Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have won eight of their first 10 NBA playoff games. The Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 in the first round and then swept the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Phoenix Suns won their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers in six games and in the second round they dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in just four games. By virtue of sweeping their second-round opponents both the Lakers and Suns earned a week to rest and prepare. Each team should expect the others “A” game in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Western Conference Finals. The team that gets four wins will move on to play the Eastern Conference Champion in the 2010 NBA Finals.
2010 NBA Western Conference Finals Schedule
Game 1: Monday, May 17, Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers, 6 p.m. PDT
Game 2: Wednesday, May 19, Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers, 6 p.m. PDT
Game 3: Sunday, May 23, Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns, 5:30 p.m. PDT
Game 4: Tuesday, May 25, Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns, 6 p.m. PDT
Game 5: Thursday, May 27, Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers, 6 p.m. PDT (if necessary)
Game 6: Saturday, May 29, Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns, 5:30 p.m. PDT (if necessary)
Game 7: Monday, May 31, Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers, 6 p.m. PDT (if necessary)
After missing the playoffs last season the Phoenix Suns stand between the Lakers and their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. In order to derail the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers the Suns will need to push the tempo and make a high percentage of their three-pointers. At 105.8 points per game Phoenix has the highest playoff scoring average of the remaining playoff teams. After 10 playoff games they are making 10 threes per game and shooting an amazing 41.7% (playoff leaders) beyond the arc. If the Suns can maintain this type of production from three-point land and play at their preferred pace they will make this an extremely competitive and interesting series.
For the Suns to really have a shot at defeating the Lakers they will have to find a way to compete with the Lakers’ twin towers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Suns, like the Utah Jazz before them, do not have enough big bodies to contend with the length of the Lakers’ frontline. The likely return of Robin Lopez to Phoenix’s lineup will be helpful. But he has not played since March 26th so it unlikely that he will have much of an impact on the series. If the Lakers exploit their size advantage inside this will be a difficult series for the Phoenix Suns.
If the Suns pack the paint to limit the effectiveness of Bynum and Gasol that will leave plenty of open space for a rested Kobe Bryant to simply pick and choose how to attack their defense. Phoenix will throw Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and anyone else they can at Bryant to try to slow him down. But Bryant has seen a multitude of defenses throughout his career and will find a way to exploit the weaknesses in whatever defensive schemes the Suns throw at him.
Just four wins separate the Los Angeles Lakers from the 2010 NBA Finals. If the Lakers control the tempo they will secure those four wins. The first step in controlling the tempo will be for the Lakers to limit their ill-advised three-point attempts. Missed threes rebound long and will allow Steve Nash and the Suns to push the ball down the court quickly. Secondly, the Lakers will need to find a way to make Steve Nash pick up his dribble. If Nash is allowed to dribble the basketball all over the court he will make plays for his teammates and get them open looks. To limit the Suns’ transition opportunities the Lakers must be judicious in their shot selection.
Another key for the Lakers will be their ability to stay attached to the Suns’ three-point shooters, particularly Jason Richardson. During the playoffs Richardson is shooting an incredible 51.5% beyond the three-point arc while leading the Suns in scoring with 21.9 points per game. Throughout the playoffs the Lakers have held their opponents to 32.3% on three-pointers. During the regular season they held Richardson to 8.8 points per game and 14.3% on threes. If the Lakers consistently challenge Phoenix’s three-point shooters they will limit the Suns’ offensive efficiency and control the series.
Prediction: Lakers 4-1
Information from ESPN.com’s 2010 NBA Playoffs-Conference Finals-Suns vs. Lakers, 2009-10 Postseason NBA Team Stats, and Jason Richardson Stats.