Lakers vs. Suns Pre-Game Report: A Rematch in the Desert

Los Angeles Lakers (18-12) at Phoenix Suns (12-19)
5:00 PM PST, February 19, 2012
US Airways Center Phoenix, AZ
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Suns Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: Grant Hill
PF: Channing Frye
C: Marcin Gortat

Key Reserves: G Shannon Brown, F Markieff Morris, G Michael Redd

The Lakers look to extent their current three-game winning streak with a visit to Phoenix. The Lakers won their first two match ups against the Suns this season, led by remarkable performances from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers had their best offensive performance of the season, in which they scored over 110 points for the first time this year in Friday’s win against the Suns. The Lakers have been the victors in the last four games against Phoenix. However, stats and records seem to be always set aside when it comes to these two divisions rivals and a great, competitive game is always delivered.

Frontcourt: Marcin Gortat has been a consistent strength for Phoenix’s frontcourt. On Friday, he led the Suns in scoring and rebounds with 21 and 16 respectively. Overall, Gortat is averaging 15 points and 10 boards per game. Gortat has recorded 18 double-doubles so far this season and has 17 double-doubles in the last 23 games. Channing Frye struggled from the field Friday night, where he was limited to just five points. Although, he has had problems with his three-point percentage this season, he remains a threat to become hot from the three-point line at any time. Frye’s three-point percentage is currently at 31 percent and he averages 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Veteran Grant Hill’s game has hit a major decline this season compared to last year. Hill does a solid job of guarding Kobe Bryant, but Bryant’s offensive skills always wins. Hill is averaging 9 points and 3 boards this season. Rookie Markieff Morris is doing a solid job off the bench. Morris is averaging 9.0 points and 5.0 boards per game.

Backcourt: Phoenix’s backcourt is still dominated by 2012 All-Star Steve Nash. Nash had a quiet yet effective performance on Friday night’s loss to the Lakers. In that game, Nash recorded 17 assists to go along with 11 points. Nash leads the league in assists per game with 11 and adds an average of 15 points per game. Jared Dudley is averaging a career-high 11.2 points per game to go along with 4 boards per game. Dudley’s three-point percentage (currently 39 percent) is down from two seasons ago when he shot 46 percent from the three, but remains a threat from the outside perimeter just like Frye. Former Laker Shannon Brown hasn’t seen much time in the rotation since the Suns acquired Michael Redd. However, Brown seems to receive more minutes when they face the Lakers due to his familiarity with the team. Brown provided a nice spark to the Suns’ bench on Friday night with 15 points. After a slow start, Michael Redd seems to be more comfortable playing off the bench and playing with the Suns’ system. Redd adds an average of 8 points off the bench, but is certainly able to score more.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Control the Paint: In Friday night’s win, the Lakers won the points in the paint battle 54-38. The Lakers need to continue to drive the ball and take advantage of one of their biggest strengths, their size. Look for Bynum and Gasol to earn their averages in the paint. The rest of the Lakers’ roster needs to continue driving the ball to the rim as they did on Friday night. The Lakers need to take advantage of the Suns’ defensive weakness and score on easy opportunities.

Offensive Balance: Games against rivals, especially division rivals, bring out the best or sometimes worst in teams. Statistics and records are ignored and the pressure and need to win is heightened. The Lakers must continue to play with an offensive balance. On Friday the reserves did a great job (most of the game) in either maintaining the lead or extending it. At one point in the first half, the bench was outplaying the starters. Both lineups need to contribute and play with energy all four quarters. The Suns will be looking for any way to avenge Friday night’s loss, especially on their home floor. Look for the bench to play more minutes, if effective, since the Lakers will be playing tomorrow night against Portland.

Defend the Three and Pick ‘n’ Roll: The Suns are unafraid to take the three-point shot. For the past several seasons, their three-point game has been a huge part of their offense. This year the decline of their three-point percentage of 34 has greatly influenced their offensive struggles this season. The Lakers did a solid job defending the three on Friday night. The Laker defense only allowed eight of the 26 three-point attempts to go in. Also, the Lakers’ bigs must defend the Suns’ pick ‘n’ roll game. Nash and Gortat has made this their specialty this season. Therefore, defending the pick ‘n’ roll will be essential for the Lakers to leave the valley of the sun with a win.

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