Preview: Phoenix Suns (11-9) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (10-10)


Time: 8:30 p.m. MST

TV: FSA

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Suns

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It’s disappointing how the snowballing of negative opinions put down the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers before the season ever began. The two Pacific Division teams clearly needed to be led by misfits, but the thought they’d both be astoundingly terrible — and awful to watch — seemed too certain when considering the other questionable teams in the NBA.

Alas, things haven’t gone that way. In terms of watchability, USA Today’s least-watchable team, the Suns, visit the 24th most-watchable team in Staples Center on Tuesday, and more than pride is on the line. Both teams are in the thick of the Western Conference race.

Like Phoenix, the success in Los Angeles without Kobe Bryant is a testament to the head coach. Mike D’Antoni’s team, unlike last season when he was brought on midseason, is running and gunning. The key now is that its constructed to do so. Oddly enough, the Lakers actually have a better defensive ranking than offensive ranking comparatively in the NBA and, unlike the Suns, are one of the best teams in terms of ball movement.

Jeff Hornacek’s team seemingly catches the Lakers at a good time. Despite the relative success, an out-of-shape Kobe Bryant is trying to get his bearings.

Will Kobe disrupt things enough to give Phoenix an advantage?

In Bryant’s first game back from a torn Achilles, he gave himself an F, looked overweight and struggled by doing too much in a loss on Sunday to the Toronto Raptors. It’s hard to say whether that bodes well for the Suns. On one hand, Bryant won’t suddenly shed the extra weight he packed on while being unable to exercise. On the other, it’s still Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant. He’s entirely capable of willing his way to a big game here or there to make a statement. It’s hard to expect him to play well consistently for the time being, but a la Channing Frye’s return this season, he could put in a big game every once in a while until he finds his legs.

No matter whether Bryant is successful or not, his presence changes the chemistry between a Los Angeles team that, like Phoenix, was scrapping some games out without Bryant and former Suns point guard Steve Nash. If the ball sticks, it’ll help the Suns defense get stops. But then we get to the other big question.

Should the Suns run?

Hornacek has failed to put a finger on why his team doesn’t want to push the ball when Goran Dragic doesn’t have the ball. The Lakers are third in the NBA in pace and could jump-start the Suns getting into a fast-paced tempo for 48 minutes, yet you’ve got to wonder if Phoenix should willingly get into that type of game. After all, the Suns have been just fine by grinding out wins against Houston and Toronto in the last couple of games.

It’s become clear that playing Eric Bledsoe as the primary ball handler hasn’t helped the tempo, but it is the best way to utilize the dual point guard backcourt at this time. While Dragic is the better point guard, he’s also been helpful off the ball. Vice versa, Bledsoe has looked lost when Dragic is playing the point guard spot. Even if that means Dragic is putting up All-Star-like numbers, it’s better off to have both players locked in than just one.

Does the Lakers bench get cookin’?

Another one of Phoenix’s liabilities has been the bench’s defensive consistency. The Morris twins have improved in their focus, yet there’s no way to make up for Miles Plumlee’s shotblocking or Channing Frye’s savvy. Take out Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker as well, and there are vulnerabilities there.

Against the Lakers, that’s a worry. In their last outing, the Lakers didn’t have a single starter reach double-figures but had enough punch off the bench with five double-digit scorers. Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry crank them up a la Gerald Green, so it’ll be up to the twins to get the paint on lockdown and up to the Suns bench scorers to keep up.

  • Scott

    It’s odd that Bledsoe seems lost when Dragic has the ball, as he used to play SG in college. You’d think he’d have some flashbacks. Or … maybe he doesn’t remember what the plays are for the Suns at SG.

    As for why the Suns aren’t speeding up the court when Bledsoe has the ball … it’s because he isn’t regularly attacking the basket first thing. At least that’s how I see it.

  • john

    There are few things in life I enjoy more than watching the Suns beat the Lakers. Make it happen, Phoenix.

  • EBJM

    The Laker’s loyalty to Kobe is going to be their downfall. D’Antoni’s best unit is his young athletes, Jordan Hill at center, Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry at forward and Meeks and Young at guard. That was the Lakers 2nd unit that outplayed the starters and made it game against the Raptors.

    If D’Antoni plays that unit it should be a great game. In typical D’Antoni fashion, he allowed Amir Johnson and DeMar Rozan to have monster games, 32 & 26 respectively.

    This is a game for the Morri to really shine.

  • Voqar

    Much could be said but this:

    “There are few things in life I enjoy more than watching the Suns beat the Lakers. Make it happen, Phoenix.”

    …is enough.

  • Foreveris2long

    John and Vogar, keep preaching guys you have my ear. When the Suns beat the Lakers, anytime, it is a great great day.

    EBJM absolutely regarding Lakers loyalty to Kobe, will be their downfall. With I believe only one 1st round pick between 2013 and 2015 and paying Bryant almost $50m over two years for past services rendered despite his age and recovering from a significant injury, their team outlook is bleak. while I do expect him to improve upon his last game performance, as you duly noted presently they are a better team without Bryant playing significant minutes. Shoot they could have been a lottery team last season with a healthy Bryant so thinking or hoping he will elevate them to playoff relevancy IMO is not supported Logic. Since I would rather see a health and in shape Kobe than an over weight guy looking like he is in a hurry to prove his recovery time exceeded expectations, they are playing a high risk game giving him significant minutes these days.

    Scott regarding Bledsoe and Dragic, I am not convinced Coach Horny agrees with Kevin that Dragic runs the team better than Bledsoe. If you recall the last game, with about 4 minutes to play Bledsoe was running the point and Dragic was on the bench, which is an unusual finding if Coach thought he trusted Dragic more at the point. Dragic came back in but him on the bench in crucial minutes seems inconsistent with Kevin’s conclusion Dragic plays the point better or that the coach thinks he plays it better.

    I think they both do a very good job running the point and timely deferring to the other on a team without a dominant low post player. It is a difficult task with two point guards in the game at the same time because I think it causes each one to think too much which can be hazardous playing the point.

    I do agree that Dragic is much better at the 2 guard than Bledsoe is playing that position. However I continue to believe the Suns can win with either one running the point as they both are very good point guards.

  • Zak

    Beating the Lakers is a plus anytime it happens and hopefully it happens tonight.

  • SHAZAM

    forever the suns had a double digit lead w/ tragic running the second unit …took him out and put bledsoe in at the 4 minute mark and at 3 minutes and 20 seconds left the lead evaporated to 7..dragic was put back in with a 40 second rest

  • foreveris2long

    Shazam, Bledsoe was already in the game. Yes there was a double digit lead and after Dragic came in and he threw an ill advised cross court pass that was intercepted. Timeout Suns.However I acknowledge that Bledsoe and others contributed to the brief demise. It was definitely a collective effort.

  • foreveris2long

    To be more precise, Bledsoe entered the game at around the 5 minute mark for Dragic and Dragic re-entered the game around the 3 minute mark for Gerald Green.

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