Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Darius Soriano —  April 7, 2012

Records: Lakers 35-21 (3rd in the West), Suns 28-27 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.7 (11th in the NBA), Suns 105.3 (14th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (11th in the NBA), Suns 105.8 (19th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (probable), Ramon Sessions (probable); Suns: Grant Hill (out)

Much like yesterday’s contest, the Lakers are facing a team that’s looking to make the post season and is playing as hard as it can to make that happen. The Suns may have lost last night’s game in Denver, but they’d won 3 in a row before that game and have been making a push towards their goal of avoiding the lottery since the all-star break (going 14-7 in that stretch).

So, the Lakers will need to bounce back from a tough loss last night to the Rockets. But in order to get the win, a few things must work in their favor. A few keys as I see them:

  • The Suns have found their groove on offense with Nash orchestrating the P&R, Gortat providing an excellent roll man and post option, and their shooters knocking down shots. The Lakers will need to contain this action the best way they can, mostly by forcing Nash’s hand as much as they can and attempting to dictate to him what to do with the ball. In recent match ups, Nash has had his way directing the P&R, often finding Gortat for easy baskets on dives to the rim or kicking out to the shooter of his choice against a Lakers’ D that had trouble rotating effectively. I hope to see the Lakers swarm Nash and make his passing angles difficult and try to make him be a scorer rather than a distributor that gets his guys going. With this being a home game for the Suns, their role players will feel more comfortable and can turn a game in their favor by riding the wave that comes from familiar surroundings. Slow down guys like Frye, Dudley, and Brown and the game becomes easier for the Lakers.
  • With Grant Hill out, the question I have is who guards Kobe. Hill has done an admirable job of guarding Kobe in the past, forcing difficult shots that Kobe has hit more than he likely should. With Hill not there to play his physical brand of D against Bean, it will be up to Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley to bring that caliber of defense. Whether they’re up to the challenge or not will be a major factor in who wins this game. As an aside, Brown has the athleticism but lacks the size to challenge Kobe in the post. Brown (as Lakers fans know) also has trouble navigating screens off the ball. These factors should lead to Kobe working more off the ball and using his superior strength to run Shannon off screens and/or work himself into the post where he can use his assortment of fakes to get up good shots.
  • Tempo will be key tonight and though both teams played last night, this will be the Lakers 5th game in 7 nights. The Lakers can’t get into a track meet with the Suns tonight and must control the tempo of the game on both sides of the floor. Last night the Lakers legs were clearly heavy as they were beat to multiple 50/50 balls and were trying to grab rebounds flat footed too often. That mustn’t be the case tonight.
  • To control the tempo, the Lakers must utilize the post in their half court offense. I’ve already mentioned how Kobe can work the low block but he must be joined in working for good post position by Bynum and, especially, Gasol. Pau has a favorable match up against Frye and should be able to get into the post on the his favored left side and go to work. If Pau is able to establish the post, it can serve the dual purpose of getting him going on O and sapping Frye’s legs on D. Since Frye is a jumpshooter that the Suns rely on to space the floor on the P&R, anything that makes him less effective in that role is a bonus.

Lastly, a word on Bynum. Last night was a reminder that Bynum still has a ways to go in maturing on the court and like everyone, I’m frustrated with how this part of his development has stagnated. It’s particularly stressful as a Lakers fan watching him go from being a dominant force on the court to putting himself in positions to not be able to display that dominance due to him lashing out at his opponent. However, like his teammates, I’m trying to keep perspective and be patient with him. As Kobe said, Bynum must find a balance between playing with the emotion that can elevate him to elite status while not letting that emotion boil over in a manner that negatively affects the team. Kobe, of course, knows what it’s like to be a prominent player on a title contender at such a young age. Though, Kobe was also someone that consistently found his way back to the pack and into the role that would help his team achieve at the level they hoped too. Bynum will need to do the same if this team is go as far as they hope to; as far as they, themselves, expect to.

These are hard lessons Bynum is trying to learn and as much as we’d like him to learn them at a pace we’re comfortable with (or not have to learn them at all), this is the process he’s going through and, thus, the one this team is going through. And, for better or for worse, we must travel this path with him as we cheer the whole team on. Hopefully, it’s not much longer before the light turns on for him in this area.

Suns Blogs: Check out Valley of the Suns for your news and notes on this team. They run a very good site and have you covered.

Where you can watch: 7:00PM start on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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