Phoenix Suns: Lakers Writer Has the Suns Winning Game One

Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Anthony Davis (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Anthony Davis (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Don’t let the betting odds or the sports media fool you: the Phoenix Suns are not underdogs against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns are more than capable of winning this series, and I would strongly favor the Suns to win game one for two reasons:

1.     The Lakers and LeBron James have historically treated game ones like preseason games
2.     The Suns offensive strengths (midrange shooting and off-ball cutting) coincide with the Lakers main defensive weaknesses.

We all forget: the Suns were the only undefeated team inside the bubble last year. But Lakers dropped the first game to both the Portland Trailblazers and the Houston Rockets on their way to steamrolling their way to an NBA Championship inside the bubble.For a second there, Lake Show Life writers (myself included) thought the Lakers were in trouble after both uninspiring efforts (to put it mildly) for game one.

Then, the Lakers won the next four games handily. What was the difference between game one and any other game? Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel has always waited until game two of the series to make his primary defensive adjustment for the whole series. Vogel likes to see the opponent’s top strength in game one and then take it away for the rest of the series.

The Lakers will quickly find out that their trio of centers (Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol) cannot guard the Suns pick-and-roll attack. Chris Paul and Devin Booker will get wide open midrange shots because none of those three have the footwork or the lateral quickness to cut off the immediate driving lanes available.

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington learned the hard way that you just can’t switch on Paul without paying a hefty price.

Covington is a good defender, but he cannot afford to concede the switch so quickly!

Coach Vogel will frustrate Lakers fans to no end until he realizes he needs to play Anthony Davis at center for this series. Davis at center would quickly take away the main advantage the Suns have in this series – quickness – while still having enough size to hang on the boards. But as every Lake Show Life writer can tell you, AD does not want to play center.

Vogel has been smart to hold off on playing AD at center because his play style makes him prone to injury (notice just how many times he falls on the floor whenever he goes up for a shot). Playing him at center full time is going to set him up for injury that much more.

The Lakers will hold off on moving Davis to center as long as possible. My guess is Vogel will wait until game two before going to a smaller lineup, offering Phoenix and edge during this series’s first contest.

Analyzing Frank Vogel’s adjustments in previous series

Portland’s Damian Lillard and Houston’s James Harden had their way with the Lakers defense in game one whenever they played their standard drop coverage on defense (this is the same type of defense the Suns run with Deandre Ayton anchoring the paint).

Starting in game two, the Lakers ran a modified 2/2/1 half-court trap to get the ball out of the Lillard and Harden’s hands. Both stars were double-teamed nearly every single time they touched the ball down the court. Vogel used the double teams with the intention of forcing Portland and Houston into what they least wanted to do on offense.

For Portland, lumbering center Jusuf Nurkic (who had not played since he broke his leg in March 2019) was forced to make plays in a 4 on 3 scenario. Portland had no other counters to make which would have kept them in the series.

For Houston, Russell Westbrook ended up shooting his way out of Houston (and to a record-setting season for the Washington Wizards). The Lakers were sending over Westbrook’s man solely to double-team James Harden.

Why the Lakers can’t take advantage of the Suns like Portland or Houston

But none of this happened in game one, nor will this happen against ball handlers and shooters as prolific as Paul and Booker. I do not expect the Lakers to figure out how to slow down both Paul and Booker during game one.

Portland and Houston had players the Lakers could take advantage of to create a suboptimal offensive possession. Similar to Nurkic, the Lakers can exploit Deandre Ayton’s lack of ball handling at the center position.

However, Suns coach Monty Williams has the X’s and O’s acumen to make sure the Lakers cannot leverage Ayton’s lack of ball-handling or unreliable jumper. We all know the former Arizona Wildcat has trouble handling the ball in a four on three scenario.

Coach Williams knows this and will make preemptive adjustments to not allow the Lakers to put Ayton in such a scenario. He will likely run his offense through Ayton at the elbows to setup Paul or Booker on side pick-and-rolls. If Ayton catches the ball, he will be close enough to the basket to shoot it.

Moreover, Mikal Bridges will get several open layups because LeBron James is defending him on a seriously injured ankle. even on a good day, LeBron makes defensive errors whenever he is defending savvy off-ball cutters.

But with LeBron on a high ankle sprain, he will deal with Bridges cutting to the basket and sprinting down the court.

Even if Bridges doesn’t get the ball, putting that kind of offensive pressure on the Lakers will open things up for the other four Suns on the court.

What will be the Lakers main adjustment in Game 2?

Moving Anthony Davis to center. It’s only a matter of when, not if, that’s going to happen.

LeBron will then be matched up directly with Jae Crowder, who is much more stationary than Bridges. The Lakers can switch the Paul/Booker ball screens with Ayton and slide over the weak side help defender to cut off the passing lane to Ayton.

Speaking of Ayton, how he screens the ball will be crucial! As he has done all season long, Ayton has to hold his screen long enough until the Lakers are forced to switch.

How the Suns will exploit the Lakers main defensive weakness

Given the Lakers sport a bigger frontline than any other team, it is quite alarming they rank near the bottom 10 in points in the paint allowed per game. Lake Show Life has tried to determine why they give up so many points in the paint. At this point, the writers and fans have run out of scapegoats to blame. It was Marc Gasol’s fault earlier this season, but now it’s Andre Drummond.

Then it will be Dennis Schroder because he’s not as willing to do the little things since he wants a contract reserved for players who do the big things. The Lakers are still the NBA’s highest-rated defense – even with Anthony Davis injured for most of the season.

But the stats look very different from what might be perceived from a team whose front court is bigger than anyone else’s:
·      19th in points in the paint allowed
·      16th in fast break points allowed
·      5th in made field goals allowed (8th in FG%)
·      3rd in three-pointers allowed (4th in 3PT%)

Next. Final Regular Season Grades for the Phoenix Suns. dark

If the Suns execute their game plan, the Lakers are running into a buzzsaw on offense. Not that the Suns have anyone to stop James or Davis. But in a game where possessions will be few and far between, the Suns will have the tactical upper hand in Game 1.