The Los Angeles Lakers will hit the road Wednesday night, playing the second game of a back-to-back against long-time division rival Phoenix Suns. Phoenix uncharacteristically dominated the season series last year 3-1, as the Lakers’ defense allowed an ungodly 117 points in three losses. 117 points may have may have slid through the cracks with Mike D’Antoni, but it surely will not fly with head coach Byron Scott, unless the team wants to suffer similar results. Let’s jump into the analysis of tonight’s match-up.
Frontcourt: Miles Plumlee is not exactly a household name, but the former Duke Blue Devil has developed into a consistent center who most notably torched the Lakers in a late December matchup scoring 17 points in addition to an astounding 20 rebounds. Although he is highly unlikely to emulate that particular performance, Plumlee has emerged as a near lock to average a double-double every night. Despite his bulky frame, Plumlee is an extremely versatile 7-footer who’s offense revolves around his freakish athleticism.
At power forward, the better of the two Morris twins Markieff will kickoff the 2014-15 campaign as Phoenix’s starting four replacing Channing Frye. Selected thirteenth overall in 2011, Morris took his game to new heights last season emerging as a serious contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He doesn’t have the shooting range like brother Marcus Morris, but he is consistent from mid-range and vastly underrated in the post.
Phoenix’s physical enforcer, PJ Tucker mans the small forward after the Suns re-signed him to a three-year deal this offseason. Tucker’s attitude escalated many altercations last year as his 12 technical fouls were tied for sixth most in the league, a feat that he is most definitely proud of. Although offensive has never been Tucker’s forte, his three-point shot has become a legitimate weapon that Wesley Johnson must take into account. The 6-foot-6 swingman is also an above average rebounder for his size, recording 6.5 in just 30 minutes of play last season.
Backcourt: Eric Bledsoe’s holdout literally paid off this summer, inking a $70 million contract to remain a thorn in the Lakers’ side for the next five years. Defending athletically gifted guards has been an ongoing issue for the Lakers, and Bledsoe is just that. A gifted defender himself, Bledsoe excels at attacking the paint and he has apparently added a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal of tricks. The physically beaten up Lakers’ backcourt will have their hands full.
An MVP candidate last year, Goran Dragic leaped into the expanding class of elite guards, as he became the catalyst for a vast majority of the Suns’ success, primarily in Bledsoe’s absence. A proven offensive talent, Dragic is scrappy defensively, as well. And considering this is a contract year for Dragic, expect a valiant effort from him to earn a monster payday next summer, potentially from the Lakers.
Keys to Victory:
Kobe Bryant’s Minutes: Byron Scott has not held back when speaking on the topic of Bryant’s playing time. Ideally, Scott would be comfortable with the Mamba playing anywhere from 30-32 minutes per game and even fewer than that in back-to-backs. However, being just the second game of the season, Scott may be a bit more lenient in order to test out the waters.
Xavier Henry vs. Jordan Clarkson: The high-flying Xavier Henry is finally healthy after a near eight-month hiatus suffering a wide variety of injuries, but that could be detrimental to the playing time of rookie Jordan Clarkson. Unfortunately, there is only 48 minutes to be divided amongst the roster, so somebody is bound to see a diminished role, deserving or not. Byron Scott has been high on Clarkson’s defensive abilities, however Henry’s already proven ability to perform may tilt playing time in his favor.
Carlos Boozer’s Defense: It is no secret that power forward Carlos Boozer is not the best defender out there nor is he one to keep up with the fast-paced, run-N’-gun style of the Phoenix Suns. A frontline of Markieef Morris and Miles Plumlee could pose a massive disadvantage for Los Angeles, possibly generating a few extra minutes for Ed Davis due to the injury of Julius Randle. Containing the young guys on Phoenix is key if the Lakers plan on competing in this game.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 12.5-point underdogs to the Suns according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) at Phoenix Suns (0-0)
7:00 PM PST, October 29, 2014
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 AM ESPN (English) / 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Miles Plumlee
Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Thomas, SG: Gerald Green, SF: Marcus Morris
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
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