After sweeping their respective opponents in the 2nd round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs the Phoenix Suns and LA Lakers will face each other for what should be an epic Western Conference showdown.
The Phoenix Suns scorched the San Antonio Spurs with dominating performances from Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, and Amare Stoudemire. Nash has established that he is a warrior, able to lead his team through physical pain and pressure. The Suns are on the rise, and have what it takes to defeat the Champion Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the Utah Jazz in a round two sweep and will be plenty rested for the gun slinging fast paced Phoenix Suns.
Key Series Matchups
Point Guards: Steve Nash – Derek Fisher
Steve Nash is averaging 17 points and 9 assists with 51% FG, 46% 3-point shooting, and 89% FT shooting per game in the playoffs. His shooting percentage will dip with the length of the Lakers in the paint. However, expect Nash to deliver pin-point passes and ridiculously hard shots in the face of defenders.
Derek Fisher is averaging 10 points and 3 assists with 44% FG, 42% 3-point shooting, and just 68% FT shooting per game in the playoffs. Derek has the ability to hit the big shot with the game on the line. His veteran leadership and championship experience is a key asset to the Lakers championship run.
Defensively Fisher cannot stop Steve Nash. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will come off the bench to help slow Nash down. But it will need to be a team defensive effort to keep Nash in check.
Both point-guards know how to captain their teams with leadership in the locker room, between games, and on the court. Both men are lethal with the ball in their hands for a final possession. Both have Veteran poise. Fisher has the Rings and legendary game winning shots on his resume’ but Nash has a few MVP trophies and a hunger to taste a championship for the first time.
Point Guard Advantage? Steve Nash wins simply because of his speed. Suns Advantage
Shooting Guards: Kobe Bryant – Jason Richardson
Jason Richardson is averaging near 22 points, 1 assist, and 6 rebounds per game with 51% FG and 3-point shooting and 77% FT shooting. Richardson has been on fire. His ability to take his defender off the dribble or launch the 3-pointer makes him deadly on the offensive end. His quickness and sharpshooting have been superb in these playoffs so far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Phil Jackson using Ron Artest to guard Richardson.
Kobe Bryant averaging near 27 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game with 45%FG, 37% 3-point shooting, and just 79% FT shooting. Kobe is coming out of a Utah Series where he dominated the 4th quarters with scoring and finding his open teammates.
Kobe’s leadership for LA is critical to their success.
Shooting Guard Advantage? 4 Championship rings and a wealth of playoff experience make Kobe Bryant the most valuable player of this series and playoffs. Advantage: LA
Small Forwards: Ron Artest – Grant Hill
The beauty of the NBA Playoffs are you are only judged by your last performance. The fact that Ron Artest had a nightmare offensively throughout these playoffs was all negated by his Game 6 performance. He finally found the 3-point ball, putting the final piece of the Triangle-Offense in place. The Lakers will need to match the Suns 3-point sharp shooting to win this series. Ron Artest must continue the hot-hand from long range. Ron Ron’s defense is a staple ingredient of his game, and he will draw either Jason Richardson or Grant Hill throughout the series.
Grant Hill’s NBA career has been a heroic journey. It’s hard not to route for him. After all the surgeries, set-backs, and missed-expectations, he has persevered and is thriving in the spotlight. The last two games against the Spurs Hill scored 18 points apiece on a combined 13 for 21 FG shooting and 10 for 10 at the charity stripe. His veteran leadership and character give the Suns a valuable piece to a championship quality team.
Small Forward Advantage? This is a tough call but Ron Artest’s 36 points on 49% FG shooting in the Lakers last two games against Utah are just as impressive as Grant Hill’s numbers. And Ron is just as hungry for the elusive championship ring as Grant Hill since he is the only one on the Lakers roster without a ring. Ron’s ability to harass and frustrate opponents on the defensive end gives him the edge. Advantage: LA
Power Forwards: Amar’e Stoudemire – Lamar Odom
Amar’e Stoudemire has been a stud for the Phoenix Suns in these playoffs averaging 20 points on 47% FG shooting, plus 9 rebounds, and 1 block against the San Antonio Spurs. His improved 83% FT shooting is crucial. Stoudemire’s power in the paint and dominating dunks will not be as easy against the Lakers, but he will still be able to score. During the regular season he scored18, 8, and 29 points in the three losses, and 26 points in the one regular season win against LA.
Andrew Bynum’s status is still questionable due to reoccurring knee injury concerns. Most likely Lamar Odom will get the start against Stoudemire. While Lamar Odom’s stats won’t impress anyone, it shouldn’t be overlooked the significant contribution Odom has consistently made in the 4th quarter of nearly every Lakers Playoff win this year. Lamar Odom is the most versatile player on the Lakers team and Stoudemire will be unable to defend Odom on the perimeter.
Power Forward Advantage: If Bynum is able to come off the bench and give the Lakers any valuable minutes, the advantage could go to LA. However right now Amare’ Stoudemire has the edge. Advantage: Suns
Centers: Pau Gasol – Channing Frye & Jarron Collins
Pau Gasol is quickly emerging as one of the greatest big men to ever play the game.
Coming off a series against Utah that he dominated at will averaging 15 rebounds 3 assists, 3 blocks to go with 24 points per game on 60% shooting. The versatility of the 7 footer is something no team in the Playoffs can match.
However Suns Channing Frye has versatility of his own with the three-point threat. Frye made more 3-pointers in the regular season than any other player. The old-school coach in me is bothered by Centers jacking up 3-pointers. But this is a different NBA then the one Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Robert Parrish dominated decades ago. Could you imagine one of those legendary Centers leading the NBA in 3-point makes. Chamberlain may have scored 150 in one game. And Abdul-Jabbar would have an even greater lead in the all-time scoring books. (“On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain set the NBA single-game scoring record by tallying 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks.”) (http://www.nba.com/history/wilt100_moments.html) (Kareem Abdul Jabbar still holds the record for scoring the most points in NBA history 38,387). Channing Frye’s ability to shoot the long ball with accuracy will no doubt spread the defense of the Lakers and cause Pau Gasol to leave the pain to defend him. However, the Suns have a more daunting task of defending the size of the Lakers on the other end of the court.
Center Advantage: Jarron Collins usually starts for Phoenix but Channing Frye has seen the bulk of minutes. Combine both Frye and Collins and still Pau Gasol wins this matchup. Advantage: LA
Backup Injured Centers: Andrew Bynum – Robin Lopez
It’s been nearly two months since Suns big man Robin Lopez went down with an injury. Speculation is he will return for this series.
Andrew Bynum continues to be hampered by a knee injury. When on the floor in these playoffs he has dominated with 56% FG shooting, and averaging 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. His numbers declined in the second round in every category except FT shooting percentage which improved to 71% from 58% in the first round. It’s notable that Phil Jackson consistently elected to go with the quicker and healthier Lamar Odom in the 4th quarters throughout these playoffs. Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum starting and playing in the clutch both provide matchup problems for Phoenix. Losing Andrew Bynum would greatly diminish the depth of the Lakers Bench
Backup Injured Centers Advantage: Andrew Bynum at 70% is still better than Robin Lopez at 100%. Advantage: LA
Bench Players: Suns: Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton
If we were on the playground with two captains picking teams from the remaining above mentioned bench players, the first pick would be the Suns Goran Dragic. Dragic’s performance in game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs was one of the most bizarre and delightful I’ve ever seen. “Dragic’s 26 points in 17 minutes is the most scored by a player who played fewer than 20 minutes in a postseason game in the shot clock era.” (http://www.brightsideofthesun.com) That one quarter performance makes him more valuable than any other player on this short list.
2nd pick is Leandro Barbosa. He is the sleeper horse in this race. He is the fastest player in the NBA and has the talent to explode offensively at any time. His star power has diminished with lack of production for the Suns, but his potential is just as potent as ever. We know it’s only a matter of time before he has a break-out game. The Lakers hope that isn’t this year.
3rd pick off the bench is Jared Dudley. Dudley has been the emotional lift and gritty defender, and back-breaking shooting for Phoenix. He is an x-factor for the Suns to beat the Lakers.
Bench Advantage: Hmm? The top 3 bench selections go to the Suns, so they win the obvious advantage.
Lakers need Luke Walton to be their Jared Dudley. Shannon Brown needs to be as concerned about running the point and making correct decisions as he is about scoring. Let me be blunt here, if Brown is on the break and he has Kobe Bryant open, he needs to pass him the ball. Jordan Farmar, you have your ring, you can retire today and be more celebrated than scores of other players who have gone before you without the elusive championship. But if you want to become an all-star player and shed your role-player attire, now is the time to step up your game and deliver.
The bench advantage for the Suns should count as two matchups. The Final score of these six key matchups is 3 to 3. Based on the statistics, the Phoenix Suns have a slight advantage over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns are younger, faster, more athletic, and desperate for a championship that the Lakers already have.
Will the fast tempo, high scoring, fast-breaking, transition points of the Suns outweigh the Lakers methodical triangle half-court offense, and points in the paint?
Keys to the Lakers winning the series:
LA must win first two home games. Kobe Bryant must be aggressive offensively from the start. LA must establish two of their three big men in the paint early and often. LA should get Stoudemire in early foul trouble and limit his minutes. LA must shoot 40% or better from 3-point land, extending the defense with open shots from post passes in the triangle, and open looks off of Kobe Bryant’s dribble penetration. Lakers bench must step up and match the intensity and production of the Suns bench. Lakers need to shoot 45% from the field. Missed shots lead to fast break opportunities for the Suns. Transition defense will have to improve against the Suns. Any significant injury to Steve Nash that limit his play will result in an automatic series win.
The Western Conference war is going 7 games. The Suns have all the pieces for a championship. I was one of the few people to predict the Suns would sweep the Spurs. Much like the Utah Jazz of the 90’s, they may have all the necessary ingredients but they don’t have the best player of the decade. Just like Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan trumped Coach Sloan, John Stockton, and Malone time after time, Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant (the best player in the NBA) will deny the Phoenix Suns. Kobe Bryant can smell a Finals rematch with the Boston Celtics. Lakers win the series in 7 games.
Game 1 Prediction: Lakers will win Game 1 by 4 points.
Bright Side of the Sun
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