We will have PLENTY of time to talk about this series and break down the details, but here's some initial thoughts on the match-ups and an early prediction.
If you thought Suns-Spurs was David vs Goliath, you ain't seen nothing yet. The Lakers have more playoff and championship experience than any other team in the league. Kobe Bryant has logged 7,220 playoff minutes compared to 7,548 for Nash, Hill, Richardson and Stoudemire combined. Phil Jackson has 10 rings. Alvin Gentry has 10 fingers.
These guys know how to win in the postseason and they are rounding into form after a poor showing to end the season. They will be heavily favored by all the experts, but that just plays into the Suns' hands, who thrive on being the underdog.
The Lakers are a team dominated by one player, surrounded by a couple of other great players. The Suns are a true team.
This will be a battle of star power vs. team power.
Size versus depth
We are going to hear a lot about the Lakers' size in the next week and rightly so. When you have Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, you are going to have issues. The Lakers play through the post, where they will force double teams and find cutters. Their offense is perfectly geared towards their roster. Guys who can pass the ball and make plays.
Defensively, the Lakers have improved dramatically over the years. They rebound and control the paint as well as any team in the league and with Kobe and Artest, they can lock down key perimeter guys, as well.
The Suns get it done with depth and this will be the biggest key. Once again, the game plan has to be 48 minutes of high energy pressure on both ends of the floor that wears down a Lakers team that basically goes 7 deep. They ask for and get big minutes from Kobe and Gasol and they need them.
The Suns will need to exploit that by working harder and playing faster.
- Bynum is playing well in spurts, but doesn't look good running the floor. The Suns need Robin Lopez to give good minutes to make Bynum work hard and wear him down. Robin will need to find a way to beat Andrew down the floor, even if that means getting winded and only playing 20 minutes instead of pacing himself for a longer game
- Unlike the Spurs and Blazers, the Lakers like to hang around after they put up shots. They do a great job on the offensive glass (.292 rebounding percentage) and the Suns are going to HAVE to make them pay by running the ball down their throat when they do get the rebound. The Lakers will get their second chance points, but the Suns need to get transition opportunities in return
- Artest's offense has been spotty at best, which means the Suns can cheat off him to bring help with Kobe or Gasol in the post. Make Ron take 15 plus shots. The Suns did a great job of this with Richard Jefferson in beating the Spurs
- The place where the Lakers defense is weakest (point guard) is where the Suns can attack the best. Nash will be able to rest on defense -- Fisher is not nearly the threat of Parker, Miller, Bayless or George Hill. On the other end, Derek will body up on Nash, but will get burned in the process. Barbosa and Dragic will need to raise the tempo when they come in the game and continue to attack the middle and hopefully get some foul calls
- Kobe is playing great ball right now. He's a beast in the post and his mid-range and long-range shooting have picked up in the postseason. The Suns fortunately can throw three different defenders at him without having to worry too much about either Fisher or Artest. Hill, Dudley and JRich will all take turns with Kobe. They need to rotate on him, giving him different looks and wearing him down as best they can
- Pau is a fantastic player in the post and the Suns will struggle with him but Fyre at least can use his size and Amare his athleticism to make his life hard. You have to box him out on the glass, as well. He doesn't get nearly enough credit for his work on the boards
- The Suns are shooting 41.7% from three in the playoffs, which is right at their season average. That will need to continue, which means moving the ball unselfishly and finding the hot hand
- Amare has a hard time attacking the paint against the Lakers front line. He will have to be patient and wait for Bynum to be off the floor and wait for Odom or Gasol to get pulled out of the paint to cover Frye
- The Lakers like to overload the strong side, which means he will likely see multiple defenders when he catches in the mid or high post. The Suns do a great job swinging the ball and JRich should continue to get open looks
- No mental breakdowns. The Suns have done a fantastic job in the postseason so far. They closed out both series on the road and aren't going to be intimidated by a Lakers crowd. From what we've seen so far, I would say the Lakers are the team that's more likely to suffer from in-fighting. Pau is never happy with his touches and Kobe is Kobe -- good and bad
- Be physical, hungry and aggressive. The Suns depth affords more opportunities to give a hard foul and certainly is a big factor in the energy and effort level, which was a winning factor against the Spurs and can be again against the Lakers
Kenny Smith made this point on TNT last night:
Smith on the Suns' line-up not being able to match-up with the line-up of the Lakers:
"Their best line up on the floor has (Jared) Dudley, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill on the floor at the same time. You cannot play those three guys together against the Los Angeles Lakers with (Andrew) Bynum, (Pau) Gasol and (Lamar) Odom plus Kobe Bryant. (The Suns') best line-up can't play against (the Lakers') line-up, so I want to see what kind of magic (Suns coach) Alvin Gentry pulls out. Maybe if Channing Frye steps up, that's their only hope."
This is a great point and a big reason why I was so optimistic against the Spurs. They were forced to play small, which allowed the Suns to use its best lineup. Frye will need to play consistently well in the paint on the defensive end. He needs to box out Pau and play solid post defense. That is asking a lot from a 6'11" shooting guard as some people consider him.
It all comes down to Robin being able to play 20 solid minutes so Frye can be more energetic and more aggressive when he comes in. Lou is undersized against the Lakers. This will be a tough match-up for him and I don't think the Suns can win by playing small ball except when only one of their three bigs is on the floor, which doesn't happen often.
I underestimated the Suns by picking them to need 7 games to beat the Spurs. The Lakers are a better team. Kobe won't let his team lose without a fight and Fisher, Odom and Artest are certainly capable of big games as they showed in beating the Jazz in Game 3.
Defensively, this will be a much different series. Instead of stopping dribble penetration and pick and roll, the key will be rotating out of double teams and not losing track of cutters.
Offensively, the Suns should be able to run a bit more and will need those easy buckets, because in the half court the Lakers are tough. The Suns have to take advantage of their strong side zone and reverse the ball and hit open shots. Fortunately, the Suns do that very well. Much better than the Jazz.
Suns in 6