Game 2 preview: Suns at Lakers

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Western Conference Finals Game 2
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Lakers 124, Suns 112

The playoffs are all about adjustments.

After Andre Miller went off in Game 1 of the Portland series, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry switched Grant Hill onto Miller and the Suns won Game 2 by 29 and cruised from there.

Something tells me that slowing down Kobe Bryant and defeating the Lakers is going to be just a touch more difficult for Gentry and Co., but that’s the task the Suns are currently faced with.

The first thing I’m worried about is the Suns’ psyche. I mean, we’re talking about a team that had lost just four times in 26 games since losing to the Lakers on March 12, a team that never lost by more than 10 points during their 36-9 run to get to the West Finals.

Even in games the Suns have lost, they have generally hung around. Even in that putrid Game 4 in Portland when Phoenix couldn’t make a jump shot, LaMarcus Aldridge was hitting everything and Brandon Roy emotionally returned to the lineup, the Suns still lost by just nine points.

Meanwhile, Game 1 was over going into the fourth quarter, something that’s a frequent occurrence in Suns games, only usually it’s Phoenix that has the big lead.

However, the Suns have been insanely resilient during this stretch, having not dropped consecutive games since Jan. 25-26, not coincidentally the last two games before Phoenix’s 36-9 run. Since that Jan. 26 loss the Suns are 10-0 after a defeat, winning games by an average of 13.5 points per contest. They have rebounded from their only two previous playoff losses with wins of 29 and 19 points, but not only are they not playing Portland anymore but both of those games were at home.

So resiliency has not been a problem, the Suns just haven’t had a defeat like this to bounce back from since Charlotte smoked them by 26 back on Jan. 16.

As noted last night, the Suns need to find a way to limit the Kobe-Pau-Lamar trio when they’re on the floor together. It’s really hard to double any of them since all three of them are such good passers, but the Suns can’t let them just go to work.

The Suns talked a lot about mixing up coverages on Bryant in particular, but he got a steady diet of one-on-one defense in Game 1, although he did see a handful of different Phoenix defenders. I think the Suns should just throw different looks at him as much as possible, and definitely utilize a zone for stretches. The Suns’ zone was lethal at times this year (although at other times it was pretty horrid), and I think it could be effective as a chance of pace.

I’d also throw the occasional double and just make it so Kobe doesn’t get into the kind of rhythm he did in his decisive 21-point third quarter. Once Kobe gets going like that, nobody on this planet is going to stop him and certainly nobody on the Suns.

The Suns also just didn’t seem to play with the kind of passion and energy we’ve come to expect from these “new” Suns. I don’t know how much of that has to do with the bright lights of LA and this championship stage, but the players need to just relax and not get caught up in the moment.

Most of all that goes for Channing Frye, who got himself into a funk while hitting just 1-of-8 shots in Game 1. National/Lakers fans don’t realize that this happens all the time for Channing, just sometimes he’s able to shoot himself out of the slump in the second half.

The Suns want Channing to shoot whenever he’s open without even hesitating, which is why he kept on jacking even when he was clearly off. The thing is that he also started to rush and never was able to get comfortable, which is why he kept bricking.

He’s had some horrid shooting games earlier in the playoffs (as well as the rest of the season), but he always bounces back. Channing never loses confidence in himself, he’s just sometimes out of whack. He needs to find that comfort zone or the Suns’ offense loses one of the elements that makes it so unique and potent.

In the scheme of things, this is a must-win game. The Suns have to win one in Los Angeles eventually, and it would be hard to see Phoenix running off four of five against this team.

If the Suns win tonight then this is a series and the Lakers will head to Phoenix knowing they’re in for a dog fight.

If the Lakers win, then the Suns will have a monumental task ahead of them.

The Suns’ biggest reason for optimism should be knowing that so many things went wrong (Kobe exploding for an efficient 40, Odom playing his best game of the playoffs, Amare not boarding at all, Frye not being able to shoot, the Suns playing such incredibly weak defense on middle drives) that are unlikely to repeat.

Don’t get me wrong, Kobe will go for 30 again, but I’m not sure about 40. LO will put up double-doubles, but I’m not sure about 19-19. Amare will grab at least twice as many boards if not three or four times as many, Frye will regain his stroke at some point this series and I think Gentry will ensure the Suns’ defense on interior drives improves.

The Suns’ magical season is hanging in the balance. A win in Game 2 gets them the split they wanted entering the trip, but if they lose, well, at least they’re not the Magic.

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