The Lakers are finally back home at Staples Center after a testing seven game road trip. With a 4-3 record over the Grammy road trip, the Lakers made little ground in their push for the playoffs. The Lakers were challenged on and off the court during the trip with injuries and drama in the media. The Lakers remain steadfast that they will be able to make a late run for the postseason, and the next two games before the All-Star break will be crucial games to start that run.
Tonight the Lakers face the Suns in downtown LA. These two team last met in the first game of the Lakers’ Grammy trip, where the Lakers fell apart in the fourth after Dwight Howard re-aggrevated his shoulder. The Suns are also dealing with drama on and off the court, ranging from recent coaching changes to countless trade rumors. The Lakers have an all-time record of 131-92 against the Suns with a 86-26 home record against Phoenix.
Frontcourt: Phoenix’s Marcin Gortat has been a bit inconsistent this season compared to last, but certainly should not be forgotten about on defense. Last year, Gortat was essentially a guaranteed double-double machine every game using the pick-and-roll game with Steve Nash. Gortat and Goran Dragic can still be a threat to run pick-and-roll sets, but some of Gortat’s magic was lost when Nash was traded to the Lakers. Dwight Howard must do a better job at boxing Gortat out on the offensive glass, where he is very active. We all saw the impact of getting out-rebounded in Sunday’s Miami game, and that poor performance cannot be repeated.
Luis Scola is not afraid to be aggressive and physical, especially around the rim. He can easily get in good position for a rebound, which leads to an easy put-back or a reset of play. He also has a mid-range jumper, which he usually takes if he is wide open. In the two games against the Lakers this season, Scola is averaging 15.0 points and 6.0 rebounds on 56.0 percent shooting, which is better than his overall season averages.
P.J. Tucker has seen increased minutes since Lindsey Hunter took over as coach, as he is now averaging 22.3 minutes per game after a boost from being placed in the starting rotation. Tucker has had little production in the two games against the Lakers, which reflect his season averages of 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Tucker is the defensive specialist on the team and will most likely guard Kobe Bryant. Markieff Morris is also getting more playing time under Lindsey Hunter (24.0 minutes per game), but his averages haven’t improved from last season, which was his rookie year.
Michael Beasley was surprisingly unstoppable in the fourth quarter in the last match against the Lakers. Beasley’s offense in the final quarter rallied the Suns to steal the game away from the Lakers. Because of this, I expect the Lakers to make certain that this doesn’t happen again, especially at home. The very streaky Beasley is averaging 10.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game on 39.8 percent shooting, while averaging 20.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds on 51.4 percent shooting against the Lakers this season.
Backcourt: Goran Dragic will be a definite focal point for the Lakers tonight. Above average point guards have been able to have season-high games against the Lakers too often this season. Steve Nash has never been known for his defense, but Dragic’s playmaking abilities must be limited tonight. I expected to see frequent switches on defense between Kobe Bryant and Nash to guard Dragic. Dragic is averaging 14.2 points and 6.3 assists per game, which leads the team in both categories.
Jared Dudley is dealing with countless trade rumors right now. His name has appeared in trade rumors with the New York Knicks and most recently, the Utah Jazz. Perhaps these trade talks have affected Dudley’s performances over the last five games, where he is averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds on just 38.7 percent shooting. Former Laker Shannon Brown has been struggling recently, as his contribution has dropped since Lindsey Hunter took over. Against LA, Brown is posting 7.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 18.0 minutes.
Keys to Victory:
Contain Goran Dragic: Dragic learned from one of the best when he was Steve Nash’s teammate in Phoenix. You can see a lot of Nash in Dragic, especially on the offensive end. As stated above, limiting Dragic will be key for the Lakers as he can create his own shot and create easy opportunities for his teammates with pick-and-roll sets or dribble penetration. Dragic is averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 assists on 48.1 percent shooting against the Lakers this season. More importantly, when Dragic scores 20 points or more, the Suns are 6-2 this season.
Compete For All 48 Minutes: During the Grammy road trip, the Lakers built a habit of not playing the full 48 minutes of the game with consistent energy, urgency and/or effort, except for the game against Brooklyn. They either blew leads or made incredible comebacks. Past the midway point of the season, the Lakers should have already found a way to compete consistently throughout a game, but they haven’t since they are still searching for an identity. The Lakers can no longer fall back on excuses, and must find a way to get it done.
Move the Ball: The Lakers play at a higher level when they move the ball throughout the game. When the ball is effectively shared throughout the game, teamwork, chemistry, energy and effort are typically improved as a consequence. The Lakers, especially Dwight Howard, cannot stand around and wait for the ball to find them. They need to stay active and connected to each other on both ends of the court. Last time against Phoenix, the Lakers posted just 19 assists, with Kobe responsible for nine of those 19. The Lakers should target getting baskets on at least 25 assists which would signify that more players are involved in the action.
Phoenix Suns (17-35) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (24-28)
7:30 PM PST, February 12, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Reserves: F Markieff Morris, F Michael Beasley, G Shannon Brown