Suns vs. Lakers — Matchup breakdown

The NBA playoffs are all about matchups, which will hold true more than ever when the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers square off in the Western Conference Finals.

The biggest questions entering this series are 1) How will the Suns handle the Lakers’ twin towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both offensively and defensively? and 2) Who will have the defensive assignment on Kobe Bryant?

The Lakers have their fair share of concerns as well, however, with Phoenix’s never-ending line of shooters coupled with the inside game of Amare Stoudemire. But It’s hard to have an answer for two seven-footers and the best closer in the game, to go along with a playoff-tested veteran point guard, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive specialist and the versatile Lamar Odom.

Needless to say, the Suns will have their hands full. So how will they match up with the reigning champs? Here is a breakdown of the individual battles we will see between the Suns and Lakers come Monday and beyond:

PG — Steve Nash vs. Derek Fisher

These two wily veteran point guards have had their fair share of battles over the years, and nothing should change this time around.

Steve Nash

Nash has proven how badly he wants to win from the moment the playoffs began. From his 33-point performance against the Spurs in Game 1 to his boxer-like, one-eyed gem to close out the series, the 36-year-old floor general has put the Suns on his back and carried them to the Western Conference Finals.

But Fisher is the epitome of a playoff point guard and should make things fairly difficult for Nash. While his biggest value is on the defensive end, Fisher has been dialed in from distance as of late.

The 35-year-old has drilled 1.9 threes per game in the playoffs, and is doing so at a 42.2 percent clip. His 20 points were integral in the Lakers’ Game 3, one-point win over the Jazz, and if he is shooting the ball that well against the Suns, it’s just one more weapon Phoenix needs to worry about.

Nash has been fairly average against Fisher in four games during the regular season — 13.8 PPG, 9.0 APG, 3.3 TO — but he has kicked it up a notch this postseason. While Fisher’s recent shooting surge along with his playoff experience is huge for the Lakers, the two-time MVP has the upper hand in this matchup.

Advantage: Nash

SG — Jason Richardson vs. Kobe Bryant

There is so much concern about the Lakers’ size and length, but they still have this guy named Kobe who is pretty damn good. Grant Hill has been the Suns’ defensive stopper thus far in the playoffs, but expect the Suns to use his size and length against the bigger Artest rather than Bryant.

Kobe Bryant

In their last meeting the Suns went exclusively with Richardson on Bryant when he was in the game. Jared Dudley will play the role of the Kobe-stopper when he’s on the floor, but the majority of the defensive responsibility lies in the hands of J-Rich.

But the fact is, Kobe is going to get his. He will score upwards of 25 points in almost every game this series so J-Rich needs to make him work on the defensive end.

It’s no secret that he holds the keys to the Suns’ success, as the Suns are 31-4 when he goes for at least 20, but he averaged only 8.8 points on 31 percent shooting from the field and 14.3 shooting percent from three against the Lakers during the regular season.

He’s been scorching hot all playoffs, however, and his 21.9 ppg playoff average is third amongst players left in the playoffs, behind only LeBron and Kobe. If he can continue to fill it up then the Suns have a chance to be in every game.

Advantage: Bryant

SF — Grant Hill vs. Ron Artest

Ron Artest

Artest no longer jacks it up 20 times a game now that he’s the third or fourth option, but he’s found a role as an occasional threat offensively to go along with his defensive prowess. He went for 20 points and 16 points against the Jazz, so he can still put the ball in the hole, but his offense is limited to spot-up threes and garbage buckets.

His versatility and size on defense allows him to guard everyone from Nash to Amare, but expect him to be stationed on Hill for most of the game.

But Hill gets most of points in transition or on mid-range pullups, so I don’t expect Artest to limit him too much offensively.

Advantage: Artest

PF — Amare Stoudemire vs. Pau Gasol

Amare Stoudemire

Gasol’s fine-tuned post game is clearly a concern for Phoenix, but Amare’s quickness and explosiveness should be an even bigger worry for the Lakers. They bottled him up to the tune of 2-for-15 shooting in their first regular season meeting, but Stoudemire made sure that wasn’t a reoccurring theme and proceeded to drop 29 and 16 on the twin towers in the regular season finale.

If Bynum isn’t clogging up the paint, Amare should go to work on Gasol. The Spaniard is a very good defender and shot blocker, but it will be tough for him to keep up with STAT once Amare faces up and puts the ball on the floor. On the other side of the floor, Gasol hasn’t been much of a factor offensively against the Suns — 14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG — but he’s been stellar in the playoffs — 20.2 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG.

This is probably the must-see matchup of the series, but I give the edge to Stoudemire as he’s simply too quick and explosive for Gasol, if he has room to operate that is.

Advantage: Amare Stoudemire

C — Robin Lopez/Jarron Collins/Channing Frye vs. Andrew Bynum

It is looking more and more likely that Lopez will be ready for Monday, but the question then becomes: How big of a role will he play?

Andrew Bynum

You could still go with Collins as a starter, but with Lopez back in the mix it would make sense for Collins to not even see the floor. Frye could get the nod, but that might mess up the chemistry he has with the second unit. Regardless of who is starting, they will have their hands full with Bynum.

Where he hurts the Suns most is in offensive rebounding and on the defensive end. With that said, the Suns need to keep him off the offensive glass and lure him away from the hoop defensively. Aside from maybe Richardson, Frye is the wild card in this series. If he can get it going from deep, Bynum has to come out and defend, which gives STAT room to work.

If the Lakers are able to pack the paint, then Nash has no passing lanes and the Suns will have to live on the perimeter. But if Frye can make Bynum defend the three-point line then the Suns will have the spacing to get into a rhythm offensively. So while Lopez will obviously be key in neutralizing the Lakers’ size, it is Frye who may be the most important Suns center.

Advantage: Bynum

Suns’ bench vs. Lakers’ bench

Where would the Suns be right now without their bench? Dudley has been huge all playoffs, Goran Dragic single-handedly stole Game 3 against the Spurs and Leandro Barbosa has even showed some signs of life lately.

Lamar Odom is the catalyst of the Lakers’ bench, and with his size and versatility he’s oftentimes been the difference maker against the Suns. But aside from him and Shannon Brown, the Suns have the clear advantage in the bench category.

Advantage: Suns’ bench

  • abnorml

    Did I miss something Bynum is hurting with a knee injury and played awful in the last 2 games in Utah.

    If he isn't feeling better I think advantage would go to the Suns.

  • Jose Armendariz

    Good analysis Schmitz. But there is a small detail: I think it's great to compare the players base on their position but don't forget that some of them won't be defending each other.

    For example, while Bryant will be guarding Richardson, expect Hill to defend Bryant . In the other way if Nash is having a party like Deron Williams, expect Artest to cover him.

  • SunzfanNChandler

    Bynum? Give me a break. Lets see how well he guards Channing Frye. I highly doubt he will be able to do so as Frye is not one who will stand under the basket like Bynum.

    More than likely, Hill be will guarding Artest, as JRich is more effective as a scorer, not defending their best player.

    Either or, it will be a good series and looking forward to it. Obviously the Suns have much to prove as the Lakers still are the defending Champs.

  • donkey

    Come on! Lopez is a better center than Bynum, and a healthy Hill is a better player than artest. Hill can defend and score better. Lopez is just as strong, a better defender, and more athletic. Bynum is a slightly better scorer. But Lopez, if he guards him, will shut him down. I know basketball – I've been watching it for years. It's going to take the Lakers a miracle to win the series.

  • Lakeshow

    "I know basketball – I’ve been watching it for years. It’s going to take the Lakers a miracle to win the series."


  • BC


    yes you missed something it’s called the regular season. Bynum has been hurt in some capacity all year. Under no circumstances do the Suns have the advantage at center. Even if Bynum is out that pushes Gasol to center and Lamar to PF

  • suns68

    Richardson on Kobe? Maybe in game 1, but not after that, I don't think.

    Artest can hurt you, but Kobe will kill you. Got to have your best defender on him, especially down the stretch, and that's Hill.

    Not a knock on Richardson, but we need his scoring too much to wear him out chasing Bryant.

    Hill-Dudley on the other team's best ouside scorer has served the Suns well for two playoff series. Why argue with success?

  • Manrique

    There is no way in the world that Grant Hill will guard Ron Artest on a regular basis. You cannot spend your stopper on a guy who hasn't won any games for the Lakers. He's the FOURTH option and maybe worse in the playoffs. I would LOVE it if Artest tried to take over the series because someone was guarding him other than Hill. We'd win for sure. Hill is on Bryant. Mark it down.

  • Lakeshow

    I have been thinking that Hill will be defending Bryant too, but now I’m not so sure.
    Jackson usually posts-up Artest against smaller defender (which J-Rich will be) and if I was the Suns, I would want him to shoot his contested 3s or jumpers than a higher percentage post-up.
    Anyhow, do you guys the Suns will try zone defense?

  • Suns-son

    Lakeshow, I like your analysis there. Yes I do believe that the Suns will be playing a lot of zone D. It helps their rotation defense and When the Suns do play zone, Artest won’t be able to post anyone up as well and will be tempted to shoot the 3. Kobe will get his but the Suns should lock him up as best they can and then after him, who is the net best 3 point threat for the Lakers? Fisher, Odom? I like the Suns with the advantage beyond the arc.

  • abnorml

    I am saying if Bynum can’t go at any point in the series the Lakers could be in trouble.They didn’t play well ending the season going 7-6 the last 13 games of the season,and with Dallas breathing down there backs.And yeah I know Bryant wasn’t 100%.All I am saying is they are a much weaker team with out or a injured Bynum . Lakers don’t have much of a bench if Odom starts.I mean brown is good ,I like Walton’s game,the machine is just coming back from a injury, and Morrison was great when he played for Gonzaga.As for back up center Mbenga which is a better player then Collins I will give you that but still is a big down grade from Bynum.Either way it should be a great series.

  • Manrique

    Plus, you can’t really get the analysis from a position by positon comparison with the Suns. They lose every position except for PG. But, the strength of the Suns is to creat matchups in the game, such as Frye coming in and pulling Bynum or Gausol out of the lane to guard his 3. On paper, the advantage is the Laker bigs, but in certain situations it causes big problems for the Lakers to try and guard certain lineups the Suns can throw out there. This will be a chess-match series that the Suns can win if they shoot well and the Lakers win if they pound the ball inside successfully while staying out of foul trouble. This will be a great series.

  • Greg

    I agree with abnorml and I also think Grant Hill has the advantage over Artest.

  • Manrique

    Greg – I agree too about Bynum. According to LA Times, Bynum might be in trouble with his knee. Do you really think that Hill will be guarding Artest? I haven’t read or heard anyone say that except for this article. Doesn’t stand to reason since Artest has been sort of a bust this year for the Lakers.

  • Lakeshow

    Assistant Lakers’ coach on Suns “much improved defense”
    “This year, there’s a noticeable difference in their defense.… When a guy comes off a screen, they show a certain way. The help side comes over and then they rotate. Whereas before, it was like they may try the first option to stop you. And if you got beyond that first option, they’d concede the basket and just try to beat you down court and get a three to the two that you made.”
    LOL – definite upgrade

  • Corey37

    LAKERS – 4

    magic – 2

    The suns are just a tiny bump in the road.

  • Corey37

    asani, what team besides cleveland had the bigs to match up against the LAKERS bigs?

    The way Pau is playing, and the way amare gets into foul trouble, I'll give Pau the solid advantage at power forward also. Pau is so smooth, that it seems like he does very little during the game, but then you look at his stat line and wonder how did that all happen.

  • Blackoutdre

    I love how im reading a bunch of comments about NOTHING!!! We all know the Lakers are going to take this series… Oklahoma City woke up the champs… Pushed em and made em run.. Hit em from time to time. But key word.. CHAMPS!! Lakers in 5

  • Blackoutdre

    Lakers vs Orlando rematch of last year.. Same result…

    Thats your NBA finals folks

  • Lakeshow

    I'm just wondering, who exactly is Amare going to be defending?

  • KeZ

    Amaré Stoudemire will KILL Pau and Bynum inside the paint!

  • asani

    People must have not payed much attention to the lakers bigs this year. Anytime the Lakers bigs were matched up against anyone their size they had trouble. This is especially true for Bynum. If Lopez holds him down then the lakers can forgetaboutit. The Lakers double team everything and if that is how they play the suns we will have a lot of open looks. Artest obviously is the only guy who legitamately can play good defense one on one on their team everybody else can get punished. Kobe Bryant has been on the first defensive team for so many years and I am truly wondering who in the hell votes for him every damn year. He nevers takes on the other teams best player. Even people on ESPN said he doesn’t belong on this team. How is it Artest is on the second all defensive team and he actually has clearly played good defense all year and Kobe is on the first? J. Rich will give it to kobe this series you can believe that. If he could get off on Ginobli who is a better defender then he can get off on Kobe

  • DNice

    I kind of agree with Corey37.

    Pau is much more solid than you guys are giving credit to. He’s not as explosive or exciting as Amare, but he has the clear advantage in defending – passing- post moves -etc.
    Amare is a stud, not that he isn’t – I think this match-up is mostly a stalemate, with a slight edge to Pau’s ability to make plays for other guys. LA will need that to offset Nashty’s play-making.
    Will be a great match-up to watch

  • lll66

    KeZ // Today at 6:58 am (5 hours ago)

    Amaré Stoudemire will KILL Pau and Bynum inside the paint!

    How will he kill them? With his quickness? Will he be able to get the shot up and over them? They’re both 7′. Have to disagree with you there. There might be some fouls called on our bigs, but we still match up with you something awful. We get into foul trouble at PF, put it Lamar. Gets too bad, hey, put in Josh Powell. Center trouble? No problem, put in DJ Mbenga who can use his fouls. We don’t just have two seven footers, we have three. So while I respect your opinion I completely disagree with it.

  • Clinton

    GO SUNS!!!! Check out this PHX blog

  • ron

    The suns will play alot of zone, an Frye will see alot of minutes. No way Bynum can guard Fyre on the perimeter. Frye will have alot of open 3's in the series, if he is on the Suns will take the series. LA may try to move Gasol to center and Odom to PF, Amare will eat odom up. Odom is not nearly strong enough to handle Amare

  • ron

    Gasol has been way over rated the past two series, look who he's gone up against. He should be able to dominate Boozer, he's got 5 inches on him

  • ron

    If were the suns, who ever Kobe guards I'd be running a screen everytime in the half court for them, make Bryant work on defense is key, running him into some hard screens.

  • Miso

    For the Suns to beat the Lakers, the bench really have to show up and beat them on the threes. But I think in the earlier of the first game, the Suns has to be aggressive, especially the inside man and Richardson. They have to get the lakers to be in earlier foul troubles. And to be honest, you can’t do anything against Bryant unless he tried to get everyone involved earlier and not shoot any shots. The Suns has to get big lead, 15-20 pts lead before the fourth quater, and when kobe takes off in the fourth, the Suns could have some cushions to still win the game.

  • The Z. Man

    VERY good point by "Suns 68".

    J-Rich is a HUGE defensive liability because he only pretends to play "D" and gets rolled by the likes of Andre Miller, so, what a hole he put us in each time he was even on Artest, let alone guarding Kobe.

    I was at that last Suns playoff game. We had a shot at the end, until J-Rich came back into the game. Nash is known for weak "D", but his is even better than that of J-Rich. Also Nash gives the Suns leadership. What does J-Rich give? A potentially explosive but highly inconsistent scorer who will give up even more. Poor decision maker at crunch time. Suns have TONS of scorers. Nash sees to that.

    More than any other player, J-Rich is the most expendable by the Suns. MUST KEEP Barbosa, Louis, and Frye.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let's go SUNS!!!!