Records: Lakers 18-12 (5th in West), Suns 12-19 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.0 (15th in NBA), Suns 101.7 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4 (8th in NBA), Suns 105.5 (22nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: none; Suns: none
It’s been two days since these teams squared off last and that game looked very much like the one a little over a month ago when the Lakers ran away from the Suns. Some of the details varied but the overall theme was the same: Kobe was nearly unstoppable, the Lakers bigs did a good job of manning the middle on D while contributing enough on O, and the Suns simply couldn’t keep pace.
Today’s game may end up the same way and if it did I don’t think anyone would be surprised. What the Lakers have proven is that they match up well with the Suns, able to take advantage of their perimeter defense by attacking off the bounce and then finishing inside due to the lack of rim protectors. On defense, the Lakers have seen Nash and this system for many years and even if there are still wrinkles that are difficult to stop, the knowledge on how to slow it enough is there.
All that being said, today’s game is not yet in the books and the Lakers playing on the road is always an adventure. So while there are things we know, the outcome of today’s game is not one of them. With that in mind, a few things to look for tonight:
- How will the Lakers defend the P&R? Last game the Lakers seemed extra focused on the shooters parked on the weak side of the floor and it affected their rotations to the paint to cover the screen man rolling to the hoop. This resulted in Marcin Gortat getting several point blank looks at the hoop that he easily converted. Tonight, will the Lakers rotate sooner to cut off Gortat’s path to the rim or will they once again stick to shooters in the opposite corner for that extra beat to dissuade Nash from passing to that man? There’s not really a good answer to this question as the Suns smartly play capable shooters in that spot and tell their screen man (especially when it’s their Center setting the pick) to crash the paint and make the defense rotate. If the rotation is late, Nash hits the dive man for a shot at the rim. If the rotation is early, Nash picks out a shooter on the weak side to get up an open jumper. For years this was the foundation of their Nash/Amar’e teams and now that Gortat is in Phoenix the same is true. The Lakers, though, will need to be better at defending this action than they were on Friday. My suspicion is that we’ll see crisper rotations to slow the roll man with the hope that a close out can disrupt the outside shooter.
- Will the Suns double team Kobe? In two games against the Suns, Kobe has totaled 84 points. He’s attacked off the dribble relentlessly to get into an early rhythm and then let his jumper fly to bury the defense. The Suns, meanwhile, mostly single cover him with Hill and Dudley and dare Kobe to keep making shots. So far he’s done it and at some point you have to wonder if that strategy will change. The law of averages says that Kobe will miss some of these shots, but when he’s getting lay-ins and runners in the restricted area I don’t know if relying on misses is that practical.
- Will the bench’s solid play carry over to the road? Friday the bench poured in 34 points and were key in extending the lead in the 2nd quarter – a stretch that proved to be one of the main factors in the win. The reserves hit shots, played good defense, and played with great confidence. Role players usually have trouble playing on the road, though, and that’s one reason why the Lakers have struggled as the visiting team this season. The Lakers’ bench will need to show that same spark tonight, hit some shots, and play up to the level of their counterparts – you have to figure the Suns’ role players, now at home, will play better than they did on Friday – to help pull out this win. Far too often this season the Lakers’ big three has had to carry the load on the road but with a steadied rotation, here’s hoping the bench has found some semblance of stability that carries over to their production.
Where you can watch: 5:00 start time on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.