The Lakers have lost four straight games and are looking to get back on track on the road against a very talented Suns team. Kobe Bryant is expected to rest tonight and regardless of the outcome, the Lakers’ young players will need to take advantage of the increased burn they’ll get tonight. The Lakers sans Kobe have been wildly inconsistent this season, but they have shown flashes of brilliant offensive execution at times and building team chemistry should be the biggest goal in what is likely to be a consecutive lottery-bound season.
Frontcourt: In his second season, the former fifth overall pick out of Maryland, Alex Len, has really started to come into his own. He has usurped Miles Plumlee for the starting center job and has performed very well as of late. In his last five games, Len has put up averages of 9.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in a mere 29.2 minutes. Though Len isn’t a particularly polished defender, he is a legitimate seven footer and should change his share of shots in tonight’s game.
At power forward, Markieff Morris has also carved out a nice role for himself in the league. As a Kansas Jayhawk, he largely played under the shadow of his brother Marcus. However, Markieff has been a much better pro, as he is more of a specialist who is a better defender and three point shooter as opposed to the jack of all trades, master of none type of player that Marcus is. That said, both Morris brothers are a big part of the Suns’ rotation and are both very capable scorers. Markieff himself just dropped 35 points against the Cavaliers a few games ago, which is bad news since Ed Davis may have some trouble with his quickness..
P.J. Tucker will matchup with Wesley Johnson at small forward. He is primarily a defensive specialist, but can contribute offensively as a fourth or fifth option. With Kobe out tonight and the Lakers lacking a go-to threat, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek may opt to leave Tucker on the bench for some stretches in favor of playing three guards.
Backcourt: When it comes to backcourt depth, the Suns are absolutely stacked. Eric Bledsoe starts at point guard and can do a little bit of everything. Despite standing just 6’ 1”, he holds averages of 5.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. In terms of sheer athleticism, Bledsoe is in the upper echelon of NBA point guards. He is a two way point guard that will give Jeremy Lin trouble on both ends of the floor.
Goran Dragic starts next to Bledsoe despite being a natural point guard. He has adapted very well to not having the ball in his hands all the time and has overcome the shooting woes that plagued him early in the season. He is the Suns’ leading scorer and is averaging 18.0 points on 56.3% shooting over his last five. As a setup man, he is very capable as he backed up Steve Nash early in his career. Fortunately, the Lakers shouldn’t have to worry too much about this part of his game as his opportunities are few and far between with the way this Suns team is constructed.
The Suns deep backcourt features another pair of guard in Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green. Both players can score in bunches and are a big part of the Suns’ offensive gameplan. They may get some extended run tonight against a Lakers team that lacks an every possession perimeter threat with Kobe Bryant resting. Both players can get their offense going at any time and the Lakers will likely struggle dealing with their combination of speed and shooting ability.
Keys to Victory:
Keep Phoenix’s Guards in Check: It goes without saying that slowing down Bledsoe and Dragic will be crucial to winning tonight’s game as they are a top five backcourt in the NBA. However, the second unit guards for the Suns are fantastic offensive players themselves. Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young will have their work cut out for them as they’ll face a pair of guards that can start for any number of teams in the league.
Get Swaggy P Going: Lakers fans are fully aware of Nick Young’s prolonged shooting slump. He put together a nice outing against the Jazz last Friday scoring 22 points, but is still shooting a miserable 26.3% over his last five and 36.9% on the season. With Kobe resting tonight, Nick Young will have to find his stroke as he will be the Lakers’ most capable one-on-one scorer. He will need to pick up where he left off against the Jazz if the Lakers are going to keep it competitive tonight.
Play Inside Out: With the talent on the Suns being so guard-heavy, head coach Jeff Hornacek enjoys deploying small lineups whenever possible. The Lakers will need to throw the ball in the paint to take advantage of size mismatches whenever possible. At the very least, it should result in a handful of easy buckets and at best, it should dissuade Hornacek from playing his three point guards together.
Los Angeles Lakers (12-29) at Phoenix Suns (24-18)
7:00 PM PST, January 19, 2015
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Goran Dragic
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Alex Len
Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Thomas, SG: Gerald Green, PF: Marcus Morris, C: Brandan Wright
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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