Time: 7:30 MST
The Phoenix Suns will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, looking to win their sixth game in a row, following a disappointing 12-14 start to the year. With a current record of 17-14, the Suns would be the 8th seed in the West if the playoffs began today, but with a win, the team would likely move up into 7th place, considering that the Spurs (who are one game ahead of the Suns) are facing the Houston Rockets tonight, without Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are 1-4 this year when the two sit.
Coming into this game, Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe has been on a bit of a hot streak, scoring at least 15 points in five consecutive games, as the Suns have (non-coincidentally) gone 5-0. Bledsoe has also managed to snag at least nine rebounds in three of his last four outings, including one game where he posted his second career triple-double, in the Suns’ 124-115 victory over the Mavericks. The former Kentucky Wildcat has arguably been the best Suns’ player this month, racking up four 20-point performances and two triple-doubles, and he should be primed for another solid game.
While Bledsoe has been especially good, it’s important to note that all three of the Suns’ point guards have been playing well as of late, averaging a combined 52.4 points, 14.0 assists and 12.4 rebounds per game in the Suns five-game win streak. The trio of Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas has really started to click on the court, and the team has finally started to reach it’s offensive potential, topping the 110-point barrier in each of the last two games and in three of the Suns’ last five outings.
How effective will Kobe be?
At this point I think it’s more than safe to assume that Kobe Bryant hates the Suns, and I’m not just talking about a player disliking a franchise, I’m talking about a full-blown “fight you in Temecula” hatred. According to StatMuse.com, the Black Mamba has averaged 27.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game against the Suns in his career, while shooting 47% from the floor, 33% from three and 84% from the free throw line. All of those numbers are higher than Bryant’s career averages against the entire NBA: Every single one of them.
This year has been no different; Bryant has averaged 35.0 points per game against the Suns (his second highest against any team), and he’s shot a blistering 45.5% from long range against Phoenix, despite the fact that he’s been one of the NBA’s worst three-point shooters this year, at 27.4% (dead last in the NBA, minimum of 75 three-point attempts). However, things are a little different this time around, as the future Hall of Fame shooting guard is not quite back to being at full health.
Since the beginning of December, Bryant has really struggled, averaging more than four turnovers per game, while shooting a dismal 33.5% from the field. Bryant began the month against the lowly Detroit Pistons, coming off of a triple double performance against Toronto, but right away he looked like a different player, scoring just 12 points while committing 10 turnovers. Over the next nine games, Bryant failed to shoot better than 45% from the field a single time, and these tweets really sum up how bad his month has been:
While the Suns should beat the Lakers, this game may come down to whether or not Bryant returns to his pre-December form, after sitting out the last few games to get his head and his body right.
Alex Len vs. Ed Davis
10 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks. Those were the numbers put up by Alex Len in the team’s last game against Sacramento. However, with DeMarcus Cousins out, Len wasn’t exactly facing the greatest front court in the world, so he’ll need to be just as sharp, if not more so, against Ed Davis (pictured below) and the Los Angeles Lakers.
For those that don’t know, Ed Davis is actually a pretty solid big man, scoring in double figures in the Lakers’ last five outings, while racking up 44 rebounds (8.8 per game) and 8 blocks (1.6 per game) in that span. While Davis will start the game at power forward (next to Jordan Hill), Davis will likely see his fair share of time at the five, especially when the Suns go small, with Gerald Green or P.J. Tucker playing the four.
Len will have both the height and weight advantage when being guarded by Davis, and it’ll be important for the 7-foot big man to assert himself when those two match up. As a starter, Len is averaging 16.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per 40 minutes, and he’ll be looking to keep those numbers up, and maybe even start to make his case for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Overall, even if Len and Davis don’t end up on each other for very many possessions, the net impact of the two big men could very well affect how close this game is, if not the result itself.
Six in a row
Should the Suns defeat the Lakers, the team would have managed to string together a six-game win streak before the New Year, which is actually quite significant, historically speaking. The last time the Suns won six games in a row before the New Year was during the 2007-08 season; Phoenix would finish that year 55-27, earning the 6th seed in the Western Conference.
In fact, in the 2006-07 season, just one year earlier, the Suns were in a similar situation. The team went on a lengthy win streak before the New Year, and would end up with a remarkable 61-21 record, earning the second seed in the West. One year before that, the team had another streak of 6+ wins in a row early in the season, as Phoenix made it as far as the Western Conference Finals. One more year before that, it was the exact same situation, although those teams were led by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history:
While it would be foolish to suggest that winning six straight games before January 1 would magically transform the Suns into one of the top few teams in the West, it is important to note that those numbers do not simply come as a result of chance. In the NBA, it is incredibly difficult to put together a six-game win streak this early in the year, especially with two of those wins coming against teams such as the Washington Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks. Additionally, if two miracle shots bounce the other way, we’d be talking about how the Suns have a chance to improve to 20-12 on the year with a win over the Lakers, which would put them 1.5 games back of the 5th seed in the Western Conference, and just 3 games back of the 3rd seed. I don’t think very many people would complain about that.
Ultimately, the Suns are a much better team than the Lakers, and it would be foolish to pick against Phoenix, even on the road. It’s definitely true than any team can win on a given night, as the Suns saw against the Lakers last year, but the Suns have won seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams. That being said, if anyone really does have a problem with me picking Phoenix, I’ll be more than happy to meet them in Temecula. And for those keeping score, that’s now two Temecula references, so consider yourself lucky that I’m not doing the recap too.
Suns 112, Lakers 99