Conference Finals Clash – Game 1

MAY 17|MON|WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS , GAME 4| (3) Suns vs. (1) Lakers – SERIES: 0-0

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News and Notes….

– Steve Nash, after Phil Jackson said he carried the ball, responded that the “best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich didn’t have a problem with it last round.” [HoopsWorld]

– Andrew Bynum’s knee has gotten worse, but he plans to play through the pain. [East Valley Tribune]

– Sasha Vujacic plans to give it a go. [ESPN]

– Robin Lopez will return for the Suns. [ProBasketballTalk]

Projected Starters

Lakers
(PG) Derek Fisher
(SG) Kobe Bryant
(SF) Ron Artest
(PF) Pau Gasol
(C) Andrew Bynum

Suns

(PG) Steve Nash
(SG) Jason Richardson
(SF) Grant Hill
(PF) Amar’e Staudemire
(C) Robin Lopez

Keys to the Game

… Derek Fisher just can’t get a break in these playoffs. After battling with Russ Westbrook and Deron Williams, the Fish will be responsible for marking 2-time MVP Steve Nash. While Nash is playing some of the best basketball of his career, he has been held in check (reasonably) by the Lakers this year, averaging 13 points with 9 assists. It will take a team effort to corral Nash, but if the Lakers can keep him in the 13-9 range, then they will definitely be content with that.

… Kobe will be marking the explosive Jason Richardson, who is somewhat of a bellwether for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have won the last 10 games in which Richardson dropped 20 or more points. When he is firing on all cylinders, the Suns can play basketball with anybody in the league, including the Lakers. Kobe knows this, and he will take it personally.

… The Lakers’ pick-and-roll defense is going to have to be on point. The Amar’e Staudemire/Steve Nash pick-and-roll is downright frightening at the end of the games. It’s probably the best tandem in the league and it’s been their bread and butter for as long as Amar’e and Nash have played together. If the Suns go small, with Amar’e at the five, then the Lakers will have no choice but to take Bynum out of the game. He’s not a bad pick-and-roll defender, but with a torn meniscus (which hampers his lateral movement)? Yea. That wouldn’t end well.

… Lamar Odom is going to have to come to play. The Suns are a very deep team (more on that later), but they don’t have anybody that can contend with Lamar’s inside-outside game. Nobody. He’s got to get going, and in typical Lamar Odom fashion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose this series to get things started.

… Alvin Gentry has played a pretty deep rotation all year and has extended that into the play-offs. He has trusted his bench, and they have come through for him. This series will be no different, and the Lakers’ bench is going to have to be ready to play every night. This means maintaining leads or keeping games competitive. Goran Dragíc is an absolute monster, and Sasha Vujacic is the only one on the bench who can guard Dragíc. He’s coming off an injury, so he’ll probably be out of shape, but he’s going to have to give it his all. He’s the only guy on our bench who I can fathom even has the slightest of chances of staying in front of Dragíc.

… The Lakers will have to hit the glass. They, again, have superior length compared to the Suns, and are going to have to hit the glass to get second chance points (to make up for the inevitable runs that the Suns will have) as well as holding the Suns to one shot a possession.

… If the Lakers turn into a jump-shooting, 3-point taking team… the Suns will have a very good chance in this game and this series. If the Lakers are aggressive, get to the line, and control the tempo, then they should be in good shape. Be sure to watch how many free throws the Lakers are getting, that’s usually a good sign as to how aggressive a team’s being.
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