Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (18-12) at Phoenix Suns (12-19)

Phoenix Suns 102, Los Angeles Lakers 90

Lakers

Suns

The Phoenix Suns lately haven’t had a tad bit of the Los Angeles Lakers’  Kryptonite.

The Lakers’ size is too much to handle, their firepower too much to overcome and even when things aren’t going right, stopping Kobe Bryant has been impossible for Phoenix, who has lost to the Lakers in four consecutive meetings.

Facing them for the second time in three nights doesn’t lend much evidence that anything will change tonight, when Phoenix hosts LA in US Airways Center, but let’s paint a perfect scenario that might give the Suns a chance to pull off an impressive upset.

First, however, we must analyze what happened on Friday night, when Los Angeles blew out Phoenix 111-99 in Staples Center. That one came as every problem the Suns have with the Lakers — and arguably every problem they have themselves — came to a head.

Allowing the Lakers to shoot 53.1 percent, the Suns were clearly at their mercy, as the Los Angeles offense set itself up for good look after good look at the bucket. But pointing to the inside presence of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol isn’t necessarily the reason — at least not directly. The duo shot 11-for-26 from the floor, not bad by any stretch, but also not the most dominating of performances.

Instead, it was Bryant and bench-igniting former Sun Matt Barnes who took advantage of poor interior defense. Bryant was 10-of-14 from the rim to nine feet out, while Barnes went 5-for-5 in that same range, according to HoopData.com.

Bryant attempted 11 shots outside that range, only hitting four en route to 36 points in 35 minutes played. He went 7-for-9 from the foul line, just two makes short of Phoenix’s 9-for-13 overall free throw shooting for the game.

So as the Los Angeles offense that’s ranked 15th in the NBA in offensive rating revolves around Bryant, it’s important to realize that the Suns allowed that offense to work ever-efficiently.

Meanwhile, the Lakers forced the Suns into 15 more three-point attempts. Where’d those 15 shots end up on Los Angeles’ end? In the 3-9 foot shooting range, where Phoenix went 0-for-6 and Los Angeles shot 13-of-21.

For the Suns, all of that is cause for concern. How can they turn things around?

Three keys for Phoenix

Crowd the paint. There’s no excuse to give Kobe Bryant any amount of air space on the perimeter. Even if you’re in his grill, the Black Mamba can still get off a shot, but considering he’s been blowing by Suns defenders and getting into the paint, perhaps it’s time to bait him into some long jumpers. He’s gotten better at it through the years, but there’s still an itch to toss up an off-rhythm jumper early in the shot clock.

It’s not a good idea to lay completely off of him, obviously, so Phoenix must rely on help defense behind guys like Grant Hill. But since Bryant is likely smart enough to dump it off to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should help from Phoenix’s big men arrive, it’s especially important Phoenix’s guards and wings are ready to help and at the very least, get their hands in Bryant’s face and into the passing lanes once they collapse.

Give Morris the rock. The Suns don’t have the manpower to beat the Lakers off the dribble and attack their big men with much success. With few paint opportunities in the last game outside of Nash finding Marcin Gortat for layups, they need a new strategy. Rookie forward Markieff Morris, who scored 14 points in 24 minutes against the Lakers on Saturday, might be the answer. His developing post game at least gives Phoenix a way to soundly challenge Gasol and Bynum, and getting even one of them in foul trouble could go a long way.

Use the fouls. Old-school in thought but always effective, laying down the lumber  – legally and safely, mind you — as opponents attack the bucket can send a message. The Suns’ just might be one of the softer teams in the league because of their phobia of fouling with purpose, and the thought here is that’s a correlation with their poor defense in the paint. Especially with two viable centers on the roster, Phoenix has enough fouls to make the Lakers think twice about chugging down the lane. If they realize it and are aggressive in stopping drives, maybe a couple inside attempts for Los Angeles don’t fall.

And 1

Bob Young of The Arizona Republic searches for the reason Kobe Bryant really, really hates Phoenix.

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