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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns look to continue surging against the Los Angeles Lakers

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The streaking Suns travel to Los Angeles to battle the struggling Lakers at 7:30PM MST.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Just two short weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns were amidst a six game losing streak that seemed to indicate that there were serious issues with the team and that change was inevitable.

Tonight, the Suns will look to push their win streak to six games in Los Angeles as they take on the Lakers.

Who: Phoenix Suns @ Los Angeles Lakers

What: Round 3 of 4 between two Pacific Division rivals

When: 6:30pm PST/9:30pm ET

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Why: Because the Suns will likely win

Previous Matchups

The Suns blew out the Lakers 119-99 in their first game of the season, as Phoenix's three point-guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas combined for 57 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds. Things also got heated in the third quarter as Eric Bledsoe was ejected from the game after expressing his frustration over being repeatedly hacked by Kobe Bryant.

Both teams played again shortly after that in LA and the Suns won again, but in a much closer game than the first. Markieff Morris posted 23 points,10 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the Suns to a 112-106 victory.

Is Kobe hurting the Lakers?

Since that matchup on the Suns' opening night, the Lakers have lost 20 more games and currently hold a 9-21 record, good for the fifth worst in the NBA. Kobe Bryant has sat out the last three games after some disastrous shooting performances.

Without him, LA went on to shock the Golden State Warriors (owners of the best record in the NBA) at home by sharing the wealth and playing freely. They also went on to lose their next to games, to the Bulls and the Mavericks. Kobe is returning tonight and will no doubt be motivated to quell theories that the Lakers might actually be a better team without him.

This begs the question: are the Lakers a better team without Kobe Bryant this season? The evidence does seem to indicate that this has been the case thus far:

kobe on-off numbers

Kobe is averaging nearly 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game, but he's doing so with the worst efficiency of his career. And at 36 years old, his defense is not nearly where it was. It's not unreasonable to consider the possibility that the way Kobe Bryant is playing this season (high volume, low efficiency) might be detrimental to the team.

This isn't to say that the Lakers would be some sort of world-beaters without Kobe. This team is bad, with or without 36 year old Kobe Bryant. But as Kobe now lacks the physical skills to get to the rim and finish as well as he once did, he's taking more of the tough, inefficient shots he used to make at an absurdly high rate--and he's no longer making them at an absurdly high rate. Perhaps a Kobe that shoots less and plays more as a playmaker wouldn't be the worst thing for the Lakers.

And if there are any Kobe fans out there who disagree with any of this, I'd be happy to debate this with them in Temecula.

Streaking Suns

After losing six games in a row, the Suns are suddenly on the cusp of winning six in a row. After Alex Len was promoted to the starting lineup in place of Miles Plumlee, the Suns lost at home to the Milwaukee Bucks on a last second shot, then went on to string five straight victories together.

Think about that for a second: the Suns are one wild, rim-skating Kate Khris Middleton buzzer beater away from being 6-0 with Alex Len as their starting center. As a starter, Len is averaging 9.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in just 22 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, that translates to nearly 15 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks per game.

Granted, Len is also averaging over the NBA-allowed 6 fouls per 36 minutes, but if your 21 year old center's greatest weakness is needing to foul less, you absolutely live with it. Foul trouble is an issue that plagues most young big men in the league and once he learns to avoid it, 30+ minute per game Alex Len will be an absolute monster.

Some other stats from the Suns' current five game win streak:

  • The Suns are averaging 111 points on 49% shooting from the field during the streak.
  • Eric Bledsoe is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and was a net +42 in those 5 games.
  • Goran Dragic is averaging 17 points and 5 assists and was a net +12.
  • Isaiah Thomas is averaging 17 points and 4 assists and was a net +34.

Prediction

Kobe's motivation to play well in his return tonight will only be stronger because he hates the Suns, so Phoenix might have to weather the storm at the onset. But as long as the Suns don't fall into the trap of underestimating a weak opponent again (after all, the Lakers did beat the Warriors just a few days ago), they really shouldn't have trouble winning this one.  Suns win, 109-98.

If I'm wrong and the Suns lose, you can meet me in Temecula.