The Lakers have had quite the stretch of games in the past week plus. Sunday’s win over the Pistons was their 6th game in 10 days with tonight’s game against the Suns their 7th in 11 days. The visit to Phoenix makes 6 of those games on the road. That’s a lot of miles to travel in a short amount of time. And while the feeling of getting a much needed W might propel them in the short term, I would not be surprised at some tired legs tonight.
That is the backdrop to this contest, but not the only variables to contend with. The Lakers will not be fully whole nor healthy in this game. Kobe Byrant will not play after going 37 hard minutes on Sunday and dealing with a stiff back and sore legs afterwards. Roy Hibbert broke his nose against the Pistons and will wear a mask while attempting to play tonight.
Much like against the Florida teams when Kobe sat out, I imagine Metta will start and the rotations will mostly remain intact as they are. Anthony Brown might be activated and used as an emergency wing, but I anticipate the minutes will likely just be split among the Metta/Nick Young duo. Jordan Clarkson may potentially see some minutes at that spot if the team goes small or Larry Nance Jr. could see some time at SF should the team go big. Otherwise, more Young, more Metta, rinse, repeat.
The match ups at SF aren’t the biggest concern for me, though. The Suns best players are in their backcourt. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight combine to score 42 points a game while handing out 10 total assists. They are the type of two-way, multi-skilled, and interchangeable guards I imagine the Lakers hope D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson can one day be. They both have good size, can both score or initiate the offense, and both can give their man fits defensively.
The Lakers’ duo, then, will have their hands full tonight, especially defensively. They will need to shade their respective man, play both close enough to contest jumpers while not surrendering straight line drives to the rim, and get back in transition. They will also both need to be active fighting through screens and locating their man off the ball as both guards will run P&R’s while also working on the weak side as a secondary option should a play break down.
Offensively, I will look for both Russell and Clarkson to give their counterparts a taste of their own medicine. Involve both in the P&R, work well off the ball, and use the dribble decisively to get to spots on the floor where they force help. If both Russell and Clarkson (and Lou and Young) can do this consistently, they can force Tyson Chandler to help and then a variety of other options open up, whether it’s shooters spotting up or the offensive glass.
Lastly, the Lakers really will need to rotate to shooters on the perimeter. The Suns, as a team, shoot nearly 38% from distance. And while their attempts aren’t high (19th in the league), their number of makes is in the top 10 because the looks are so good. The first line of defense will give up driving lanes, so the rotations behind that first line will need to be quick and sharp.
Where you can watch: 6pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.