Game 2 preview: Suns at Lakers

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.

  • OhYeahButter!

    I thought the finger wagging all around covered that. Guess not but you're on a suns blog for what reason now?

  • mando1217PHx10

    sunz by 20
    no doubt

  • lakeshow

    “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.”
    hahaha

  • OhYeahButter!

    I hope this does become a series because honestly, as a Suns fan, there is only so much I can take when it comes to playoff disappointments. Not that I’m gonna switch teams or anything but come on, at least have some heart and pride when you walk onto the court. I’m looking at you Amare. also disappointed the Lakers fans are living up to their reputation. Thought they would be a little more classy like the SA fans. Finger wagging all around.

  • OhYeahButter!

    Also, why do ESPN and TNT even ask Magic Johnson his opinion on any series regarding the Lakers? Doesn’t he own a portion of the Lakers?

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com Ryan C

    Good game suns fan you guys played hard it is just painfully obvious that the Lakers are just the better team. I am glad the game was more competitive but the Lakers offense is just hitting on all cylinders. There was so much talk about the Suns improved defense but does not look that way. I am sure Phoenix will play better at home but I think we take game 4 and then close the series back in LA…

  • PurpleNGold

    OhYeah…I gotta tell you, Suns fans aren’t exactly the class of the league either. Remember there are idiots on both sides, so if you want to generalize you can do that for both groups of fans.

  • Everclear

    Given how thoroughly the Lakers dismantled the Suns in Game 1 of the West finals, it’s easy to conclude that Phoenix will be unable to make the series a competitive one. However, the Suns suffering one lopsided loss does not necessarily mean that their cause is hopeless.

    In fact, there are several adjustments that the Suns can make to successfully turn the tide.

    Since there’s no way to hide the atrocious defense of Amar’e Stoudemire and Channing Frye in any kind of man-to-man alignment, the Suns must resort to a junk defense.

    An ordinary zone, whether it’s a 1-2-2, a 2-3, or a 2-1-2, won’t do the job because the Lakers have faced all of these formations before.

    Besides, standard zones will be shredded by Pau Gasol’s clever passing, Lamar Odom’s determined dive-cuts and Kobe Bryant’s long-distance accuracy.

    Also, zones of every description are extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounding, which happens to be one of the Lakers’ strengths.

    Another zone option is a box-and-one that moves into a diamond-and-one depending on where the ball is. This defense has somebody — Grant Hill? — playing chest-to-chest with Kobe as soon as he crosses the time line. This should be done whether Kobe has the ball or not. Meanwhile, everybody else falls into a 2-2 or a 1-2-1 zone. In this way, Kobe can be denied the ball, and will also be doubled whenever he brings the rock within reach of the other zoners.

    The biggest advantage for Phoenix is that the Lakers have never faced this kind of defense. It should, therefore, create some confusion and hesitation. However, it should be used sparingly so that the Lakers don’t get used to playing against it.

    Adjustments have to be made to keep this junk defense within the bounds of legality, and all of the Suns will have to crash the boards to keep the Lakers’ bigs from playing volleyball.
    NBA west game 1
    It’s Showtime!
    The Lakers were unstoppable in Game 1 against the Suns. Check out all the best shots from Staples Center.

    This five-man defensive rebounding effort will seriously diminish the Suns’ chances to fast break, but they didn’t score many points on the run anyway.

    There are several other areas in the Suns’ normal game plan that can be tweaked for profit:

    Stoudemire has to become convinced that his defensive efforts in the low post must commence before his man receives the entry pass. Fighting for position is imperative.

    The Suns had some early success in fronting the low post, but then they abandoned this tactic after giving up two or three successful lob passes that led to easy hoops. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t resume this strategy, but only if they can pressure the passer, front with aggression, and have a weak-side defender ready to help.

    Stoudemire and Robin Lopez have to make quicker baseline rotations when one of the Lakers carries the ball into the paint.

    Steve Nash has to be extra careful when spinning with the ball in the lane since there were always quick hands waiting to strip him.

    Phoenix needs to run more curls off of weak-side screens for Jason Richardson. The Lakers never had an answer for this maneuver.

    Lopez and Stoudemire must concentrate on boxing out.

    Everybody should be reminded that Odom is a lefty.

    Since the Lakers’ bigs showed to such good effect that the Suns’ bread-and-butter high screen/rolls were mostly ineffective, other measures must be taken.

    For example, running Nash or Goran Dragic off staggered screens and double screens.

    On two occasions, the Suns played a double high-post, thereby offering Nash a screen to his right and to his left. The first time they ran this set, Stoudemire stepped back, received a pass from Nash, and buried an 18-footer. The second time, Nash managed to turn the corner and dribble his way to an uncontested layup. MORE! MORE!
    FOX SPORTS POLL

    *
    Any doubt the Lakers will win the West?
    o
    66%
    None
    o
    16%
    A smidge
    o
    18%
    Yes, it’s a long series
    Total Votes: 67,420

    Also, get the lead-footed and easily discombobulated Andrew Bynum involved in defending S/Rs. But set the screen up below the foul line — as the Jazz are wont to do — so that the Lakers’ other defenders don’t have enough time to offer substantial help.

    Start Frye instead of Lopez to force Bynum to defend either Frye or Stoudemire away from the rim. And have faith that Frye’s 3-point shooting will improve.

    Instead of going around any proffered screens, Nash can simply reverse direction. This will leave the screener’s defender in no man’s land, create uncontested jumpers for Nash, and give the erstwhile screener an open cutting lane to the rim.

    What else can Phoenix do?

    Try playing Nash and Dragic together.

    Find a way to tempt Odom to drink more pre-game coffee.

    Have Louis Admundson start a fight with Kobe in hopes that both of them will be banished from the game.

    And if all else fails, pray for divine intervention.

    -Charlie Rosen

  • MKM

    Gentry MUST use Lopez more and seat Stoudemire if he continue to be abused by Gasol & Odom.

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur Mascarenhas

    Gotta steal this one, go extra small with Nash, Dragic, LB, Hill and Amare with Dudley coming in for some stops! Steal this one and we are in the Finals! Go Suns!

  • asani

    Amare’s defence looked like pure shit out there and he didn’t do anything on the other end. Nash is playing like he is trying to win the assist award instead of taking over like a star is suppose to. Suns can’t beat the lakers if Amare and Steve are going to be passive. We may need to shake up the lineup to match the length of the lakers because the rebounding is getting ridiculous. Dissapointing effort

  • Z Man

    Good advice Senor Artur. “TINY BALL” is what I’ve been calling for. Suns can’t match their size. Make them try to match our speed…BEEP BEEP!!!!

    Next time, it will be our turn for revenge. Just like this year vs. the Spurs. Just like this year’s Spurs vs. Mavs.

    What was MOST effective vs. Lakers was the unit of Frye (once he shook off the jitters and rust), Barbosa, Louis, Dud & Gogi. MUST KEEP Frye, Louis & our Brazilian Blur. Must be nuts to even consider trading Leandro the Laker Killer.

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