Here I thought the outcome of the game was decided on the court.
I have spent the better part of the last week reading from Lakers fans about how the “experts” saying the Suns have a shot in their Western Conference Finals matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers is a joke.
I have seen such in depth analysis from Lakers fans as:
We are taller, we have Kobe Bryant, and we are the Lakers.
That is all well and good, and all of those are, well points, but none of them ring true to the essence of a basketball game.
The Lakers have demonstrated throughout the regular season, and at times in the playoffs that they are, without a doubt, the most talented team in the NBA. They have the second best player on the entire planet in Kobe Bryant, Lakers fans Lebron is still the most talented player in the league, he just plays on a team full of garbage, but that is another rant for another day. They possess players that can also be effective when Mr. Bryant is not; Pau Gasol, and Andrew “Glass Man” Bynum. They have role players that thrive in their given roles; Ron Artest on defense, Lamar Odom offs the bench. They have veteran leadership that allows for them not to get fazed or flustered in the face of adversity; Derek Fisher, Kobe, and of course Phil Jackson.
Looking at that information, you would think the NBA Finals would be without question in their future, many Lakers fans believe this series to be nothing more than a pit stop on their way to another championship showdown.
Well, I have news for Lakers fans, as well as NBA fans everywhere:
THIS IS NOT THE 2005-2007 SUNS!
They don’t have Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion fighting over alpha dog status.
They don’t have to worry about Marion’s inability to create his own shot, ask Lebron about that with Antawn Jamison.
They don’t have Mike D’Antoni playing six or seven players only and never having a care about defense.
No, this Suns team is a team that has had the best record in the Western Conference since the All-Star break. This is a Suns team who plays with a sense of urgency and purpose that truly has not been seen by Suns fans since the 93’ season.
Are the Suns a dominating defensive team, hell no. Can they get stops in crunch time situations, yes. Therein lays the difference between the aforementioned Suns teams and this current version. They are more efficient on offense, and play defense with a sense of urgency.
Anyways, on to what this is really about, a breakdown of the matchups so I can have it on record when the Suns win this series in 6 that I predicted as such. Trust me, I will be around for the crow if they get beat in 4 or 5 games.
PG’s - I have seen it written in many of places that Steve Nash gives up on the defensive end just as much as he gets on the offensive end. While that may be true against PG’s such as Tony Parker, Deron Williams and Chris Paul, Derek Fisher is none of those guys.
Fisher is a shell of his former self, but can still do a couple of things well for the Lakers.
1. He can still hit the open shot when given the opportunity.
2. He knows the triangle like the back of his hand.
For the Suns to have a shot Steve Nash needs to cut off all clean Fisher looks from behind the arc and make him put the ball on the floor. Fish has been hesitant to do that all season long, and if he does, the Lakers are not getting the open three’s they need to keep the defense honest.
SG’s - Kobe Bryant is the best player on the floor for either side no question about it. The intriguing part becomes, does Jason Richardson continue to play well enough to keep this match up close.
Richardson has been shooting lights out in the playoffs, and finally resembles the player that is earning $13+ million a year in salary.
Can he keep his ppg over 20 in this series to keep the advantage from being too great in Bryant’s favor?
As much as Suns/Lakers fans want to fawn over their own players, both sides need to understand the importance of this matchup. If Richardson is not effective offensively, that means the Suns are not as efficient as they need to be, and when that happens, well, we get results like games 1 and 4 against the Trail Blazers.
On the flip side, if the Suns are able to goad Kobe Bryant into reverting back to gunner mode, the Suns will have won the battle, no matter what the box scores say. Kobe Bryant taking over 22 shots a game is a good thing for the Suns and is one of the keys to a Suns victory.
SF’s - Here is where it gets interesting. Lakers fans like to think that because Ron Artest is younger and has a reputation as a good defender he has an advantage over Grant Hill.
I couldn’t disagree more, and neither could the stats:
Hill- PER: 14.2 Defensive rating: 104
Artest- PER: 10 Defensive Rating: 110
So who is having the better playoffs?
Oh but wait, the excuse for Lakers fans is that Grant Hill didn’t have tough defensive assignments while Ron Artest had to defend Kevin Durant. So that means that his PER is 4 points lower while his defensive rating is 6 points higher?
Now, unlike Lakers fans, I can take off my homer glasses and see that Ron Artest cannot be discounted, the way Grant Hill has been, so I would call this a slight advantage Suns, but going in I will say.
PF’s - The most important players on both sides of the ledger entering this playoff series. Pau Gasol has to continue to be a 1a type option for the Lakers for them to succeed. When Pau is engaged and effective, the Lakers are nearly unbeatable. He has all the tools necessary to be a dominant player, and when given the chance this post season, he has been.
On the flip side, we have the enigma known as Amar’e Stoudemire. Can Amar’e keep himself in check and continue to rebound and defend the way he did in the Spurs series? Will he continue to work his offense out through the flow of the game, as opposed to forcing it like he did in the Blazers series?
Talent wise this is a toss-up, but through these playoffs Pau has been more effective and efficient, so I give the Lakers the advantage here.
C’s - Glass Man v Robin Lopez is our last look through the starters. And basically this matchup is a wash for the simple fact we don’t know what we will get from either player. If Bynum is healthy and ready to play, which from all accounts I have read he is not then he gets the nod here. But if he continues to be ineffective like he was in games 3 and 4 against the Jazz, this pairing becomes a wash until we see how Lopez is feeling.
I will give an ever so slight lean to the Lakers in this matchup, but I would not be shocked if a healthy Robin Lopez is more effective than an often injured Andrew Bynum.
Advantage: Slight Lakers
Bench : This has to be my favorite part of this series. I have read numerous takes from the Lakers side about how this will be the series where the Lakers bench becomes involved and engaged again.
My question is, why? Why would the Lakers bench, that has been dreadful all season long, all of a sudden bust out against what is thought of by many to be the best bench in the NBA?
The Suns have a decided advantage here, and they use it to push waves at teams. The Suns bench is a collection of players that use not only their skill, but use their energy to overwhelm many teams. This bench is what most teams would want in a bench. They come in, give the starters 5-6 mins of game time off, and do it while playing nasty, physical ball and leaving it all out on the floor.
The Suns biggest advantage in the playoffs so far has been the play of their bench, and I see that trend continuing against the Lakers.
Coaching - This is clearly a matchup of one of the greats vs a guy that is finally getting an opportunity to work with a good team. To say that Phil Jackson has the advantage would be an understatement, but to act as though Alvin Gentry will cost his team games is ludicrous.
Advantage : Lakers
Overall, this series will have everything you could want. It has two of the best perimeter players in the NBA today in Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.
It has the makings of being a classic, with two of the more skilled big men in the league in Amar’e Stoudemire and Pau Gasol.
Are the Lakers the club with superior talent? Of course they are, but that talent pool is much shallower than the depth the Suns possess.
The Lakers are the big brother the Suns have never been able to beat when it matters. And every time the Suns think they are moving ahead, the Lakers seem to race right by.
Well, one man thinks this is the year the Suns slay the beast, but maybe my homer goggles are just blinding me.