For the first time since 2006 the Phoenix Suns are in the Western Conference Finals, but there is no sense of accomplishment yet with this veteran-led group. The NBA Finals are obviously the goal, but a man named Kobe, a Zen Master and a few seven-footers stand in the way.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said it all season long — the Western Conference goes through Los Angeles. The Suns knew that if they wanted a taste of the NBA Finals they would have to dethrone the champs, and they will have their chance come Monday night.
With just less than a week before Game 1, we will be breaking down every possible angle of this series, but first we will take a look at how these teams fared against each other in the regular season. The Lake Show took three of four games from Phoenix, but here is a more in-depth breakdown of the Suns-Lakers regular season series:
Game 1: Lakers win in Los Angeles 121-102 on Nov. 12, 2009
The Suns came into this game as the NBA’s hottest team, fresh off a five-game win streak while boasting an 8-1 record. But the Suns were on the tail end of a back-to-back and playing their seventh game in 10 days. It showed as the almighty Lakers knocked the Suns from their high horse with a dominant 19-point victory, without Pau Gasol nonetheless.
Kobe Braynt and company led by as many as 27 and completely stifled the Suns’ high-powered offense. The Lakers allowed only one Suns starter to reach double-figures — Steve Nash scored 13 — and limited Phoenix to 12 total assists (one more than Nash’s season average). The biggest takeaway from the game was the way LA put the clamps on Amare Stoudemire.
The tandem of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom limited STAT to only eight points on 2-of-15 shooting (13.3 percent). The usually efficient Stoudemire struggled with the size and length of the Lakers’ bigs, and Bynum had himself a field day — 26 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks on 13-of-18 shooting.
Kobe added 29 points, and it was an all-around dominant effort by the Lake Show, especially on the defensive end as they took away Nash’s passing lanes while shutting down STAT. The Suns were due for a hiccup after the hot start, but the way the Lakers blanked the Suns’ starters is a slight cause for concern.
Game 2: Lakers win in Los Angeles 108-88 on Dec. 6, 2009
The Suns started off the month of December with an embarrassing 27-point loss to the Knicks and a slightly less humiliating 17-point loss to King James and company. Phoenix regrouped a bit after beating the Kings, but on the second game of the dreaded back-to-back the Suns were manhandled by the Lakers from start to finish in their second meeting.
Both teams were near the top of the NBA at this point, but the Lakers proved why they are the Lakers and the Suns showed that they still had some serious work to do. The Suns looked tired, sloppy, and didn’t seem to belong on the same court as the Lakers that night.
STAT’s 18 and 10 were about the only bright spot for Phoenix, as Kobe’s 26 points led the way in a game that the Suns most likely removed from their memory bank before the final buzzer sounded.
Game 3: Suns win in Phoenix 118-103 on Dec. 28, 2009
After dragging themselves through a horrendous 5-9 start to December and with the 20-point beat down still fresh in their minds, the Suns were due for redemption.
And right on cue they came out and played their best game of the season to that point, building a 22-point fourth-quarter lead and proving that their 14-3 start was no fluke. Stoudemire went for 26, but it was the Suns’ bench that was the difference as the second unit outscored Lakers’ bench 52-31, with 19 of those coming from Jared Dudley.
It was a total team effort in US Airways Center. The Suns had six players in double figures, Channing Frye even snared 11 boards and Robin Lopez had arguably his most productive game of the season up to that point with eight points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. The Lakers were without defensive stopper Ron Artest, but even with him the Suns would have been tough to stop on this night.
On the defensive end Phoenix limited the Lakers to 43.5 percent shooting and no Laker other than Kobe scored more than 14 points. After a horrendous month of December the Suns needed to right the ship, and this convincing win over the Lakers let the NBA know that the Suns were still the real deal.
This was far and away the best game the Suns have played against Los Angeles in quite some time, and a team-oriented, defensive-minded victory like this is the exact formula the Suns need come Monday in Staples Center.
Game 4: Lakers win in Phoenix 102-96 on March 12
With the first three games coming of the blowout variety, Game 4 was bound to be a dog fight. And a dog fight it was, but the Lakers outlasted the Suns down the stretch, fending off a late 26-10 Suns run with a subsequent 12-1 run of their own. The Lakers’ starters poured it on, and Phoenix struggled to find answers defensively.
No Los Angeles starter scored less than 15 points and the Suns never got into a rhythm offensively, shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 6-of-21 from three. The Suns jumped out to an early lead, scoring 31 first-quarter points, but Los Angeles closed the half on a 20-6 run and exposed Phoenix’s zone defense with its three-point shooters.
It wasn’t like the Suns played bad in this game. Amare went for 29 and 16 and the Suns even held an 82-81 lead in the fourth quarter, all without Channing Frye who was serving his one-game suspension for flailing at Danny Granger. But the Lakers’ plethora of weapons proved to be too much for the Suns, led by Kobe’s near triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists).
On the bright side, Nash, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill shot a combined 14-of-37 (37.8 percent) and the Suns were still in the game. These are the type of games the Suns have been winning thus far in the playoffs, but it’s going to be a different story against the uber-talented, extremely long Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Suns’ stats vs. Lakers: 101.0 PPG, 0.91 points per possession, 44.5 RPG, 19.0 APG, 42.8 FG%, 33.3 3p%
Suns’ stats vs. NBA: 110.2 PPG, 1.13 points per possession, 43.0 RPG, 23.3 APG, 49.2 FG%, 41.2 3p%
Lakers’ stats vs. Suns: 108.5 PPG, 1.00 points per possession, 43.8 RPG, 22.5 APG, 49.4 FG%, 41.8 3p%
Lakers’ stats vs. NBA: 101.7 PPG, 1.06 points per possession, 44.3 RPG, 21.1 APG, 45.7 FG%, 34.1 3p%
Key Suns’ stats vs. Lakers:
Amare Stoudemire: 20.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 45.7 FG%
Steve Nash: 13.8 PPG, 9.0 APG, 3.3 TO, 46.7 FG%, 44.4 3p%
Jason Richardson: 8.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 31.0 FG%, 14.3 3p%
Key Lakers’ stats vs. Suns:
Kobe Bryant: 27.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3.3 TO, 54.4 FG%, 28.6 3p%
Andrew Bynum: 17.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 61.2 FG%
Pau Gasol: 14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.67 BPG, 58.1 FG%