The Lakers start their Grammy Trip tonight, facing off against a familiar Suns team. This will be the third time these two teams play, the Suns winning both prior contests by 6 and 27 points respectively.
In those first two match ups, the Suns dynamic backcourt pairing of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe were key in helping to dispatch the Lakers. Both showed off an ability to get to the rim almost at will while also flashing playmaking in setting up good shots for their teammates. Their ability to be both scorers and facilitators kept the Lakers on their heels while also allowing the Suns to create a balanced attack.
Tonight, however, Bledsoe will not play due to arthroscopic surgery on his knee for a partially torn meniscus. This is blow to the Suns who have lost 3 in a row while trying to compensate for Bledsoe’s absence with Gerald Green getting more minutes and by signing journeyman guard Leandro Barbosa. Both Green and Barbosa are capable players (in their own ways), but neither are anywhere near the player Bledsoe is and the team misses him severely.
Whether that matters against a Lakers’ group that is currently one of the worst teams in the league remains to be seen. Our guys have lost 11 of their last 12 games, including their last 5, and don’t look to get back on track soon even though they played somewhat better against the Cavs. In last night’s loss to Cleveland, the Lakers again showed good spirit and some better offense, but still struggled mightily to defend or rebound well enough.
One area of their defense that really struggled was their work on the perimeter where they gave up penetration far too easily and didn’t do a good enough job of contesting shots behind the arc. The Cavs had a historically good shooting night from three point range, hitting an unfathomable 13 of their 17 shots from deep. The 76.5% accuracy from three is the eighth best mark all time on 15 attempts or more and the fourth best if you up the attempts to 17 (h/t to Gary Collard on the stat). Not good.
Tonight, the Lakers’ D will have to be better behind the arc where the Suns have multiple players – Dragic, Channing Frye, Green, P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris – who all shoot over 38%. Their D will also need to be better in transition where the Suns do a lot of damage by pushing the ball up court and looking for quick hitting actions in early offense that can exploit a slowfooted team like the Lakers. Being that Pau is also banged up, the injuries that leave only 9 players available, and the fact that they played last night and controlling the tempo and not getting into a trackmeet is even more important.
Offensively, the Lakers need to keep it simple and rely on their inside-out game to get them the points they need to keep the game close. Pau has played quite well lately and when he is on the floor he needs to be featured inside to create a balance between what he can provide as a scorer and distributor from the block with the Lakers typically more perimeter oriented attack. If the proper balance can be struck and the Lakers’ shooters can have a good night, the game has a chance to remain close much like the Cavs game.
This, however, is a lot to ask all things considered. The Lakers are clearly slumping horribly and the injuries combined with the lack of sheer bodies to soak up minutes is taking its toll. The team is expending more energy offensively than they are defensively and that’s leading to teams running up the score while the Lakers don’t have enough talent to keep up. It is not a formula that is working and while preaching that they start to play better defense is natural, this group of players simply aren’t very good defensive players. This isn’t to excuse them, but recognizing player limitations is the first part of analysis and looking at this team objectively tells you they’re going to struggle to get stops.
In any event, the Lakers will try to turn it around tonight. They could surely use a win to start their road trip.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.