The Lakers play host to the Suns tonight. We all know that this means that like the back in the day Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway song; Kobe, Shaq and Phil will be back together again.
Proven over All-Star weekend all three are civil, friendly and get along now, I’m elated that when you break open the sports section of today’s L.A. Times this isn’t the top headline and in terms of headlines this game sits behind the Dodgers making another offer to Manny Ramirez, Tiger Woods return from injury and the Clippers beat the Celtics.
Ironically the last time all three were on the court together during a regular season game was the first meeting this season on 11/20/08 in Phoenix, won by the Lakers 105-92. The Lakers also beat the Suns 115-110 on 12/10/08.
The Lakers are a league-best 47-10 but their leaky defense is not and it will be tested over the next three games facing the Suns twice with the Nuggets in between, two of the leagues highest scoring teams. The Lakers are riding a five game winning streak, winners of 16 of their last 18 games and showing mental toughness and maturity while at times not playing their best but still finding ways to win.
This is a different Suns team than the one the Lakers defeated twice this season after trading a few of their core players, firing their head coach and going back to the former head coaches system, Phoenix is back to being a running team. The re-tooled Suns are 4-1 under Alvin Gentry and averaging 128.4 points and shooting 56.7 percent from the field their last five games.
It wouldn’t be wise to get into a running game with the Suns; the Lakers will have to control the tempo, the glass, get back in transition and rotate out to three point shooters. The match up between Luke Walton and Jason Richardson will be huge but beyond having Shaq in the lineup the Suns are playing run and gun small ball.
Pau Gasol needs to pull Shaq away from the basket and force Shaq to move his feet to defend him giving Lamar Odom the freedom and space to dominate Grant Hill in the post and on the glass. I also want to see more of Kobe Bryant posting up and forcing the Suns defense to collapse.
Defensively is where this game will be won or lost. Suns point guard Steve Nash remains highly skilled at running the pick-and-roll play. The Lakers have worked on defending this play in practice and make no mistake “practice makes permanent, not perfect.”
Tipoff: 7:30 PM PST
- Los Angeles: TNT
- Phoenix: TNT
- Los Angeles: AM570 KLAC (Spero Dedes & Mychal Thompson)
- Phoenix: Sports 620 KTAR (Al McCoy & Tim Kempton)
- Andrew Bynum (Knee)
- Amare Stoudemire (Eye)