Off to their worst start in over 50 years, the Lakers look to right the ship tonight against the visiting Suns. Opening the season with a pair of back-to-backs, the brutal schedule for the Lakers has finally slowed down some. They will have had a full two days of rest before tonight’s contest and will be looking to avenge a twenty point loss against the Suns to even the season series. As for the Suns, they followed up an early season surprise win against the Spurs by getting blown out by the struggling Jazz. As a 48 win team last season that found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, the Suns will be determined not to let another winnable game get away from them.
Frontcourt: Although still a serviceable center, Miles Plumlee has not enjoyed the same robust production from last season through the first three games. That said, he remains a very athletic and active player that the Lakers front line needs to be aware of at all times. He has been foul prone thus far, racking up an average of 3.3 fouls in 21 minutes per game. Former fifth overall pick, Alex Len, will split time with Plumlee at the five. Len is a true seven footer and a better rim protector. He is enjoying a fine season thus far and should push Plumlee for the starting job throughout the year.
P.J. Tucker returns from a three game suspension in tonight’s game. The Suns locked him up for three years over the summer as he was a key piece in last year’s 48 win campaign. He is the Suns’ best wing defender and will likely spend the bulk of his time guarding Kobe Bryant.
Marcus and Markieff Morris will spend time at both forward spots. However, with P.J. Tucker’s return from suspension, Marcus may be the odd man out of the starting lineup. Although Marcus was the better player in college, Markieff has adapted to the league far better as a reliable defender and rebounder. He has struggled with his long range shooting early in the season, but is more than capable of stretching the floor. Regardless of how Tucker gets integrated into the rotation, both Morris twins are critical to the Suns’ success, as they are averaging a combined 27.3 points per game through the first three.
Backcourt: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic were the surprise backcourt of last season. Despite both having played almost exclusively as point guards, they each proved to be effective off-the-ball players, allowing them to have tremendous statistical seasons. This season, they have each gotten off to slow starts, averaging an identical (and paltry) 12.7 points per game. Dragic has struggled shooting the ball and getting his teammates involved, having not made a trey this season and dishing out just four dimes in three games. Similarly, Bledsoe is shooting a poor percentage, but has continued to stuff the stat sheet. Living up to his Mini-LeBron nickname, Bledsoe has chipped in averages of 6.3 boards, 6.7 dimes, 1.0 steals, and an incredible 0.7 blocks.
The Suns have no shortage of high quality guards as Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green are always ready to have their numbers called. The sign-and-trade of Thomas over the summer rose a few eyebrows as he is yet another point guard. However, both Bledsoe and Dragic are capable of playing off the ball and Thomas really gives the Suns a different look offensively. He will always struggle defensively at 5’9”, but is able to get into the lane and wreak havoc on defenses at will while keeping them honest by knocking down shots from deep. In last week’s game, he carved up the Lakers defense, scoring 23 points on nine for eleven shooting (five of seven from deep).
Keys to Victory:
Perimeter Defense: The Suns lineup features a collection of guards that can flat out play. The onus will be on the Lakers perimeter defenders to keep these guards out of the paint where they can collapse defenses. Since Kobe continues to expend inordinate amounts of energy on offense, Byron Scott should have the younger guys such as Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, and Wayne Ellington check Phoenix’s quick guards. Jeremy Lin will also need to bring his A game defensively as he will be matched up with a superb offensive player, be it Dragic, Bledsoe, or Thomas, for the duration of the game.
Second Unit Play: Depth is one of the major strengths of this Suns team, so I don’t have any illusions about the Lakers second unit faring particularly well. That being said, playing this stacked Suns second unit to a stalemate during stretches in the second and fourth quarters will be a critical part of the Lakers getting that elusive win tonight.
Three Point Shooting: The Lakers have struggled from beyond the arc this season, shooting just 31.6 percent through their first four games. Three point shooting will be important tonight as Phoenix deploys so many small guards. The Lakers’ bigger wings should be able to get their share of good looks by simply shooting over the smaller defenders. If they are able to make a healthy percentage of these looks early, they will force Suns coach Jeff Hornacek into making tough offense-defense substitution decisions.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 6.5-underdogs to the Suns according to Sportsbook.ag.
Phoenix Suns (2-1) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-4)
7:30 PM PST, November 4, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
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: Miles Plumlee
Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Thomas, SG: Gerald Green, PF: Marcus Morris, C: Alex Len
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
Laker Practice Report: Ryan Kelly Probable For Return Against Suns