Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (35-21) at Phoenix Suns (28-27)


Phoenix Suns 125, Los Angeles Lakers 105

Lakers

Suns

Just over a week ago when the Phoenix Suns were sitting at 25-26 and two games back of the No. 8 seed, head coach Alvin Gentry made it clear that his team needed to treat every game like the playoffs.

After collapsing down the stretch against the Nuggets in a crucial loss on Friday night, every contest now becomes Game 7. While the Suns still have 11 games to work with, it’s do or die time for Phoenix.

Currently in 10th place in the Western Conference the Suns are half a game back of the ninth-place Jazz and two games back of both the Rockets and Nuggets, who sit in seventh and eighth, respectively.

Phoenix will get the Jazz and Nuggets once more this season, but those games may not matter if the Suns can’t knock off the Lakers tonight in US Airways Center.

Tired legs and mental fatigue will be tested, as both teams are on the tail end of a back-to-back and playing their fourth game in five nights. Like the Suns, the Lakers are fresh off of a loss as they fell victim to the Houston Rockets and Goran Dragic’s 26 points and 11 assists last night in Los Angeles.

While the Lakers lead the season series 2-1 and are the clear favorite, the Suns are no stranger to beating Kobe Bryant and company with their backs against the wall to kickstart a big win streak.

The Suns defeated the Lakers 102-90 at home in their last meeting in a game that Gentry and players alike have said is the game that turned the season around.

Phoenix was 12-19 headed into that contest and the thought of the playoffs seemed laughable. But the Suns rode 25 points from Jared Dudley and 21 and 15 from Marcin Gortat to victory lane.

They went on to win 10 of their next 13 games and sneak into the playoff picture. If the Suns want to be playing in May, they’ll have to do the same thing against the Lakers tonight.

While the Lakers are winners of four of their last five, they haven’t exactly been the model of consistency. Andrew Bynum continued to flash his immaturity as he was ejected in the first minute of last night’s fourth quarter.

The Lakers blew an 11-point second-half lead and were outscored 62-48 in the second half. They’re also playing their sixth game in eight nights, making them that much more vulnerable.

But this is still Kobe Bryant against the Phoenix Suns. He’s averaging 38.7 points per game against the Suns this season, his highest average against any team in the NBA that he’s faced more than once.

The absence of defensive stopper Grant Hill will be as apparent as ever, leaving it up to Jared Dudley and little brother Shannon Brown to check Kobe.

But Kobe’s expected to get his. If the Suns can slow down Bynum and Pau Gasol they could very well avenge last night’s loss and keep their playoff hopes alive.

UPDATE: Kobe out with shin injury

So much for the question of how the Suns will defend Kobe without Hill as Bryant will miss the game with a shin injury, and Devin Ebanks will start in his place. I doubt Gentry is too bummed about that news.

And 1

Schwartz stopped over at Land O’Lakers to answer a few questions about tonight’s matchup. Check out the article here.

  • Al

    The Starters should NOT be effing resting for 6 minutes in the 4th quarter. Gentry has a bad rotation going in the 2nd half of games. Starters should play until the 2-3 minute mark in the 3 rd quarter and return in the 8-9 mark of the 4th. The momentum always seems to switch in the last 3 minutes of a game in favor of the opposing team and the Starters seem to end up hanging for dear life and hoping to pull off a win. Gentry needs to have 2-3 go to plays in the last 3 minutes of a game that do not involve Frye or Gortat, because those two choke in the last few minutes of a close game.

    Am scared for this game. Kobe is probably thinking he can go for 50 or more. This last games are going to be BRUTAL and heart breakers.

  • Tony

    @AI,

    I couldn’t agree more with you. I have been chiding Gentry for his substitution patterns all year. It doesn’t make sense to bring back Nash, Gortat, and Frye with only 5 minutes left in the game. Especially Nash, whom as an older player, probably gets cold from sitting so long and then has no time to just regain his rythm because he comes back in at the most crucial point. Gentry should, as you stated, take Nash and some of the other starters out with about 3 minutes left in the 4th and then bring them back with about 7 minutes left in the game. While that is only an additional 2 minutes of in-game time, it gives Nash and company more time to get back into the flow of the game. Even Nash himself admitted preferring this approach.

    I also agree with you about Gortat and Frye and I would include Dudley to that list as well. None of these players has one ounce of clutch ability and when Frye has made big shots in the past, they are almost always a result of lucky shots that he’s forced to take because a play breaks down and there isn’t much time remaining. Unfortunately, because the team doesn’t have a true go-to scorer, everything becomes predicated on Nash scoring because either Gortat drops easy passes when they run pick&rolls, or Frye and Dudley miss jump shots from plays designed for them. So Nash has no choice but to score. Personally, I would like to see Gentry let Lopez finish games instead of Gortat and possibly Morris instead of Frye.

    Anyway, should be interesting to see how the Suns respond to such a heartbreaking defeat. Unfortunately, because of Dragic’s stellar efforts, the Lakers will probably come out more focused than had they won last night. Furthermore, since the Suns did lose last night’s game, tonight’s game is a must win.

  • grover

    I’m going to go against the grain and give Gentry some love. More than just about any coach in the league, Gentry is willing to ride the hot hand(s) ands toss his rotations aside to reward players and lineups that are producing. This is risky for a coach. No coach has ever been questioned for putting his starters back in only to see them play poorly, but coaches rarely gt much credit for leaving bench players in the game when they are playing well. Leaving players in who at playing well like Gentry did toning rosters accountability among the starters, encourages a team atomosphere, and rewards bench players for producing. It certainly paid off tonight.

    I understand there are disagreements with Gentry, who should be starting, what combinations should be used for the second unit, etc., but let’s give the man some credit where it is deserved. He has balls. He’s willing to reward players who are producing at the risk of making himself look bad. Players respect that.

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