The Lakers look to bounce back from their disappointing loss on Friday as they face the Phoenix Suns on the road. The Lakers are playing their second back-to-back of the week and are looking to close the regular season strong. The Suns are fighting for a playoff spot in the West and are currently two games out of the eight position. This makes this matchup tough as the Suns are in desperation mode, which will require the Lakers to match their intensity and passion. The home team has won in all three of the match-ups between these two teams so far this season. The Suns are 90-130 all-time against the Lakers and are 64-45 against L.A. when playing in Phoenix.
Frontcourt: Phoenix’s froncourt is dominated by Marcin Gortat, who is one of three NBA players to average 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, along with the Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum. Gortat has drastically improved since joining the Phoenix Suns, where he is currently averaging a career-high 16.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. When Gortat was acquired by the Suns during the 2010-2011 season, he was averaging just 4.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game with the Magic. Gortat is averaging 19.3 points and 14.3 boards against the Lakers this season. Jared Dudley will slide over to the small forward position since Grant Hill is out for the season with a right meniscus tear, which he recently had successful surgery for. Dudley has had a tendency to be hot and cold this season, which the Lakers are familiar with. Overall, Dudley is averaging 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Channing Frye has struggled with consistency this season, but has been playing more effectively as of late. Frye is averaging 10.7 points and 6.2 boards per game. Rookie Markieff Morris has provided solid numbers off the Suns’ bench, contributing 7.0 points and 4.3 boards in 18.7 minutes per game.
Backcourt: The Suns’ backcourt still runs through veteran Steve Nash. The 38-year-old is refusing to fall to Father Time and is having an incredible year, especially this late in his career. The 2012 All-Star is averaging 12.8 points and 11.2 assists per game, which leads the league. Sessions will have a tough assignment tonight in trying to stop Nash. Former Laker Shannon Brown will replace the vacancy left on the Suns starting lineup due to Hill’s absence. Brown has stepped up his game as of late, averaging 16.5 points in the last six games filling in for Hill. Overall, Brown is averaging 9.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Reserve Michael Redd has struggled on the court at times, but can show signs of what he was able to do a couple of seasons ago. Redd is averaging 7.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.
Keys to a Lakers’ Victory:
There are two ways for the Lakers to ensure a balanced offense. First, they need to move the ball for the entire game. Since acquiring Ramon Sessions ball movement has increased, but it doesn’t occur at a consistent basis for all 48 minutes. Secondly, the stats sheet should be balanced at the end of the game. As the regular season dwindles down, the Lakers will want to rest their stars, especially Kobe Bryant, a little more if possible. If it works out, expect to see the reserves play more minutes as the Lakers are playing a back-to-back and with the slight injuries to Bynum, Bryant and Sessions.
The Lakers have had difficulty in securing the ball all season long. In fact, the Lakers have averaged 17.7 turnovers against the Suns in three games this season. This has led to points off turnovers that the Lakers cannot afford as they still struggle to get back on defense as a team. The Lakers need to limit their turnovers in order to keep the ball out of the hands of Nash on the break.
Don’t Blow the Lead
The Lakers have developed a habit this season of blowing the lead in the second half. The team, especially the second unit, needs to start closing games. Easier said than done, right? However, in order to prepare for the playoffs the team needs to have the ability to close out opponents when the time is right.
Los Angeles Lakers (35-21) at Phoenix Suns (28-27)
7:00 PM PST, April 7, 2012
U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: KCAL, NBALP
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Shannon Brown
SF: Jared Dudley
PF: Channing Frye
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Reserves: G Michael Redd, F Markieff Morris
Suns Injury List: F Grant Hill (medial meniscus tear): Out