickness.

  44. Steve Blake needs to realize his limitations. The man just cannot throw a lob pass, especially when he’s on the run.

  45. Pau on the other hand has had a shocker, i do wonder if he thinks a trade is in the works

  46. Didn’t Brown play for us?

    Oh thats right Mitch signed Kapono.

  47. Kobe !! No questions here about the pecking order !!

  48. Here is a thought.

    Brown put Kobe and Pau back in before you coach your way out of a easy win.

    Just a thought.

  49. That last Suns possession is Exhibit One on how not to play help defense, Drew. You were five feet away from 6-6 Michael Redd as he backed down 6-2 Andrew Goudelock for a layup almost in the center of the key, and you did nothing. Dwight Howard would have sent Redd’s shot into the stands on a one-way ticket.

  50. Nice drive and kick by Blake to Pau for the deuce.

  51. Dude : The drinking game, the props to Kobe, the D12 reference, I am beginning to like you.

  52. I hate the way Brown subs.

    Kobe was on fire.

    His reward is sit on the bench for 8 minutes.

    Let Suns back in the game Bobby Brown.

  53. you are too good 24, you are just too good

  54. Fish with the biggest shot of the game. Probably bought himself a few more games of 25 minutes of playing time with that shot :D

  55. “Have a taste of this elbow, rookie!”
    - Kobe Bryant, who then sinks a lefty floater

  56. Wow – just sit back and watch Kobe at work – incredible

  57. Fish foot behind line…miracle

  58. Harpoon (Fisher 3)

  59. Ugh…hyperextensions scare me.

  60. Friggin’ Bryant has developed Dirk’s funky fall away, hasn’t he? Amazing.

  61. Dude

    Is that a threat?

    Dude

  62. Ken – hey careful man, there’s a beverage here!

  63. Nice. Considering your talking to a guy who owns a wine and beer company!

  64. 34 bench points and a W. The only thing that would’ve made it better in my book would be not having Kobe, Pau & Drew all playing 32+ minutes.

  65. Good solid team win. BALL MOVEMENT where have you been all this time. You can tell players are settling into their roles. It’s vs Phoenix but I saw some progress.

    Troy Murphy and Matt Barnes came up big tonight.

  66. Or World Peace playing 25 minutes with 2 points and Barnes playing 23 with 15 points.

  67. Holy Camoly Fisher had 12 points. Yeah Suns are atrocious.

  68. Good win, even though it got kind of dicey at the end. Now lets see if we can take care of them on Sunday within their confines … Really starting to look like a team and not only is Coach Brown settling on a rotation, it seems as if the players are starting to get adjusted to their roles within the offense .. Defense (shout out to World Peace) has continued to be solid. Lets go for the Home n Home Sweep on Sunday.