The Western Conference's Pacific Division now looks almost as it has the past several years. The Lakers are in first place. The Clippers standing in second looks a bit odd, but the real point here my friends is that the Suns are trailing the Lakers. We are used to it, it's a fact of life for now.
Tonight the Lakers invade the desert for a matchup with postseason implications for both squads. Of course, this game matters much more to the Suns than it does to the Lakes. Nevertheless, we can expect no sympathy from our neighbors to the West, especially Kobe, who has professed his hatred of most things Phoenix.
While the Lakers have their share of issues (namely Andrew Bynum), they have won four of their last five, including an "away" game versus the Clippers. Say, that reminds me, I haven't complained about the fact that half of the Lakers games against the Clippers aren't road games at all. It's a different court, yeah, but ... Never mind ...
The time for excuses is over for the Phoenix Suns. Grant Hill, who would normally help "guard" Kobe Bryant, is out. How the Suns plan to slow the hater is a mystery. Says Mr. Paul Coro: "The defensive duty to handle Bryant probably will fall largely to starting wings Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley and perhaps Josh Childress off the bench. Bryant averages 28.1 points and has scored 48, 36 and 32 in three previous meetings this season with the Suns," which was pretty much what I was thinking. I mean, you aren't going to expect Robin Lopez to handle the job.
Aside from curtailing Bryant's dominance (while praying to the NBA gods for a sudden onset of a stomach bug), the Suns have other worries. Namely the effects of a second night of a back to back. Oh, and then there are the Lakers' other players, Gasol, Bynum and the newly acquired Ramon Sessions. To steal a little snippet from Mr. Lowe at SI, Sessions has helped out the offense, while not helping on the defensive end:
Lakers have yielded about 109.5 points per 100 possessions since the trade deadline when Sessions sits and about 103.9 when he's on the floor. The first mark would rank dead last in the league, and the second would rank among the bottom ten defensive teams.
Keys to Victory
In the last matchup in which the Suns sauntered away victorious, Kobe Bryant dropped 32, but he also missed a lot of shots, and he gave the rock away to the tune of 10 times. I don't expect the same type of futility tonight. The Suns will have to throw a bunch of different defensive looks and players at him to keep him in check.
As for the rest ... the Suns have to flat out play. Attack Bynum, force him into whiney foul-prone mode. Gortat and Lopez played 34 and 13 minutes respectively last night. Both will need to step up huge -- ATTACK the Laker bigs. If the problem last night was lack of offensive execution (41% FG), well heck man, EXECUTE. Channing Frye is always an easy target when discussing problems with the Suns inability to score. So, I'll take some aim ... Frye needs to find his stroke tonight. Hit some from outside early on, draw the L.A. bigs out and let Lopez and Gortat do their thing.
You know Shannon Brown will be motivated tonight in facing his old squad. Chipping in on the defensive end will bring back old memories for both Brown and Bryant: "Ain't no different in a practice than in a game ... we went hard all the time. It's definitely a difficult task," Shannon said.
I suppose I could have saved everyone some time by just stating, "the Suns need to come out and play one of their best games of the season tonight," which is pretty much what needs to happen.
"Offensively, I have to attack because I know he [Bryant] likes to attack a lot ... on the road, he's a lot more aggressive. Hopefully, we get an early lead and try to contain him the best we can."
GAME DAY LINKS
Somebody has got to explain to Bynum that his temper tantrums are getting more costly at this point in the season. Baby Bynum's selfish ways again put his emotions before the team. There is no excuse for these continued outbursts. Coach Brown can't keep down playing these problems. It is only a matter of time until Bynum's immature antics invade the locker room.
Lowe is also right that the defense has suffered since Sessions was acquired. As I see it, there are four likely reasons why the defense might be suffering:
Ramon Sessions is a bad defensive player
1. The increased offensive output has allowed the Lakers to build big leads and therefore caused them to relax defensively
2. The Lakers are tired, and defensive intensity is the first thing to go.
3. Andrew Bynum is Andrew Bynum
Upon further review, the Lakers asked the NBA to take a closer look at three plays involving the Clippers' Blake Griffin.The league's response: They were all called correctly with the exception of the forward's third-quarter shove from behind on Lakers counterpart Pau Gasol on Wednesday, which was changed to a flagrant-one foul.