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Preview: Lakers vs. Suns

For several weeks now, Steve Nash has been reiterating to the media that the Lakers (36-32) just need time together on the floor to develop that team chemistry to turn the season around. So far, he's right.

Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have won 11 of their last 14 games. And if you're counting since their team meeting in Memphis back in January, they're a cool 18-7.

But if there's a better proof to their improvement as a team, they have not lost a game since losing Kobe Bryant to a severe ankle sprain. The Lakers will look to continue that streak tonight against the Phoenix Suns (22-45) on the road.

It isn't just Nash and Dwight Howard stepping up their game to compensate for Bryant's injury. In fact, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake have been the pleasant surprise for the team.

In the last 2 games, Metta is averaging 20.5 points (on 64% from the floor and 43% from distance), 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks per game. Blake is getting 17 points (on 61% shooting from the floor and on a blistering 64.3% clip from behind the arc), 7.5 assists, 2 steals and just 2 turnovers a game.

Led by Blake, the bench has been producing 40 points per outing in the last 2 games coming in to tonight's matchup. They're averaging 27 points per game (27th) for the year.

While the sun is rising lately for the Lakers, it's been setting for Phoenix the entire season.

The Suns have lost 9 of their last 13 games since the All-Star break and are just 15-17 at home for the year, including 3-2 in their last 5 games at the US Airways Center. But the Lakers haven't really found that much success in Phoenix having lost 3 of their last 5 meetings with the Suns.

Nash used to be biggest problem for the Lakers in the past. Now, that title belongs to Michael Beasley.

Beasley is averaging 19.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game versus the Lakers this season. In their win at home on Jan. 30, Beasley led all scorers with 27 points on 12-out-of 20 shooting. His size, quickness and ability to shoot the ball have been difficult for the Lakers defense to contain. But if it's not him doing the damage for the Suns, it's teammate Luis Scola on the block.

Since his days as a Rocket, Scola has always been a nuisance for the Lakers. He's averaging 15 points and 7.5 boards a game against L.A. this year. But with Marcin Gortat out with a sprained right foot, he'll be assigned to battle with Howard in the post.

Howard is averaging 15.3 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks an outing versus the Suns this season. But in the last 10 games, he's been getting 16.9 points, 15.4 boards and 3.1 blocks on average. Against the smaller and slower Scola, Dwight should have another field day at the office.

This is the 4th and final meeting of the season for these 2 teams with the Lakers looking to take the series, 3-1. The Lakers haven't won at the US Airways Center since Jan. 5, 2011.

Matchup of the Game

Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic: This is Nash's return visit in Phoenix this season. His previous turnout wasn't exactly a game to remember for Steve getting just 2 assists and 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from deep. Nash will probably not do anything too special tonight but expect him to have a better game than last time he was back in town. On the flip side, Dragic will need to counter Nash's every move if they are to beat the Lakers at home for the 2nd time in a row. Dragic is averaging 13 points and 7 assists versus L.A. this year, so he certainly has the ability to lead his team…if Nash allows it.

Keys to the Game

> Limit Points in the Paint: The Suns are ranked 26th in the league in scoring in the paint averaging 39.2 points a game. But against the Lakers, they are getting a ridiculous 50.7 per game average. The blame doesn't fall on Dwight but the team's transition defense and poor effort to help him challenge shots in the paint. Unless the Lakers gets hot from outside and maintain that the entire game, they will have to really limit the Suns up-and-down attack tonight.

> Dominate the Paint: Without Gortat, Phoenix won't have the size to defend Howard in the block. The offense will be a lot smoother and winning easier if the Lakers continue to go inside to Dwight first — even if the Suns do go with a zone defense. And they will.

> 2nd Unit: The Lakers probably would not have won their last 2 games without the production of Blake and Antawn Jamison off the bench. The Suns may be the 2nd worst team in the west, but that doesn't mean the Lakers won't need the hot streak both players have put on lately.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Steve Blake: The confidence for Blake has been sky high these days. His shooting, defense and ability to direct the offense have been so invaluable for the Lakers in their run to make it to the 8th spot. Look for that to keep going tonight.

SUNS: Jermaine O'Neal: The former 6-time All-Star has been a nice addition to the Suns. He's averaging 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks the last 10 games. Against the Lakers this year, he has a decent 12 points and 9 boards average coming off the bench. With those numbers, don't be surprised to see him starting tonight opposite Howard.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. (PST)
US Airways Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Kobe Bryant (ankle), Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are out.

SUNS: Channing Frye (heart) and Marcin Gortat (foot) are out.

INJURY UPDATE – Pau Gasol: Pau had soreness on his surgically repaired left foot after participating in a 2-on-2 drill during Saturday's practice. The unexpected setback has pushed Gasol's return probably next game on Friday versus the Wizards.
 

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Preview: Lakers vs. Suns

The Lakers (24-28) return home after finishing a 4-3 effort in their longest road trip of the season. That road trip started in a shocking 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns (17-35), a team that was and still at the bottom of the Western Conference. Needless to say, the purple and gold are looking for some payback tonight.

The last 11 days away from Los Angeles didn't go through without some drama. A large part of that drama has been directed at Dwight Howard by everyone it seems. His heart and focus have been questioned due to his lack of sense of urgency when it comes to ignoring his sore shoulder and healing back to help the team win as much games as possible to get to the playoffs.

With 30 games left (including tonight), the Lakers are still 3 and a half games back of the 8th seed Rockets and a game and a half behind 9th place Trailblazers. Houston is playing pretty well right now having won 7 of their last 10 games. If L.A. is to catch them, they will need to win all of their remaining games at Staples Center.

Why? That's because out of the 30 games left in the regular season, 14 are on the road. Most people believe that a 44-38 finish will not bode well for the Lakers. Or if the Lakers lose 10 more games from here on out, they won't make it to the playoffs. I agree. But that is the least of their problems right now.

If we learn anything from this team this season is that the Lakers badly need to establish identity on both ends of the floor. Team chemistry is often blamed for the losses, but you can't have that unless the players have a foundation to follow each game. They started to develop that with Kobe Bryant being the facilitator, but Pau Gasol's injury stopped the rhythm to progress in that direction. Now, they have to start a new one with Dwight.

And if the Lakers are to win at least 20 of the next 30 games, they better ignore every nonsense that's been going on all year long and just concentrate on basketball beginning with Phoenix.

Just how bad are the Suns? Since beating the Lakers at home, they have dropped 5 of their next 6 games losing by an average of 19.6 points. They are in the bottom half of nearly every stat category in the league, including 21st on offense (94.8 PPG) and 22nd on defense (allowing 100 PPG). Of course, those numbers didn't help the Lakers last time. But losing tonight to this team again should say a lot about what's going to happen the rest of the season for the Lakers.

This is the 3rd of 4 meetings versus the Suns with the final one coming in March 18 at the US Airways Center. These teams split last season's series at 2 apiece by winning in their home floor. The Lakers haven't lost to the Suns at Staples Center since Nov. 14, 2010.

UPDATE: According to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell, Earl Clark was sent to get an MRI on his right foot.

 

Matchup of the Game

Marcin Gortat vs. Dwight Howard: Gortat leads the Suns in rebounding (8.7 RPG) and blocks (1.7 BPG). If Howard is tired of all the criticisms and really honest about doing whatever it takes to help the Lakers win, he has to start dominating opposing centers like Gortat. He is playing with a torn labrum, but he hasn't been favoring that right shoulder of his that much since returning to action against the Celtics. That means that he can and is playing through the pain a lot better now.

Keys to the Game

> Dominate: Come out of the locker room with an intent to punish the Suns. Phoenix is one of the worse teams in the NBA for a lot of reasons. They lack size. They have no inside game. They don't have superstars. And they could hardly stop anybody from scoring. The Lakers have to exploit that from the get-go.

> Rebounding: Not sure why Howard gets the brunt of all the negativities when it comes to the Lakers rebounding the ball. When was the last time a team win a lot of games with only one player grabbing all of the missed shots?

> Metta World Peace: He hasn't shot any better than 44% since the Miami game at home. But more importantly, he hasn't been a force on defense since the Bulls game in Chicago when he got 3 blocks and 4 steals. That's because he's too concerned about his offense. Metta has to realize that his best contribution is on the defensive end for this team. The Lakers will need him to help stop Michael Beasley from having another good outing on offense.

Watch Out For

SUNS: Michael Beasley: He was one of the reasons why they beat the Lakers in Phoenix last time. He's been averaging 20.6 points on 51.4% shooting against the purple and gold so far this season. The Lakers have to find a way to contain him to keep him from becoming a factor tonight. Isn't that right, Metta?

LAKERS: Steve Nash: He had a disappointing game in his first visit in Phoenix getting 11 points and only 2 assists against the team that flat out told him he isn't coming back after keeping them relative for the last 8 years. Many thought he'd come out with a huge chip on his shoulder in that game. We might see that tonight.

Game Info

Tonight vs. Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Staples Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

SUNS: Channing Frye (enlarged heart) is out.

LAKER: Pau Gasol (foot) is out indefinitely. Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the season. Dwight Howard (shoulder) will most likely play.

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Preview: Lakers vs. Suns

These are not the same Lakers (20-25). Not even close. These Lakers are now playing as one. For each other. And best of all, they're playing with a passion and confidence Laker fans have not seen the entire season. But with all of the excitement of finally seeing this team play like a team, we have yet to see the Lakers translate everything they've shown us these past 3 games on the road.

The Lakers own a horrible record away from Staples Center at 5-15 and have lost their last 7 games in their purple jerseys. What makes tonight's matchup against the Phoenix Suns (15-30) a little unsettling is the Suns have plenty of guys who can shoot the ball from deep. That means that the floor will be spread for the Lakers defensively, which leaves a lot of space in the paint for players like Goran Dragic to operate on offense.

Tonight's game is the first of 7 straight road games of the annual "Grammy Tour" for the Lakers. If this team have really turned it around, these games will test how much they've learned to play for one another and then some. But the Lakers don't need any reminder of just how important it is now to pick up wins. There are only 37 games left in the season, and the Lakers have yet to even out their record before they can even take over the 8th spot in the west. So, the time for excuses have long been gone for them. It's now or never.

This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams with the next at Staples Center on Feb. 12. The Lakers won the last game back in November, 114-102. They split last season's series at 2 apiece with each team winning in their home floor. So, the Lakers are looking for their first win at the US Airways Center since Jan. 5, 2011. The Suns are 11-11 at home and have only won once in their building in their last 5 games.

NOTE: This is the first time Steve Nash is in Phoenix as a Laker.

Matchup of the Game

Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic: These guys are former teammates in Phoenix, so they are very familiar with each other's game. But Nash was still injured in the previous meeting. In that game, Dragic led the Suns with 22 points and 7 assists. He was getting shots in the paint and getting open 3-pointers in transition. Nash will have to take as much of those away to help the Lakers win their first road game in 8 tries. Then again, this is Steve's first trip back in Phoenix wearing the Lakers jersey. Who knows, maybe he has something in store for Suns fans tonight.

Keys to the Game

> Defense: The Suns are still a perimeter team. They live and die by their jumpshots, so the Lakers can't worry too much about defending the paint even in transition. Rotation has to be quick and transition defense smart.

> Rebounding: There will be plenty of jumpshots taken tonight by the Suns. The Lakers have to box out and rebound as a team if they also want to slow down the tempo of the game to a grind.

> Contain Dragic: This guy will probe and attack the paint just to get the defense collapsing. Kobe Bryant might guard him but the game plan is still not allowing Dragic control the game for Phoenix.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Metta World Peace: He wasn't much of a factor against the Hornets last night, but he's been feasting on small teams the entire season. He had 22 points and 3 steals in the previous game versus the Suns due to Dwight Howard getting all of the attention inside and defending guys who have no handles. Look for him to be a major headache for Phoenix again.

SUNS: Luis Scola: This guy isn't the most athletic or explosive bigman in the NBA, but he's smart and tenacious in the post and around the boards. Metta might end up defending him tonight instead of Earl Clark, so we'll see how effective he'll be offensively.

Game Info

Tonight @ Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
US Airways Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the rest of the season.

SUNS: Channing Frye (enlarged heart) is out.

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Preview: Lakers vs. Suns

The atmosphere for Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns (1-1) at the US Airways Center is going to be electric and filled with hostillity towards the visiting 2-time defending champs, the L.A. Lakers (1-0). This game is the home opener for the Suns, but none of their fans care about it as much as wanting some reprimand for having their team eliminated in 6 games from last year’s Western Conference Finals at the hands of the Lakers. You can also bet the Suns felt like they’ve waited too long for this opportunity to show the Lakers that the road to the Finals could very well make a stop in Phoenix again this season.

The Suns were one of the teams over the summer that made some significant changes in their roster. They allowed Amare Stoudamire walk all the way to the Big Apple. They traded super-quick Leandro Barbosa to Toronto for versatile Hedo Turkoglu and dynamic Josh Childress. And finally, made a deal with Chicago to sign-and-trade athletic Hakim Warrick over to them in exchange for a second-rounder next season.

But, would all the changes compensate for what they lost in Stoudamire? There’s really only one answer to that question. If the Suns actually get to the Finals without Amare, then the answer is yes.

The Lakers are coming off of their opening night’s come-from-behind victory over Houston on Tuesday. Lack of energy, poor shooting and weak defense almost cost them the game hadn’t Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Lamar Odom pulled their resources together to snatch the win away from the Rockets.

As I touched upon in my previous post, it won’t be easy for the Lakers to develop (if at all) any rhythm to their game until Kobe Bryant gets his form back and gets steady minutes and until Andrew Bynum returns to the starting lineup. But, that doesn’t mean they can use that as a readily excuse each time they come out of the locker room flat and uninspired for much of the game. I don’t care how good of a team the Lakers are. It’s just impossible to win a whole lot of games always chasing teams from behind.

With Kobe’s minutes still being monitored, other guys not name Gasol will need to step-up big again. The Suns play with infinitely more confidence and swagger at home than they do on the road. Tack in their “love” of the Lakers, and you can see the game can easily favor whichever team can do a better job of sustaining the other’s attack.

Phoenix may no longer have a scorer from the post, but you just can’t easily count out a team led by Steve Nash. Last year, the Suns were one of the best teams at home posting a 32-9 record. But that was with Stoudamire in the post. Nash’s health this season is going to be the most imporant issue for the Suns because without him this team isn’t going anywhere.

Matchup of the Game

Lamar Odom vs. Hedo Turkoglu: Both are versatile 6′ 10″ guys who can put the ball on the floor from end to end. Hedo is the better shooter, but Lamar is the better rebounder and defender. Turkoglu will try to stretch the floor for the Suns with his 3-point shooting and get Odom in foul trouble with pumpfakes and drives to the basket. But, Odom should have no problem pushing the ball in transition, rebound or even get to the basket against Hedo.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense:

1. Dominate the Paint: Robin Lopez may have improved since his rookie year and is the biggest guy for the Sun. But, there’s no way he can stop Pau enough in the paint without getting into foul trouble early. Lopez still relies on his shot-blocking as his premier defensive repertoire, so he’ll go for those slight pumpfakes and nifty footwork moves by Gasol. Look for Odom, Kobe, Derrick Caracter and Ron Artest to use their timeshare in the post as well.
2. Shoot well from the perimeter: It’s hard to dominate the paint when there’s constantly extra defenders coming in at your post-players. So, the Lakers can’t afford to shoot below 40% (especially their bench) or the Suns could have their way on the defensive end.
3. Control tempo: Phoenix may or may not employ that 2-3 zone defense diet they gave the Lakers in last year’s WC Finals. But whatever defense the Lakers face Friday night, they have to fight the tempation of playing the up-and-down tempo the Suns will try to force them into. If the Lakers keep this a halfcourt affair for much of the game, they shouldn’t have much trouble coming out of the desert victorious. The Suns struggle against a team with a lot of options on offense. They gave up 144 points to Denver, a team with no true threat in the post, in their first game of the season. So if the Lakers can attack from the inside and outside, the Suns are kaput.

Defense:

1. Energy: The Suns are a rambunctious group. You have to be if you’re a run-and-gun team, and Phoenix has never been more than that type of a team now that they’re without Amare. The Lakers can’t afford to be a step too slow in their rotations or man-defense or this game could really get out of hands very quick.
2. Clean-up the glass: Phoenix has a couple of guys in Hakim Warrick and Lopez who love to crash the boards regularly. The perimeter guys will also need to help out by putting a body on their man. The less people the Laker bigs have to contend with underneath the hoop the better.
3. Defend the arc: The Lakers were tops last season in 3-point field goal percentage defense. This is one of the games they will need to play like they’re the best in that department if they want to win this game. Whoever happens to defend Channing Frye when he comes off of the bench can’t afford to worry about helping out inside. Frye is too dangerous of a 3-point threat to be left out there in his comfort zone too long and too often. So, communication and rotation on defense is going to be monumental for the Lakers.

Game Info

Road Game: Friday, Oct. 29th at Phoenix Suns (US Airways Center) at 7:30 p.m. (PST). TV: K-CAL 9 (Los Angeles) / ESPN (nationally)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

Pau Gasol on the new-look Suns:

Preview: Lakers vs. Suns

After a marathon of a Saturday night game against Sacramento where they won in double-overtime, the Lakers (24-5) set their eyes on the Phoenix Suns (19-12) a team that started the season like gangbusters suddenly find themselves struggling. Well, at least, out on the road where they have dropped 7 straight games and are 4-6 their last ten games.

Phoenix has one of the best home records at 11-2, but the Lakers have beaten the Suns with no problems twice this year, including a 20-point spanking back in Dec. 6th. However, I don’t see this game going as easily as the previous two because of how the Lakers are playing lately.

It’s no secret the Lakers have reverted back to playing focused basketball when they need to instead of almost the entire 48-minutes. That and the possibility of Ron Artest might not be able to play tonight or how efficient will Kobe Bryant play even if he says his injured elbow is good enough to go. As for the bench? Well it looks like Shannon Brown is the only one worth salvaging among the rest of the secondary guards. He may not be consistent enough, but he sure gives it all every minute he’s on the floor. You can’t say the same for either Jordan Farmar or Sasha Vujacic.

Tonight’s matchup is another first of a back-to-back for the Lakers playing the Warriors tomorrow back home at Staples Center. But let’s get the job done against Phoenix first.

The Suns have the best run-and-gun team in the NBA putting up just over 109 points per game and are shooting .496% on the field and .425% from beyond the three-point line. They also average 23 assists per outing. Yet, they still can’t find an answer to their defense giving up 106 points on average.

I really would love to see the Lakers put forth a serious and consistent effort tonight because should this team completely go back to playing at the level or below their competition, i believe it would be too late for them to do anything about it. I really do. Sure, they might win the opening series of the playoffs but playing at 60% capacity at best will certainly not cut it in the post-season.

The keys for the Lakers tonight is just go out and do their business and disregard anything and everything else that may concern them. Rebound, box out, challenge shots, dive for loose balls, run the offense, play smart, take good shots, and everything else Phil Jackson and the coaching staff would say to them. I’m sure all of us Laker fans would just like to see some good basketball out of our team. Don’t you think?

Tip-off is at 6:00. TV: K-CAL9  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

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