The Lakers have continued their up and down ways since losing Kobe Bryant for six weeks due to a knee injury. An inspiring home win on Friday against the Timberwolves was followed by a thrashing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers look to right the ship in Phoenix against a Suns team that is one of the early season’s biggest surprises.
These two teams met two weeks ago with the Suns taking a six point win in Los Angeles thanks to the stellar guard play of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. That Laker team was much different as both Bryant and Steve Blake played heavy minutes. The Lakers come into this game with a record of 13-14 while the Suns are 16-10 and currently sit sixth in the Western Conference.
The Suns boast a solid, if not, unspectacular front line. P.J. Tucker is not much of an offensive threat and specializes more in the little things while Channing Frye is a three point specialist who just happens to be seven feet. The Lakers must work to keep Frye off the three-point line, but he will not be as worrisome on the block or the boards. Miles Plumlee has looked much improved this season but, much like Tucker, is more of a dirty work specialist who is good on the boards and will score when set up by the guards.
The bigs off the bench are the guys the Lakers need to focus on offensively as the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, combined for 37 points in the first meeting. They are both great outside shooters but their activity led to issues for the Lakers in keeping them off the glass.
Wesley Johnson has been playing much better as of late, and is likely to play a bigger role with his defense and rebounding. Jordan Hill will also have to stay on point as he will have to try and keep up his work on the boards while chasing around Frye or one of the Morris twins on the perimeter. Pau Gasol, assuming he plays, must continue his excellent play on the post, but if not, Chris Kaman has looked excellent lately and Plumlee should not be able to contain either on the block.
This is where the Suns had their way with the Lakers as Dragic and Bledsoe got in the paint at will and controlled the game. While Dragic mainly scored, Bledsoe set up his teammates and totaled nine assists. The Lakers must find a way to keep these two out of the paint. Expect Wesley Johnson to start off on one of the two as he is easily the best perimeter defender on the team.
Offensively, Xavier Henry has played admirably since assuming the point guard duties, but the Laker guards must re-discover their shooting stroke. Henry, Jodie Meeks, and Nick Young combined to shoot two for twelve from three-point range in the last game against the Warriors. If the Lakers plan to steal a win on the road, that number has to increase substantially.
Keys To Lakers’ Victory
Contain Penetration: The guards of the Phoenix Suns are the engine for this offense. It is the penetration of Dragic and Bledsoe that, not only allows those two to get points at will since they are capable finishers, but get guys like Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker, and the Morris twins going.
Wesley Johnson will almost definitely be guarding one of them, but Meeks, Henry, and Young will all take turns in trying to corral the explosive guard tandem. It is almost impossible to shut both of them down, but if the Lakers can succeed in limiting their time in the paint, it will limit the rest of the team. The Suns get a majority of their baskets, whether it be layups or spot up jumpers, off of the penetration of the guards .
Control The Defensive Glass: The Suns are not an elite rebounding team by any stretch of the imagination, but in the first meeting, they out-rebounded the Lakers by ten and also grabbed ten offensive rebounds. For an offense that averages over 103 points per game, the Lakers can not afford to give them second chances.
Gasol, Kaman, Hill, and Johnson must put bodies on this Suns team and limit them to one shot per possession. Tucker and Dragic are great at sneaking in and snatching rebounds, while Bledsoe uses his excellent athleticism, and Frye uses his length to keep possessions alive. It must be a team effort to win the rebounding battle in this game.
Three-Point Shooting: The Lakers have been ravaged by injuries this year. The bench, tops in the league in scoring, has little offensive punch outside of Nick Young, since guys like Henry, Hill, Johnson, and Farmar are either starting due to injury, or hurt themselves.
That leaves three-point shooting as the only advantage these Lakers hold over most teams, and that advantage hasn’t been much of one as of late. Meeks, Johnson, Young, Williams and Henry have to knock down the open shots they are getting as the three is the Lakers best offensive weapon at this point in the season.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-14) at Phoenix Suns (16-10)
6:00 PM PST, December 23, 2103
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Channing Frye
C: Miles Plumlee
Key Reserves: PF: Marcus Morris PF: Markieff Morris SG: Gerald Green
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Xavier Henry
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol or Chris Kaman
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