The Lakers have played in 56 playoff games against Phoenix, the most against any team aside from their arch rivals, the Boston Celtics While the Lakers are 7-4 against Phoenix in postseason series, they’ve lost 4 out of the last 5 meetings. The Lakers haven’t eliminated the Suns in the playoffs in over a decade. No one is more eager to buck the trend than Kobe Bryant.
Don’t forget that the main reason the Lakers have won 6 straight games is because Kobe is looking more and more like the Kobe of old rather than the old Kobe. Kobe has eclipsed the 30 point plateau in every one of those games, while shooting over 50% from the field. The Suns don’t have the versatile defenders to contain Kobe like they used to. Raja Bell and Shawn Marion are gone. While Grant Hill did an admirable job of guarding Manu Ginobli in the last round, Ginobli is nowhere close to the level of the most complete player in the game. Whether it’s Hill, Jefferson or Dudley, expect Kobe to be able to have his way on the offensive end, unleashing his full arsenal of moves on his opposing defender.
On the other side, Steve Nash, at 36, is the oldest starting point guard in the league. He’s like Betty White- as good as he’s ever been and seemingly better with age. Luckily for the Lakers, he also plays defensive as adroitly as Betty White does. The Lakers backcourt trio of Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown must take advantage of Nash’s suspect defense.
In spite of John Hollinger’s off kilter predictions of Suns in 6, his statistical analysis fails to take into account that size matters. Unless every Phoenix player grows 3 inches before the series begins, the Lakers literally have a huge advantage. Robin Lopez is the only player on the Suns roster listed at 7 feet but his status is uncertain. In the postseason, Amar’e Stoudemire leads Phoenix in rebounds with 7.0 per game. That’s half of what Pau Gasol has been averaging in the playoff.
The Suns most productive player this postseason has been Jason Richardson. He’s been averaging nearly 22 points per game and shooting over 50% from the field and beyond the arc. During the regular season, Phoenix lost 3 out of 4 games to the Lakers due in part to Richardson’s lack of production. He averaged less than 9 points per game against the Lakers on 31% shooting and only converted 3 out of 21 of his trifectas. Which Jason Richardson will show up? The answer is going to be a major determining factor for how long this series will last.
The Lakers x-factor, not surprisingly, is Lamar Odom. Remember in 2006, the Lakers almost pulled off an upset because L.O. had his way on the inside for most of the series. Odom is a matchup nightmare against any team, especially a team lacking an interior defensive presence such as the Suns. He would be wise to aggressively attack Amar’e Stoudemire every opportunity he can.
Although the Suns bench is loaded with scorers such as Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Jared Dudly and even Goran Dragic, the Lakers still possess the most talent in the league. While the Suns defense is better than its been compared to past years, it’s a moot point– that’s like saying Jimmy Fallon is funnier now than he was a year ago.
The Lakers may not be the best thing since sliced bread but if they continue playing with the same level of intensity as they’ve been doing for the last 6 games, their opponents are toast. Prediction: Lakers in 6.
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