Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Suns

Darius Soriano —  December 10, 2013

The Lakers coming in: The big news of the day isn’t necessarily about Kobe — who will play tonight and hasn’t experienced any set backs after his 28 minute night on Sunday — but rather what the team is doing around him in the starting lineup. Mike D’Antoni announced today that he is shifting his starters, swapping out Robert Sacre and Wesley Johnson for Shawne Williams and Jodie Meeks. The change can be viewed through the prism of matching up with the Suns who start a stretch PF (Channing Frye) and a smaller backcourt duo, but I’ve a feeling if this group can perform well it may be more of a long-term change.

Mike D’Antoni has long valued offensive spacing as a pillar of his attack, and inserting Williams and Meeks is one of the only way to accomplish that with the current roster at his disposal. And while there are defensive ramifications for removing Johnson and Sacre, the hope is that the drop off to what Williams and Meeks provide in the paint and on the wing combined with the (hopefully) better offensive production will equal a net positive. I, for one, think that will be the case, but we shall see.

Overall, though, I think what this move is really about is putting as much shooting around Kobe and Pau as possible to give them the space they need to operate in the areas of the floor they like — typically 18 feet and in. While Kobe said he was happy in his ability to get into the paint after Sunday’s loss, he and Pau are both best working areas of the floor from the elbow down the mid and low-post and in order for those spots to be cleared, you need spacing on the perimeter. Moving Meeks (who has really be excellent from deep this year) and Williams (who at least offers the idea of spacing through where he plays on the court) gets at that idea quickly and succinctly.

The Suns coming in: Phoenix is one of the surprises of the early part of the year. Many picked them to be one of the worst teams out West, but they come in with a more than respectable 11-9 record, good for 8th in the competitive west. One of the reasons the Suns boast the record they do is because of the quality depth they have amassed across their roster. They play 8 players at least 20 minutes and rotate in up to 3 other players who can soak up at least 10 minutes a night. Beyond the depth, though, is the fact that there is a fair amount of versatility within these players and that allows for different lineups to be deployed to good success.

The backbone of this versatility starts in the backcourt where the dynamic combo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe wreak havoc on opponents on both ends of the floor. Offensively, this duo can do it all, with both having the ability to play on or off the ball while still providing an all-court game that can threaten the defense. The duo represent the team’s top two scorers and combine for 36 of the teams 101 points nightly. Defensively, both have good quickness and athleticism to guard either guard spot (though Bledsoe’s strength translates to better D on shooting guards) and both can apply strong ball pressure to disrupt the initiation of opponent’s offense.

Flanking these two is excellent shooting as the return of Channing Frye (back this year after heart surgery last year) and PJ Tucker (hitting 50% of his 3′s on over 2 attempts per game) space the floor and provide the driving angles both Dragic and Bledsoe thrive on. Add in a bench that consists of the Morris twins (Marcus and Markief) and Gerald Green at the forward spots and there is a lot to like about this team today and moving forward.

Keys to the game: As mentioned already, the Lakers really are deploying a lineup that is designed to match up with what the Suns want to do offensively. With that being the case, the team’s starters must carry their weight this evening and not lay the egg they did against the Raptors.

Defensively this means controlling Dragic and Bledsoe, which is easier said than done. The Slovenian Dragic learned at the feet of Nash in how to operate in the P&R and brings a shifty, southpaw style to the floor. He can hit from range and get to the rim while proving adept at scoring or kicking the ball over to an open teammate for an easy basket. Bledsoe, meanwhile, offers power and explosiveness in a compact body. He can bull doze defenders in the open court and get to the rim when putting his head down coming off picks.

The Lakers’ guards, then, will have their hands full in trying to contain these two off the dribble, but will also need a lot of support from their big men as helpers. With Frye in the game (and later the Morris twins), helping off of bigs can prove dangerous and the Lakers must find the right balance between helping all out and feinting help and recovering as to not allow wide open shots from behind the arc. If they can accomplish this well, they should be okay. If they can’t, the Suns can explode for points in bunches in the half court while also using their superior speed all over the floor to create in transition.

The Lakers, then, must be smart about how they play on offense and while that involves a lot of variables, a major improvement must come from Kobe. His 8 turnovers from Sunday can not carry over and he must be better about not forcing passes and in making the right shot/pass decisions when turning the corner in the P&R. The odds are he will have a lot of P&R chances with Pau and the hope is that the chemistry between those two wins out over some of the riskier plays that were attempted on Sunday.

That said, one way to try and create fewer risky situations is to have Blake handle the ball more and to switch up some of the sets the team runs in order to get Kobe the ball in positions where he’s not always starting with a live dribble. With the team going small to start the game, I wouldn’t mind seeing the team run more HORNS options with Kobe starting at the elbow with Gasol rather than having the PF (Williams) start there. Kobe can then either serve as the trigger man after receiving the initial entry or serve as a screener on the back side and then become a secondary option. Either choice is a solid one — as the trigger man, Kobe starts in a triple threat at the elbow where he’s long been dangerous or he screens on the wing and then either flares to the corner or drops to the mid-post where he can work from another preferred spot.

The other key offensively will be how the 2nd unit performs and who is there to captain it. On Sunday D’Antoni again went with PG-less lineups and those had mixed results. On some possessions things went well, but on several others they were disorganized. I’d like to see Blake play more with the Henry, Young, Johnson, Hill foursome that allows them to push the pace and better play to their strengths as a unit. The Suns also have some good talent on their bench, so whoever can control this part of the game will be in a good position to win. The Lakers would be wise, then, to allocate their resources in a way that gives them a chance to come out on top when the benches match up.

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

Darius Soriano

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71 responses to Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Suns

  1. Let’s try this again.

    Kobe Alert: KB got off to a little bit of a slow start, but hey – he is back ! So it is officially 18 seasons and that alone is rare company. There are 24 players who have played in 18 or more seasons. Out of those, only 3 are guards. Of the 11 guys who have played more than 18 years, 7 of them are HOF (or certain future). Last game Kobes grabbed 8 rebounds and tied Detlef Schrempf for 58th on the all time defensive rebounds list. After a little research, the conspiracy theories espoused on the board have been disproven. It appears that over an 8 month span Kobe consumed huge quantities of double whoppers with cheese and then finished up with bon bons for desert. We did not bother to check the exact quantities, because there is no way that Kobe is anywhere near the team records in that department, which were set by Shaq in the summer of 2002. Kobe needs 666 points to catch MJ.

  2. Lakers could lose again tonite. Rotations are going to be whack. Like Blake playing with second unit as PG.

  3. Robert, you are right that Shaq set all those consumption records in 2002, but let’s give a shout-out to the all-time greats in that department, Oliver Miller, but most impressively, Shawn Kemp, who managed to gain incredible amounts of weight while also siring scores of kids and having a nasty cocaine habit. For degree of difficulty alone, he’s the GOAT!

  4. the other Stephen December 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Surely Eddy Curry, Michael Sweetney, and Sean May also wish to throw their names into the Whopper sweepstakes.

  5. So, um, why didn’t Dwight want to play PnR las year?
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1883092-whats-keeping-dwight-howard-from-being-the-next-great-rockets-big-man

    These are the same type numbers that we were seeing last year when he decided that PnR just wasn’t “his bag baby” and that playing with, possibly, the best PnR point guard in history didn’t do it for him. I’m sorry that I brought this back up…

    I could see the Suns beating this Lakers team tonight or I could see Pau and Kobe rekindling a bit of the ole’ PnR magic too! It’s six up or a half a dozen down. Go Lakers!

  6. KenOak: You had some fun at my expense (and I deserved it) earlier, so let me have some fun with your comment: With regard to DH: As you said – you brought it up : ) So since we are poker guys – having a guy like DH who won’t do what he is told is like drawing to an inside straight. Not having a guy to occupy the paint at all is like “drawing dead”. With regard to: ” It’s six up or a half a dozen down” – I see you have been paying attention to this forum’s prediction methodology. Predict vaguely – and then you can take credit for being correct no matter what happens.
    lil pau: Nice. First the perfect “Eats First” line, and now you use Kemp as a comedic pinata. What’s next?

  7. Kobe…”Its not like we were gangbusters before “…..D.A. ” I have to disagree with that”…….. 6 out of 8…3 wins on the road without Kobe……..This is another reason Kobe is disliked by some.No wonder certain players dont want to play with Kobe…Already throwing his teammates under the bus.. SMH…. Even his Coach had to defend the rest of the team…

  8. Gene – The context of Kobe’s reply was in response to a question on whether he thought his return would harm the team chemisty. A mostly complete quote from Kobe is as follows:

    “In the bigger picture, Bryant wasn’t worried about disrupting team chemistry, the Lakers sitting with a better-than-expected 10-9 record before his return.

    “Chemistry will be fine. It’s not like we were gangbusters before,” he said. “Guys know how to play. We’ll be fine.” http://www.latimes.com/sports/basketball/nba/lakers/la-sp-lakers-20131210,0,3474642.story#ixzz2n7UanpuI

    This is not a put down on the team. He is simply saying he does not think he will alter the chemistry that much.

  9. Nothing like a Heat-Pacers battle as a prelude to a Lakers game.

  10. That was a poor choice of words by Kobe, team busted their butts to be one game over and he should be more respectful.

    I am feeling a down turn in energy coming and MD inserting Williams instead of Johnson starting and saying they need more speed is odd MD.

  11. gene,
    It’s not like the Lakers were suddenly being considered a contender. They were a well oiled machine with no replacement parts and no real strengths – unless you count the 3pt shooting, which seems to be factor in all MDA teams. Stick a strong, superstar player into any mix like that and there will be an adjustment period.

    If you are determined to tear what Kobe does down, you will certainly have ammunition in the game just played. If you are determined to think Kobe a god, you will attribute all the problems created to his teammates. The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between.

  12. Same ole’ people saying the same ole’ things. The Lakers have just played a fairly easy stretch on their schedule. They were on pace to being a .500 ball club without Kobe. You are not making the playoffs as a .500 ball club and I don’t care what Mike D’Antoni says- if he coaches the Lakers to just being average, then that isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough for the owners. It isn’t good enough for the fans and it sure as heck isn’t good enough for Kobe Bryant.

    Now, you might be able to make the point that .500 ball for *this* particular Lakers squad is a terrific outcome! However, that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for this franchise.

  13. My comment had nothing to do with how the Lakers are doing…its about how Kobe made a stupid comment and the coach disagreed with him…

  14. Kobe is a very specific and driven individual. There are players that don’t want to deal with that, but to intuit that players in general don’t want to join the Lakers because Kobe is there is just following the ‘talking head’ line of nonsense. This has become a way to get hits and, except for the select individuals mentioned above, really doesn’t apply to NBA players across the board. Of course all this is IMO.

  15. JustintheNickoftime December 10, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Beans comments were a little insensitive considering anyone that has watched games this year knows this team has won because of their never give up attitude and team play. They were not going to compete for a chip, but at least it felt good to see the hustle and heart. Something that didnt need to be said so Kobe once again looks like the wolf peeing on his territory. I hope his play will back up his comments that have in the past been overlooked because of his supreme talent. If he doesnt get back to elite form, such comments might make teammates bite back. Its a what have you done for me lately world, Mamba better hope his tongue doesnt write a check his game cant cash.

  16. I love how Mike D’Antoni, the ultimate optimist apparently, believes that his team is a contender without Kobe. An average team playing average basketball- which just so happens to be above average for them. Okay.

  17. JustintheNickoftime December 10, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Hilbo

    MD didnt think his team was a contender without 24, and with him they still are not. He just knows that the only reason for early success was players confidence. For Kobe too discredit that with an offhand comment, somebody had to step in and say something on their behalf. For this group of guys to come together and play as a team was an accoplishment in itself.

  18. This is why MDA is not an elite is response was senseless. He needed to first understand context before getting defensive. Here is what kobe said:”The chemistry will be fine,” Bryant said. “It’s not like they haven’t watched me play for 17 years. It’s not rocket science. It’s not like we were gangbusters before. Guys know how to play with me, it will be fine. They got plenty of opportunities [Sunday] and we just got to capitalize on them.”

    What Kobe was saying was the Lakers were a work in progress before his return not some well oiled dominant machines so adjusting shouldn’t be a big deal. Anyone who takes that as a slight is unnecessarily insensitive.

    Btw, the Lakers didn’t lose to Toronto cos of Kobe. They lost because their interior defense made Amir Johnson look like the 2nd coming of Kareem Abdul Jabber

  19. Farmar’s absence is the problem. Agree with Darius comment Blake should play PG for second unit. MDA should start Kobe at PG, with Meeks at SG. Kobe can get in the flow as a distributor. Blake can spell him. Henry is odd man out. With Kobe being the focus, Henry won’t get enough minutes or touches to develop. Lakers highest scoring bench ranking can’t survive long with Kobe back either.

  20. You solve the X-man dilemma by starting Xavier with Kobe. You then have an aggressive bakcourt that can break down a defense

  21. 2nd game of the comeback…Mamba.

    Lakers are going to figure this out. I expect this team to settle down, now that they’ve played one game with Kobe. Most of these players idolize Kobe, so it is sort of a culture shock for them actually being on the court with him.

    Let’s go Lakers!

  22. Kobe will be much better tonight and I guarantee starters will not be a minus 75 tonight.

    Need Pau to step up if the want to stay about .500.

    Go Lakers.

  23. Joe O: Thanks for the clarification on Kobe’s comment.

    With Meeks and Williams in the starting lineup, let’s hope that they don’t become statues at the 3pt line. It doesn’t matter if they spread the floor, if all they are going to do is run to a spot on the 3pt line waiting for a pass. Moreover, this lineup concedes offensive rebounds to the Suns, so let’s hope that they don’t allow Phoenix to run-out on them. Or this will be a recipe for disaster. I’m not too concerned about Meeks, as he will get at least one baseline score a game. Williams has no offense outside the 3pt shot. Kobe can’t pass the ball to Williams under any circumstance if he’s on the move because he doesn’t know what to do.

    The bench will score 50+ points tonight.

  24. JustintheNickoftime December 10, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Joe O

    Your talking about million dollar athletes who wear their ego on their sleeve. They can be some of the most sensitive and insecure types in the world. Fact.

  25. Pau has become a minus again.

  26. Kobe Slam Dunk, very nice to see that.

  27. Kobe looks okay. nice blow by and dunk.

  28. Blake passing really well. Meeks still being very aggressive and it’s paying off. Kobe dunks!

  29. Pau is just absolutely worthless now.

  30. Williams with a slip screen and a layup…wow. He can score on the move.

    Kobe dunk!!!

  31. One way to never get traded is to play and look terrible.

  32. Jordan Farmar needs to come back. Without a true pg, the Lakers have trouble running the offense.

  33. Bad match up for kobe – game is going by too fast – plus tucker is actually a quality defender – you cam see kobe is slower – I say its ok that hes playing sf but his game does not fit mdas system – hell need to do the things johnson was doing as an sf which was spot or cut to the rim

  34. This team went from fun and exciting to just bad.

    Perhaps Mitch can make some moves. Soon.

  35. Jodie meeks has taken the venom from kobe and injected it into himself.

  36. Kobe is looking much better tonight.

  37. Pau is just a guy standing outside . Not one attempt in the post this half. How long can the FO watch him.

  38. Pau needs to try and protect the rim and be a force down low. Lakers need more length at the rim. Put Kaman in.

  39. @ kevin
    Kamen supposedly has back spasms so you mean put sacre in.

  40. I cant watch the game tonight but let me get this straight, the Lakers were down by 10, at the half they are trailing by 5 and people act like they losing by 30. People need to relax. What a whinefest sheesh

  41. Seems KenOak was onto something earlier -

  42. Cue the cheesy 70′s game show music! For tonight’s edition of how can we blame this performance on Kobe! Kobe’s demeanor on the bench is causing the backups to play worse. Just look at him as he sits there with his towels on! How could any 2nd string guys play well with him sitting there like that?!

  43. @KenOaks the Lakers played the second toughest November schedule in the entire NBA in November, just so u know…

  44. Sad

    Good thing Utah and Sac are in the West.

  45. Lakers with another slow start to the second half.

  46. @Robert
    Dude. No. We were drawing dead in resigning Dwight and we would have been drawing dead with him on the team. Why? Because he-did-not-want-to-be-here-or-play-in-this-offense. Houston sold him on an inside out post offense with him as the centerpiece and so far they’ve played a guard dominated PnR offense…

    Also, I wasn’t really predicting anything with the game tonight. I was only really pointing out that this is a .500 ball club and we are just as likely to lose on any given night as we are to win. Nice Kobe Alert btw!

  47. Wow, Pau is really having a hard time after tearing his achilles…oh wait.

  48. @Fern
    I know they did. They won a couple of tough games that they really should have lost- mostly on emotion. (Clips and Rockets) Then the last 6 or so games have been pretty winnable…including the one we just lost last night and are losing tonight.

  49. wow lakers are making eric bledsoe look like westbrook.

  50. If you want to win Mike keep Pau on the bench.

  51. This Laker announcer is a pessimist! He’s annoying!!!

    Why have they kept him?

  52. Well, Kobe looks a lot better looking at the boxscore, cant watch the game tonight. Sucks

  53. Kobe looks better tonight, Pau looks worse – why did MDA sub him back in? Hill was ballin.

  54. Nick young needs to make his fts.

  55. Announcer: “yeah but they want the other Kobe”

    He’s such a pessimist!!

    Why does he still have a job?

  56. Last couple games, the guy Pau is supposed to be checking is shooting 70+% from the field. Yikes.

  57. I think we’re the only team in the league that can make Bledsoe look like CP3, Dragic look like Tony Parker, and the Morris stiffs look like Lebron and Paul George. The Morris clowns? Seriously? Really? Smh

  58. Pau just has no lift whatsoever.

    Kobe looked much better tonight.

    Don’t know which twin it was since they’re identical and there first names are similar, but 1 of them destroyed us tonight.

  59. I like MD. But I’m convinced he’s just not a very good head coach (maybe assist coach).

    His substitutions are poor
    His plays after timeouts are reduntantky useless
    He lacks motivation for players
    He doesn’t appear to preach DEFENSE!!

    Nothing suggested to him to take Pau out early & run with Hill & Sacre?

    Sigh…

  60. This one was on Pau. He simply shouldn’t be on the floor in the 4th qtr when the opponent has quickness on the floor. He simply can’t defend the basket and we need Jordan Hill. Hill may not be great, but he at least shows a semblance of defense. When Pau wasn’t letting his man shoot over him or around him, his teammates were having to cover and their man was then free.

  61. Pau is now a bottom 5 centers in the NBA. Gets beat by everyone and has 4 rebounds. This team will win 35 games with this guy your center. Just list 2 at home agonist rebuilding teams.

    Kamen and Sacra zero minutes.

    Looks like back to 12 in the West. Have to wonder if the FO is trying to win or pretend they are. This is just a very below average team that will be 5 or 6 games below by Xmas.

  62. Team got crushed on the boards and they only shot 27% from 3. Throw in Nick Young’s 2-6 from the free throw line and bloop…

  63. Suns´ offensive rebounds kept us from geting over that 5-point hump we got in way back in the 1stQ-
    I agree with those who wondered why JHill was taken out

  64. Robert, Lil Pau, and the other Stephen – hilarious exchange re: fatties in the recent past. Made me laugh.

  65. Besides Pau playing down the stretch, there was absolutely no reason that Swaggy should’ve been in the game instead of Meeks in the 4th.

  66. Lakers had opportunities to tie or take the lead but could not get the stops to make a run. They were close but every time the Suns responded with a run to push the lead back to where the Lakers could not overcome it.

  67. If FO doesn’t make some changes TW rating by mid-season will be lower the defenders games.

    Sorry but the over all demeanor of this team drastically changed the past 2 games.

    Very slow and little movement when Kobe is out there. Sure he will get better but that won’t equate to wins. Pau 5 rebounds Kobe 3 assists.

    Hope they can beat Charlotte this week.

  68. seems like MDA is determined to play Pau and Kobe together which if 30 min means guaranteed losses. Pau should be getting DNP-CD not playing us out of games. It is one thing to lose but if you are running and dunking and shooting threes at least it is exciting and fun to watch. Now we don’t even get that.

  69. Tviper

    Yep team went from fast, fun and exciting to Pau lumbering down court to shoot 15 footers or Kobe dribbling around the FT line.

    Slow, and not as fun. Kind of disappointing to lose to 2 non playoff teams at home.

  70. Craig W.,

    I fully agree with your earlier comment that Jordan Hill should have been playing in crunch time–either in place of Pau or along side him. The Lakers got out-rebouded by 10. They were beaten (again) consistently in the paint.

    Furthermore, Hill was having his 2nd good game in a row: 13 pts., 7 rebounds, 2 assists in 19 minutes. Several games back, they played Hill down the stretch along with Gasol. That worked fine. Have the coaches forgotten that already?

    Hill can play more than 19 minutes per game. He can definitely go 24 IMO. They should have kept him in the game. Taking him out was a big mistake. Surely they needed him more than they needed Nick Young or Wes Johnson.

  71. DEFENSE, or lack thereof, killed us again tonight.