The new-look Lakers continued their stellar play with a 111-106 victory over the New Orleans Hornets last night in Los Angeles, their third victory in a row. With Kobe Bryant playing the role of facilitator yet again, the Lakers led comfortably most of the game, save for a scare in the fourth quarter when the Hornets cut the lead to one. Lakers fans should surely be excited about the turnaround in the Lakers play, but the upcoming seven game Grammy road trip will be the true test and, perhaps, the final say in whether the Lakers are going to be a playoff team. At 5-15 away from Staples Center, the Lakers have yet to show that they are capable of winning on the road.
The Phoenix Suns enter the game tied for last in the Western Conference with a 15-30 record. They recently fired head coach Alvin Gentry, who was Mike D’Antoni’s predecessor in Phoenix and instituted a similar system as D’Antoni. The Suns are an average home team, with an 11-11 record in their own arena. The Lakers must realize that they still have a lot to prove and must look to come out with energy on the first game of their road trip. The game will be especially emotional for Nash, as the former MVP makes his first return to Phoenix in a Lakers uniform. Nash is sure to receive a rousing ovation, as he is one of the greatest Suns of all time as well as one of the franchise’s most beloved players.
The current Suns team has zero players remaining from the 2007-2008 team, the last year D’Antoni was head coach.
Frontcourt: The Suns have the ability put up points at both front court positions. Luis Scola starts at the power forward position and he comes into the game putting up his usual solid numbers at 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Scola makes up for his lack of athleticism with toughness around the basket as well as crafty post moves. Marcin Gortat, once Dwight Howard’s backup on the Orlando Magic, starts at the center position. Gortat has evolved into a good player at the center position and is not only a scoring threat from both the midrange and low-post, but also a good rim protector. Neither player possesses good lateral quickness or the ability to rotate defensively, so if the Lakers continue their trend of excellent ball movement then they should be able to catch the Suns bigs off guard.
The wildcard in the frontcourt for the Suns is former number two overall pick Michael Beasley, who has been relegated to a bench role. Beasley has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his NBA career, but still does possess the ability to score in a variety of ways. He has struggled so far this year, but he still is capable of having a big game. He tends to drift if he does not get involved in the game early or misses his first few shots, so the Lakers must be sure to prevent him from getting easy baskets.
Backcourt: Goran Dragic returned to the Suns this past off-season, where he spent the first two and half years of his career as Steve Nash’s back up. Early in his career, Dragic demonstrated his explosive scoring ability by scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter of a 2010 playoff victory over the San Antonio Spurs. He enters this game as the Suns leading scorer at 14.2 points per night, and has evolved into a nice playmaker as well while averaging 6.3 assists a game.
Jared Dudley starts at the off-guard position for the Suns, and former Laker Shannon Brown is the Suns’ key reserve. Dudley is a solid role player who is a good three-point shooter, but he is best served as a reserve on a good team. Expect him to have a difficult time defending Kobe Bryant on the perimeter. Brown, a former fan favorite for his tremendous leaping ability while in Los Angeles, enters the game as the Suns’ second leading scorer and averaging a career high 11.9 points per game. Brown’s minutes have been dwindling of late as interim coach Lindsey Hunter has been using him in a bench role. He had been serving as a starter under Gentry.
Keys to Victory:
Continued Ball Movement: The whole dynamic of the Lakers team changes when they move the ball the way they have been the past three games. Pau Gasol and Howard instantly become more engaged on defense, everyone plays with more energy, and people are more willing to help one another out on the defensive end on rotations. The Lakers must feed off of one another’s energy on the road in order to withstand runs from not only Phoenix tonight, but from the other teams they face on this long road trip.
No New Stars: The Suns are a team that does not have a true go-to scorer. Dragic is their leading scorer at only 14.2 points per game. Though they have six people averaging double figures, the team only ranks 18th in the league in scoring as a team. If the Lakers are able to hold most of these players to their averages, especially the Suns bench players, then they should be able to secure a fourth straight victory.
Phoenix Suns (15-30) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (20-25)
7:30 PM PST, January 30, 2013 U.S. Airways Arena, Phoenix, AZ
CA TV: TWCSN
Suns Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Reserves: G Shannon Brown, F Markieff Morris, F Michael Beasley