Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (36-32) at Phoenix Suns (22-45)

Phoenix Suns 99, Los Angeles Lakers 76 



The last time Steve Nash played in a Suns’ uniform at US Airways Center, the crowd chanted “We Want Steve.” Tonight, that same crowd might be chanting “We Want Draft Pick.”

A win against the Lakers is always a big deal in Phoenix, especially in a season like this one where there’s little cheering to be done. But tonight’s game carries more that just the usual significance. Every Lakers’ loss gets the Suns one step closer to Los Angeles’ first round pick in this summer’s draft. Getting that pick may seem like a long shot right now as the Lakers are streaking and the clubs around them in the standings (Utah, Houston, Golden State) are in free fall. But at this point in the year, the Suns are scrounging to for things to play for, and that pick is as good as any.

The Lakers will likely face the Suns without Kobe Bryant. Kobe is still dealing with the ankle injury he sustained in the final seconds of the Lakers’ loss to Atlanta last week. He apparently is sick with the flu as well. All that said, no one would be surprised if Kobe’s hatred for the Suns propelled him back to health in time for tip off.

The Lakers are also without Pau Gasol who is still a week or two away from returning from his injury. While these absences might sound like good news for the Suns’ chances of winning, they may not matter all that much. Last night, the Lakers beat the Kings handily without Kobe or Gasol. It was the first time Los Angeles had won without either player in the lineup since Pau arrived in 2008. The Lakers played just seven guys (Nash, Howard, World Peace, Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark, Steve Blake) and won 113-102. Steve Nash had a double-double, Dwight Howard had 17 rebounds, and Antawn Jamison led all scorers with 27 points.

Now the Kings are a not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, although they did best the Suns recently. But for the Lakers to handle them so easily without two of their best players is impressive and at the same time worrisome for Phoenix’s hopes of a much needed victory.

Overall, the Lakers and Suns have matching streaks trending in opposite directions. The Lakers have won six of their last seven games. The sole loss was to Atlanta on a very controversial no-call. The Suns have lost six out of their last seven, including being manhandled by the lowly Washington Wizards on Saturday night.

In their last three losses, the Suns have given up 36 threes and allowed their opponents to shoot better than 55% from beyond the arc. 3-point defense has been a major weak spot for the Suns all season, but this stretch may be the worst of the year. At the same time, the Lakers have found their stroke from outside, and are using Dwight Howard the way Stan Van Gundy used to in Orlando.

By surrounding Howard with shooters, he has tons of room to operate in the paint. If the defense collapses down on him, he’s free to kick it out to a wide-open shooter. LA hit 12-of-28 against Sacramento. If the Lakers catch fire from downtown in the first half tonight, this game could be over in a hurry.

The Suns have some serious obstacles to overcome defensively. No Marcin Gortat means the job of guarding Howard will fall to Hamed Haddadi and Jermaine O’Neal. That’s not quite as bad as platooning the Collins’ twins against Dwight, but it’s close. Though Gortat has never played that well against his former teammate, the Suns could use his six fouls at the very least. It’s doubtful Lindsey Hunter will resort to intentionally fouling Howard the way Magic Coach Jacque Vaughn did in Howard’s return to Orlando as the Suns simply don’t have the bodies for that.

On the perimeter, how open the Lakers’ shooters are will be directly related to how much help whoever is defending Howard needs. The more help defenders sink toward the paint, the more space Jamison, Nash, and Meeks will have to fire from deep.

The other serious defensive conundrum will be defending Howard and Nash in the pick and roll. Neither O’Neal or Haddadi is overly mobile, and if the Lakers get either of them in space, it will lead to some very easy buckets.

Offensively, Goran Dragic is the key for the Suns. Nash has no hope of staying in front of him, thus anytime Nash is on him, Dragic has to attack and look for his shot. If the Lakers move Jodie Meeks onto Goran, that means Nash or Steve Blake is mismatched onto one of Phoenix’s wings. That is a matchup the Suns must exploit. With Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, points will be tough to come by outside, but perimeter size and quickness is something the Suns can use to their advantage.

Tags: Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview

  • Forever is2long

    We have every reason to win but very little talent to do so. Just play hard, guard the perimeter and if Howard gets 50, so be it. I am just a weekend hack and I could hit a decent % of threes if you don’t guard me. I think the Suns overreacted to Denver outscoring them 3 to 1 in the paint a couple of weeks ago and Hunter decided to help more down low. Then when we had no Gortat and no O’Neal, it only made matters worse.

    We are an awful team and Sarver needs to be reminded of that as this was his creation. Play the Lakers honest where we can and if they exploit the middle, so be it. Maybe he will realize one of the many things we need is a 6’10″ power forward who can rebound.

  • Scott

    BTW, Robin Lopez was 20 pts / 11 rebounds in a game against the Wolves, which the Wolves won in the closing seconds.

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, I noticed that last night and could only bite my tongue. As I have said before I badly wanted the Suns to keep 24 year old Lopez and trade Gortat instead. Lopez had yet to hit his peak and was cheaper as he signed 3 one year contracts for $5m/per season with the Hornets having the option each year. He is not a great player because he is still wildly inconsistent but at age 24 the Suns could have afforded to be patient with him while the team grew. However that was too simple, the Suns must have been thinking, let’s keep the guy who was about to be 29, earns more money and probably would not sign an extension with the Suns.

    It all makes perfectly good sense now.

  • Tony

    “Nash has no hope of staying in front of [Dragic].” That’s just plain silly. I know Dragic is the new Suns-favorite, but let’s have some objectivity. That’s not to say that Dragic’s speed won’t be a bother for Nash, but I’m expecting Nash to get Dragic in early foul trouble and for Dragic to struggle to gain any rhythm in tonight’s game.

    It will be fun to watch the Lakers play without the ballhog and overrated Bryant playing. Watching Nash run the show in last night’s game was a thing of beauty and for me, there is still no other player more fun to watch play than Nash.

  • Scott

    @Forever -

    Blanks’ plan was probably to sell off all the Suns players and draft new ones. If that’s the scenario, then Lopez went before Gortat simply because of the timing of the contracts.

  • Forever is2long

    Who knows Scott? Tonny, I saw a fair amount of the Lakers game last night and I agree Nash was like the maestro on the court. Dwight is probably saying in secret it is much more fun playing with Nash and no Bryant.

  • Tony


    I live in LA and hear the media talk after Laker games and these last two games have been hysterical because LA’s sports media is basically a conglomerate of Kobe-fans who worship the duche bag, and so they’ve had to use their creativity to argue against the fact that the Lakers play better without the ballhog Mamba. He’s a chemistry-killer and one of the most overrated players of all time. The only reason he’s won so many championships is because of the awesome front court he’s had the privilege to play with for so many years. First Shaq and then the combo of Gasol/Bynum and even Odom in his prime was a beast for the Lakers coming off the bench. Without those guys, well the Suns dispatched Kobe and the Lakers twice!

  • foreveris2long

    Tony, I use to live in Phoenix 8 years ago but now live about 50 miles east of LA. I hate nothing more than watching those stupid Lakers flags in the cars when the Lakers are in the playoffs. I also hate hearing interviews with Kobe because he is so cocky. I think he is great but he definitely benefits from a very good front court.

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  • Alain

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