This is it.
Monday’s game as the Phoenix Suns host the Los Angeles Lakers is the definitive game for the men in orange this season. Not the game that Steve Nash came back to the valley of the sun, or the first win of Lindsey Hunter’s coaching career, or even the overtime win over the then best team in basketball and long-time Suns rival the San Antonio Spurs.
This game is most important.
Phoenix has no delusions of grandeur. They aren’t making the playoffs. Their job now is to strike a perfect balance of playing spoiler to teams trying to make the postseason, losing as many other games to jockey for great draft position, and get the young players as much playing time as possible.
The Suns want to “BEAT LA” as the chant goes so that we can receive an additional draft pick in the lottery in the early teens, along with the Suns’ own pick that will, in all likelihood, be in the top five and probably top three.
ESPN favors the Los Angeles Lakers in this game by 2.5 points, which would indicate a close game.
Phoenix’s injury slate is clean of any significant injuries; apart from the obvious Channing Frye enlarged heart issue, which has kept him out all season.
On the other hand, the Laker’s superstar roster is a little nicked-up at the moment. Pau Gasol, who has been out for weeks with a foot injury, “Suffered a setback Saturday when he took part in 2-on-2 work, meaning his return to the court Monday, however close, “could be in jeopardy,” the Los Angeles Times reports,” according to RotoWire.com through ESPN.com.
Two former Suns players, Steve Nash and Earl Clark, are dealing with nagging injuries but should play.
The most important injury update is to Kobe Bryant. The superstar is still suffering from the severely sprained ankle that was caused by landing on Dahntay Jones’ foot in the controversial play two games ago in Atlanta. Bryant is also dealing with the flu and almost certainly won’t play.
Yes! Kobe isn’t playing! We have a chance!
Phoenix definitely has a chance, because Kobe has to rest so they can try to sustain their stretch run to the playoffs, and L.A. may be disregarding the Suns and may mail in tonight’s game.
Keys to the game: Suns
- Without Kobe in the lineup, Phoenix can focus on the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The key is to get Howard in foul trouble so he cannot make a difference on the defensive end, and can’t create double-teams or foul trouble for the Suns on the offensive end.
- Fundamentals. I keep harping on it, but it’s the only way to win games. Cut down on turnovers, move the ball on offense with spacing, and rebound the rock.
Keys to the game: Lakers
- Especially with Marcin Gortat out with his foot injury, Los Angeles has to feed the beast. They need to give Howard the ball in the post and dominate the paint and the Phoenix bigs (which aren’t so big; and it’s only Hamed Haddadi and Jermaine O’Neal).
- For Los Angeles to win this game their stars (for this game Howard and Nash) need to go off, or they need their bench to come up big. Jodie Meeks and the rest of the reserves need to be on their game and put up some points
Antawn Jamison is crucial to the outcome of this game. If he can score at least 20 points off the bench then the Lakers will probably win.
Match-up to watch!
Teacher versus student. Master versus Padawan.
Whatever you want to call it; it is happening tonight. Goran Dragic is playing versus the man that he is replacing in Phoenix, Steve Nash. In Dragic’s first short stint with the Suns, before he broke out with the Houston Rockets, he backed up the two-time MVP in the valley of the sun.
Dragic should have more points and maybe even more assists, but Nash will set up the game for his team and he is significantly older than his protégé, so we shouldn’t expect a rivalry or anything like that.