Sans Kobe, the Lakers bench took care of business and trounced the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night. The team will not have any time to relish in victory since they have a back-to-back game on the road tonight in Phoenix.[GET $5 FREE WHEN YOU ENTER EARLY FOR SPORTSBOOK’S $100,000 BRACKET CHALLENGE]
This has the makings of a classic trap game. The Suns are trudging through a four game losing streak, but are returning to their home fans after a hapless road trip. Meanwhile the Lakers are coming off of two hard fought wins without their star Kobe Bryant.
Will Kobe return? Will the Lakers take the Suns seriously? In a back-to-back, will the Lakers age catch up to them? Ideally the answers to these questions in order are yes, yes and no. As the season’s end looms near, let’s hope the Lakers avoid complacency and come away with a much needed win against a sub-.500 team.
Frontcourt: There’s no nice way to say it. The Suns are in full out tank mode. They have ditched four of their five regular starters and are starting a pair of twins. Need I say more? The Morris twins have become the number one marketing ploy for the Suns organization who seems completely content with improving their lottery chances this June. Their starting center is 16 year veteran Jermaine O’Neal who has struggled to stay healthy since 2004. As a starter Jermaine is averaging a respectable 15.0 points, 6.5 boards and 1.5 blocks. Dwight Howard should have the clear advantage against an aging O’Neal.
Off the bench the Suns have rotated in Beasley who is a great offensive weapon but a slack defender and Luis Scola whose inconsistent season has befuddled coaches and fans alike. Of the two, Beasley is the most dangerous since he can get on a hot streak and torch opponents. Against the Lakers Beasley is averaging 19.7 ppg.
Backcourt: Goran Dragic is the heir apparent to Steve Nash and seems to be the point guard of the future for the Suns going forward. Dragic idolized Nash while growing up in Yugoslavia and apprenticed under him for three seasons so it’s fitting that he is following in Nash’s footsteps. He leads the team with 14.1 points and 6.9 assists and is the only regular starter in the Suns line-up. At the two, the Suns have been starting Wes Johnson in lieu of Jared Dudley. Johnson has yet to live up to his number four overall draft potential.
Former starter Dudley is a deep ball threat who averages 1.4 threes a game on 38.9 percent shooting and 11.2 points. Disappointingly for the Suns front office, Dudley seems to have reached his ceiling and hasn’t shown much growth since his emergence three seasons ago. On the flip side, a pleasant surprise for the Suns this season has been the emergence of P.J. Tucker as a defensive stopper; he’s one of the better on-ball defenders in the league. If Kobe plays tonight expect him to be limited. Even without Kobe there is no reason that Nash, Meeks and Blake shouldn’t be able to outplay the Suns backcourt.
Key to Lakers’ Victory:
Steve and Antawn – Since Kobe went down with injury the bench has picked up the slack and carried the team to victory for two consecutive nights. When I refer to “the bench” I really mean Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison. These two have combined for 78 points and 18 threes in the past two games! Steve and Antawn’s performances will be paramount to the continued success of the Lakers through the end of the season and beyond. While no one expects them to keep hitting threes at this rate, if they even contribute half of that per night then they could provide a much needed boost.
Consistent Defensive Intensity – Last night it took the Lakers three quarters to finally gain the upper hand on the Kings. After a great defensive effort in Indiana the Lakers regressed on Sunday night and played slack defense in the first half. Giving credit where credit is due, the Lakers picked up the intensity after halftime and closed the game out on a high note. The Lakers need to play tough nosed defense from the get-go on the road against a below average opponent like the Suns. I’d hate to see the Lakers allow the Suns to score 55+ points in the first half. For reference the Suns are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA with a 97.9 OffRtg which means they only score 97.9 points per 100 possessions. Only the Bobcats and Wizards rank below them in this statistic.
Los Angeles Lakers (36-32) at Phoenix Suns (22-45)
7:00 PM PST, March 18, 2013
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: TWC Sportsnet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Wes Johnson
SF: Marcus Morris
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Jermaine O’Neal
Key Reserves: F: Michael Beasley GF: P.J. Tucker GF: Jared Dudley F/C: Luis Scola