Tonight’s showdown is as important as a game can be on Nov. 20, the biggest measuring stick game in a measuring stick week.
The Lakers have taken over the Pacific Division in the past year, but we don’t know if they are miles ahead of the Suns or just a few steps.
According to John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, the Suns and Lakers have the top two projected records in the Western Conference, with the computer projection giving the Lakers a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs and the Suns 96.5 percent.
But it also projects the Lakers to finish 14 games ahead of the Suns and the rest of the West, giving them a 96.3 percent shot at taking the division and the Suns the other 3.7 percent.
That comes as little surprise because the Lakers lead the NBA in defensive efficiency and rank third in scoring offense and defense, second in defensive field-goal percentage and rebounds per game and seventh in offensive efficiency. That’s a true juggernaut.
Although every indication says the Lakers are the team to beat in the NBA this season, tonight we get our first look at how a Diesel-powered Suns team will fare against the vaunted Lakers.
Shaq made his Suns debut in the teams’ last meeting, a 130-124 shootout won by Los Angeles in Phoenix in which Shaq was just starting to get acclimated with the Suns’ roster.
There’s no question he’s become much more comfortable this season than he ever was last year, so this should be more of a true test of where the Suns stand, minus the fact Leandro Barbosa is still out.
The Shaq-Andrew Bynum matchup will be very intriguing, with this being the first meeting between Bynum and Shaq in a Suns uniform. Shaq will no doubt want to show the Lakers they made mistake by dealing him and eventually drafting Bynum to be his replacement as the franchise center.
It’s extremely odd that these teams meet this early with the Suns already having 12 games under their belt and the Lakers just nine. In fact, before the Lakers’ Tuesday win the Suns had played just one fewer road game than Los Angeles had played total games.
A game after Utah’s bench outscored their Phoenix counterparts by a margin of 59-16, bench play should be critical once again in this one, as the Lakers boast Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic off the pine.
But with two days off in a row for only the second time all season, it would be no surprise to see the Phoenix starters play heavier minutes as the Suns shoot for a statement win.