Cross-Court: Sundown

Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles

It took 3 years but a rematch between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns has finally arrived! In 2006 and 2007, the Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round consecutively. Both early exits left a really sour taste in Kobe Bryant which led to his demand for the front office to bring in better help or trade him.

That was a summer Laker fans will never forget. Of course, things came out well for Lakers. They started by signing Derek Fisher after his request for a release to focus on his daughter was granted by Utah. Later, they made a trade for Pau Gasol and the Lakers never looked back.

Three consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals and an impending third trip back to the NBA Finals for a team the Suns thought was easy to beat 3 years ago. Interestingly enough, Phoenix is 3-9 against the Lakers in the regular season since 2007.

Regular season records may mean nothing in the playoffs, but no one can deny that the Lakers pose more problems for the Suns than the other way around. Phoenix may have worked their way back to the Western Conference Finals and looks to be unstoppable after sweeping one of the two NBA Finals staples this decade to earn their spot in this series. But don’t let that fool you.

The Suns faced a Spurs team that has become too old and too young to do much of anything in the playoffs. The Spurs’ interior defense rested soley on Tim Duncan. We’ve all seen how inconsistent Duncan on D had been this year. As for their perimeter defense, the Spurs lack a perimeter stopper.

San Antonio did eliminate the new-look Mavs team in the first round, but we’re talking about a Dallas team that’s notorious for choking in the post-season. So it didn’t matter who they faced in the first round.

Phoenix has yet to face a team that can dominate on offense and defense as good as the Lakers can. Need I mention the defending champs also have the size, players, coach, system, versatility, and experience to boot?

The Suns may be tops in 3-point field goals, but the Lakers are the best team at defending them.

As for the Lakers, they’re used to facing an undersized, up-and-down team with a good point guard and could play “intense” defense. Besides, who will the Suns put on Kobe, Pau, Andrew, Ron, and Lamar? The more players Phoenix put on any one player for the Lakers makes their defense even weaker. Both the Thunder and the Jazz tried that and how did it work out for them?

But the less players the Suns put on anybody, the less chances they have at beating the Lakers. So yes, Phoenix will have to pick their poison in this series.

And don’t say Steve Nash has the advantage over Derek Fisher. That’s what everybody thought about Deron Williams. Look what happened to him and his team.

Fish has grown tired of everybody calling him too old or a defensive liability. This is the final year of his contract and would love nothing more than end his illustrious career with the Lakers. So he will make sure Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak won’t find it too easy not to keep him over the summer by playing his heart out from here on out regardless who he faces.

As for Amar’e Stoudamire, how often has he dominated either Pau or Andrew on either basket? Gasol has no problem matching up with him. Stoudamire still relies heavily on Nash’s ability to give him the ball. He also relies on his mid-range jumpshot too often when nothing is working for him inside. And how successful can he get at sinking those 15-footers when a 7-foot player with a 7.5-foot wingspan is in his face? Even Lamar Odom (who is actually taller than Stoudamire) is able to play good defense on him because, again, of his long wingspan.

Above all, who is not only willing but capable to defend Kobe who will no doubt be on a mission to destroy the Suns? Unless that player is a bonafide defender, Bryant will just toy with anybody Phoenix puts on him. Alvin Gentry may be a defensive-minded coach, but he’s no Nate McMillan.

The Laker bench will be alright in this series, I think. Phil Jackson is a master of working out his rotation and for making his reserves focus more on what they need to do each game. Besides, what team in the playoffs whose reserves didn’t play hard against them?

As long as the Lakers play hard, play smart, and play for one another on both ends of the floor, I don’t see this series going very far at all.

Lakers in 5!