Following their drubbing at the hands of Derrick Favors and the hardscrabble Jazz on the second night of a back to back, the Suns are looking to bounce back against the Lakers, who have started 0-4 for the first time since they moved to California from Minnesota in 1957-58, when NBA legend Geoge Mikan was brought in as an emergency coach to help right the ship. It didn't work.
Fatigue and Injuries a Factor for Lakers
For the Lakers, this game is the fourth in five nights, and fatigue is likely going to be a factor, despite how early in the season it is. Injuries have reduced the rotation to 11 players, at least two of whom are still recovering from injuries suffered late in the pre-season, and at least ostensibly Kobe remains on a minutes restriction.
The Suns come in having played 3 games in six nights, and should be more rested. They also face fewer injury concerns - only TJ Warren remains sidelined due to injury.
Two areas to watch: the return of P.J. Tucker and Jordan Hill's set shot
P.J. Tucker returns from his three game suspension tonight, and looks to feature prominently in the rotation at the defensive wing position. The Suns have missed his intensity and energy, both on defense and in the rebounding department, after getting torched by Goran Hayward on Saturday on losing the battle of the boards by a margin of 52:34.
Tucker won't be thrown into the fire immediately - Coach Hornacek says he will be keeping the same starting lineup for this game and the foreseeable future. But given Marcus Morris' struggles to guard Kobe in their first matchup of the season (Bryant scored 31 points on 44% shooting), it is hard to imagine PJ won't see some significant playing time.
On the other side of the court, look for the Lakers to attempt to exploit the new-found stretch game of center Jordan Hill against the Suns. Hill's 15 foot set shots, the likes of which haven't been seen in recent years, have been remarkably consistent. Hill didn't get much of a chance to display the shot in the earlier game against the Suns, but in the subsequent 2 games he has put up 46 points, and a majority of them have come from mid-range. With Ed Davis a strong offensive rebounding presence, look for the Lakers to try to exploit perhaps their only advantage in this game.
Projected starting lineups
Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee
Los Angeles Lakers: Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill
Two key statistics
38.2% - Combined shooting percentage of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe through the first 3 games. Whatever chemistry the two guards had last season has yet to emerge so far this year, and the offense has yet to hit its heavily efficient stride in 2 of the 3 games this season. The only team that both guards shot fairly well against was this Lakers team, but if they can't put it together again, the team might struggle a bit and the game could remain close into the fourth quarter.
37.3 - That is Kobe's usage rate through the first three games. If it were to hold for the season, it would be the second highest usage rate of his career, behind only the year of Smush (2005-06). As much as Kobe harps on Jeremy Lin in post game press-conferences to run the offense and not defer to him, his on court positioning and demeanor scream hero ball. If this team is to threaten the Suns, it will have to come with balanced production - i.e. Kobe not taking more than 20 shots. Somehow I find that unlikely.
The Suns are going to be looking for a redemption game and PJ Tucker is thirsting for playing time, and what better group to take out frustrations on than Kobe and his not-so-loveable losers. You gotta feel for the Lakers a little - they start of with a fairly brutal 5 games in 7 days stretch, against the Suns (2), the Rockets, the Clippers and the Warriors, and they lost their 1st round draft pick in the first game to a season ending injury. They just can't catch a break, and won't tonight either. Redemption will be had, PJs thirst will be quenched, and the Suns will win comfortably.
Suns 115, Lakers 98