The Los Angeles Lakers have a huge matchup with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. I won’t call it a ‘must-win’ because, technically, the Lakers could still make it to the Play-In Tournament even with a loss. However, the Lakers desperately need this win to keep pace with teams such as the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. Let’s look at the film and what the Lakers need to prepare for Wednesday’s game.
Slowing Down The Suns Offense
The Suns are a nightmare to gameplan for offensively. Give a ton of credit to head coach Monty Williams and his staff for how they’ve designed their offense.
The Suns start in their five-out “Wide” series at the beginning of this play. The Lakers are face-guarding Devin Booker, sending him toward the rim and turning the “Wide” series into a “Gut Chicago” action. As we’ve previously discussed, Chicago action is a pindown into a dribble handoff. In this case, Lonnie Walker IV decides to help off the ball-side corner, leading to a Mikal Bridges 3-pointer.
The Lakers eventually decided to put two on the ball when Booker entered ball-screens. I’m a big fan of this defensive strategy, however, the Lakers’ rotations must be better. The Suns run their “Double Drag Shake” halfcourt set here. Damion Lee filling over initiates the Shake action. Troy Brown Jr.’s role is to “Tag” on the roll-man. “Tagging” forces Booker to make a formidable cross-court and cross-body pass to the corner. In this scenario, however, Brown, doesn’t tag on the roller, forcing Dennis Schroder to, leading to an open three.
Another of the Suns’ favorite actions is their “Spain Pick & Roll”. The Suns do an incredible job setting up the action from different alignments. My favorite iteration is their “Horns Out Miami Spain” series. “Miami” action is a dribble handoff into a ball screen. The play starts with “Horns Out”, which involves a cross-screen at the elbow. Then it flows into their Spain Pick & Roll, where Chris Paul and Booker are incredibly dangerous. It is imperative that the Lakers are prepared for this action heading into Wednesday’s matchup.
How Should The Lakers Guard Booker?
Darvin Ham and the coaching staff have two options to choose from.
Option 1: Allow Booker to score as many points as he wants, eliminate the role players
Option 2: Eliminate Booker and force the role players to beat you.
With the Suns’ new roster and no DeAndre Ayton or Kevin Durant in this game, all attention must be on Booker. In March, he is averaging roughly 34 points per game while also being incredibly efficient from the floor. If the Lakers decide to double-team Booker at a higher frequency, they must clean up their weak-side defensive rotations. The Golden State Warriors tried going Box-and-1 with Booker in their last matchup, which is an intriguing look that could provide trouble for the Suns’ offense. One thing that I liked that the Lakers did defensively was they had their “Nail” help ready on Booker’s drives, forcing him to give up the ball.
Walker provides good help here while also doing a good job closing out and contesting the 3-point attempt without fouling. He winds up getting rewarded for this good defensive effort with a leak-out layup.
The Orlando Magic deployed a similar defensive tactic when defending Booker. The Suns set a stagger screen for Booker, forcing the Magic to chase Booker over top of the screen. When the pass is delivered, Cole Anthony is ready to help from the “Nail” while Wendell Carter Jr. is in drop coverage. Excellent execution by the Magic here leads to a tough Booker mid-range jump shot.
I feel confident about the Lakers’ chances heading into Wednesday’s contest. They’ll need another dominant showing from Anthony Davis, and they must have a defensive game plan in mind for how they want to stop Booker and the high-powered Suns’ offense. Appreciate you for tuning in, and I can’t wait to do more of these throughout the rest of the season and hopefully into the playoffs.