Preview and Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Darius Soriano —  November 16, 2012

Records: Lakers 3-5 (13th in the West), Suns 4-5 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (9th in the NBA), Suns 104.1 (14th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.3 (12th in the NBA), Suns 109.3 (29th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Suns: Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (game time decision); Suns: Markieff Morris (doubtful)

The Lakers Coming in: Mike D’Antoni will not be on the sidelines tonight so the Bernie Bickerstaff era continues for at least one more game. That said, D’Antoni did run his first practice on Thursday so we may start to see a subtle shift in the types of sets the Lakers run. D’Antoni was quick to point out in his introductory presser that the shift to what he likes to run will be a gradual one, taking some of what the team is doing now and integrating it into what he likes to do until this team is completely up to speed. Considering this team didn’t have a training camp with him, this makes total sense.

Besides the new head coach, the only other meaningful news is on the injury front and that’s not saying much. Steve Nash remains out with the fracture in his leg. It’s been two weeks since he was injured and there are whispers he could be back soon but that’s no guarantee. The original timeline for Nash was that he’d be reevaluated after 7-10 days with the potential he could be back soon after. And while those evaluations did occur, he’s clearly not ready yet so we continue to wait. As for his back up, Steve Blake is a gametime decision with his status beyond that not known. He did drill work in practice yesterday but spent a lot of time on the sideline doing individual work. If he doesn’t play, expect Morris and Duhon to get similar minutes that they did the last game.

The Suns Coming in: If you haven’t caught any Suns games lately you’ve missed out on some pretty entertaining basketball. They’ve been cardiac kids of sorts, staging late game comebacks in multiple contests to pull out victories. One such game was last Wednesday against the surprise Bobcats (who have been playing well) where our old friend Shannon Brown knocked down six 3 pointers in the 4th quarter to help bring the Suns back to win. While this is extreme, it’s close to what the Suns have been doing this year in living on the edge and coming up big late in games.

It should be no surprise the Suns are a bit uneven to start the year as they have several new contributors on their roster. Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, and Luis Scola are all new to the team that have been inserted into the starting lineup. Dragic, their key off-season signing, leads the team in scoring and assists while Scola has provided his typical solid play as the team’s second best scorer and rebounder. Beasley has been quite inconsistent, shooting a low percentage overall and playing the fewest minutes per night of all their starters.

Of the holdovers from last season, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley have been pretty good for them. Gortat leads them in rebounding (and is 3rd in points per game) while Dudley has brought solid shooting from the floor (though his three point percentage isn’t what it was in season’s past). The Suns’ record is a bit better than it should be at this point but overall  they have a nice amount of talent for a team that’s clearly rebuilding after losing Nash and Grant Hill this off-season and Channing Frye for the year to a heart ailment.

Suns Blogs: Valley of the Suns is a very good site for all your news on this team. Give them a read.

Keys to game: Despite the Suns’ superior record, their efficiency ratings and differentials tell the story of a team that is over performing. For the Lakers, this means a win is there for the taking, especially at home.

To get it done, however, they need to stick to the game plan of pounding the Suns inside via any and every action available in their shifting playbook. Be it P&R’s with Dwight or Pau, post ups for the bigs and Kobe, or penetration from the wing that leads to points at the rim and offensive rebounding chances the Lakers are best served living in the paint against this team. After Gortat, they get thin up front in a hurry, so getting him in foul trouble or making him defend without fouling should be part of the plan the entire evening.

Defensively, the Lakers must protect the three point line first and worry about the paint second. Dragic will try to create in the pick and roll for himself and Gortat but the drive and kick game remains a key to their offensive attack. In Dudley, Beasley, Shannon Brown, and Dragic the Suns have capable shooters that can hit the long ball should they be left open. The Lakers’ rotations must be sharp and they cannot get caught ball watching on the weak side on drives or post ups and let their man slide into open space for kickout passes.

The other key will be bench play. The Suns don’t have a lot of talent stockpiled on their bench but the freedom that their reserve unit plays with can inspire points to be put up in a hurry. Brown is their third leading scorer on the season and Telfair is showing a solid floor game as a backup to Dragic. These two will test Duhon and Meeks on the defensive side of the ball and they must be ready to track them all over the court.

Offensively the Lakers bench must also start to produce. Jamison has been showing more life lately but Meeks needs to find his stride soon or he’ll end up back on the bench. In the last game he tried too hard to create shots off the dribble against closeouts and was, to say the least, unsuccessful. He needs to get back to being the catch and shoot threat the Lakers signed and move the ball on to the next man should he find that he’s not open.

As Mike D’Antoni said on Thursday, the Lakers need to start winning games to claw themselves back into the race. It’s early in the season yes, but this is a home heavy part of their schedule that requires them to pad their record with some W’s. If the defense that showed up against the Spurs is present tonight, the Lakers should find themselves getting the stops they need while noticing that the Suns defense doesn’t offer nearly the obstacle that San Antonio’s did.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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