Here we go again. It’s the middle of May and Kobe and co. are in the mix again for another NBA championship. 8 more wins and Kobe Bryant wins ring number 5, placing him near the top of the all time greats with the most championships.
Up next are the Phoenix Suns who just finished a surprising sweep of Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The Phoenix Suns come into this series hot, shooting over 40% from 3-point land. The Lakers took 3 out of 4 regular season games from the Suns this season. And this didn’t happen by chance or luck. There are some specific things they did in those 4 regular season match-ups that, if they do in this series should have no problem finishing the Suns off in 5 or 6 games.
1. Control Amare Stoudamire
Much like the Lakers were able to control Carlos Boozer with their length inside, the Lakers need to be able to control Amare. And they can. With their 3 7 Footers in Gasol, Bynum, and Odom the Lakers can prevent many of the buckets in the paint that Amare lives off of. Keeping Amare out of the paint offensively is the number 1 key to the Lakers success in this series.
2. No Answer For Gasol
Just like in the last series, there is no answer for Pau Gasol inside. The Suns throw around names like Robin Lopez, Jaron Collins, and that Amundsen guy. But come on now! Expect Pau Gasol to have a huge series yet again and to pretty much get whatever he wants inside the paint.
3. Offense Against the Zone
During the Lakers 4 match-ups with Phoenix this season, the Lakers had some trouble scoring against the Suns when Phoenix would break into a zone defense. Sometimes the Lakers have a lack of outside shooting on the floor and this can hurt them against a zone. This is where Sasha Vuyacic is important in this series. If he can shoot the ball well from the outside, he can help eliminate the effects of any zone defensive strategy.
4. Fronting of the Post
Much like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Phoenix Suns like to try and take away your inside game by constantly fronting the post and placing a help defender right behind. It will be interesting to see what the ref’s do in this series. Kobe Bryant when in the post, likes to keep his elbows up high (good fundamentals by the way) and use great body position in order to shield off the defender when he’s trying to front. Consequently Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, and Jared Dudley are going to get many elbows in the grill. While these are not offensive fouls, it will be critical to the game as to how exactly the ref’s call this situation.
5. The Bench Play
This one as it stands (before the series) is a clear advantage to the Phoenix Suns. The Suns throw at you 5 guys. Dragic, Barbosa, Dudley, Amundson, and Frye. All 5 of these guys are major contributors. The Lakers really throw 3 guys at you in Odom, Brown, and Farmar with 2 extra guys who you are not sure what you will get from in Walton and Vuyacic. Can the Lakers 3 main bench guys outplay the Suns 5? This will be the biggest key to this series.
If you want to read a very detailed and insightful breakdown of the Bench match-up, read what Darius over at Forum Blue & Gold wrote.
6. Defending the Screen Roll
The screen roll is flat out tough to defend in the NBA. Now add Steve Nash to the mix. The guy is probably the greatest of all-time at running it. How the Lakers defend this will be critical. In the last series the Spurs would try and simply switch every screen roll and it worked against them. Tim Duncan’s foot speed just couldn’t keep up. This is where I think Gasol and Odom will be critical in this series. Darius at FB&G wrote another great piece breaking down the Lakers defense of the Suns.
7. The Play of Artest and Odom
Ok here’s the deal. The Suns have nobody, and I mean nobody who can compete with these 2 players on either side of the floor. These 2 guys have their opportunity in this series to put a huge stamp of this years championship run for the Lakers. Artest can help and roam as a defender in this series. It will be critical for him to chase off 3 point shooters and go from defending a big guy like Frye on a few plays, to defending Barbosa on another.
Odom had to beef it out with Paul Milsap (who is a BEAST by the way) all of last series. That is a challenge. But Amundsen and Frye should not be. They are good players yes. But nothing compared to Milsap of the Utah Jazz. Odom should completely dominate these 2 big man bench players for the Suns . If he does it could shorten the series for the Lakers.
8. Kobe, Kobe, and More Kobe
I keep hearing all this talk about Grant Hill and Jared Dudley and how they are going to defend and bother Kobe. Let’s not be ridiculous people. The Phoenix Suns have no match-up for Kobe Bryant whatsoever. In the last series you saw what a good defender like Wesley Mathews get torched game after game. The older legs of Grant Hill and slower legs of Jared Dudley are in huge trouble. Kobe will have his way in this series! Mark my words.
If the Lakers can hold strong in these 8 areas, the Lakers will win the series in 5 games. If they struggle in these areas it could go 7. All in all expect PJ to have the Lakers fine tuned and to win this series in 6.