By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The Phoenix Suns looked like they were playing a regular season game Monday night at the Staples Center. They allowed the Lakers to score 128 points and looked like they were ready to waive a white flag and surrender. Kobe Bryant sent a message to the Suns by scoring 40 points. His message: No one can guard me! But Kobe getting 40 points was not the main reason the Suns lost. The main reasons this was such a lopsided game were: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined for 40 points themselves, the Lakers outscored the Suns 56-36 in the paint, the Lakers shot 58 percent from the field, the Lakers' bench outscored the Suns' bench 44-35, and the Lakers held the Suns to only 23 percent from the 3-point line.
It is impossible for the Suns to win this series if they get beat so badly from both the inside and outside. They can not get beat inside by Gasol and Odom and then get beat from behind the 3-point line. Gasol and Odom scored way too easily in Game 1. The Suns put up no resistance around the rim. They were a +120 points from behind the 3-point line in their first two series versus Portland and San Antonio. Monday, the Lakers shot 8-for-17 from behind the arc while the Suns were 5-for-22. The Lakers outscored the Suns by 9 points from the 3-point line. The Suns have no chance of outscoring the Lakers in the paint. Therefore they must win the battle from the perimeter. They must find ways in transition, and in pick and rolls to accumulate extra points from behind the 3-point line.
Game 2 Adjustments
The Suns were horrible defensively in Game 1. They must change their mentality for Game 2 or they will head back to Phoenix down 2-0. They must be more physical, and fight and claw their way to a victory. Gasol and Odom abused the Suns around the basket. They scored over and over again with little resistance. Gasol is so skilled and has the patience and footwork to dominate around the rim. The Suns' big men must be willing to hit and bang with Gasol or Odom or this will be a short series. Whether it is Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez or Channing Frye, they must be tougher and more physical with the Laker big men.
Secondly, they must be able to control the ball and stop ball penetration. The Suns could not stop straight-line drives and did not offer much help. They allowed Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher to drive right into the teeth of their defense. The Lakers shot 51-for-88 (58 percent) for the game which should never happen at this time of year. The Suns must show some mental toughness and defend much better if they are to have any chance in this series.
Look for the Suns to try two different things defensively. I think Alvin Gentry will double Bryant at some point in Game 2. He may not decide to double him initially but if he gets hot like he did in the third quarter of Game 1 they may come on the catch. Doubling Kobe puts the Suns at risk for drives, 3-point shots, and offensive rebounds but they will have to pick their poison. Secondly, look for the Suns to utilize their zone defense in Game 2. The zone can sometimes bait a team into shooting jump shots and take away some of the inside game of Gasol and Odom and the one-on-one game of Bryant.
The Lakers did a marvelous job versus the pick and rolls of the Suns. Fisher worked extremely hard to fight over the picks and get into Nash’s body. The Laker big men are very mobile and were able to jump out and cut off the driving lanes of Nash. Also the length and wingspan of Gasol and Odom obstruct the view and passing abilities of Nash. Their ability to control Nash and not let him get into the paint where he can make plays for himself or kick out to the 3-point line is critical to the Lakers winning. The Suns might run 50 or more pick and rolls in a game, thus it is critical for the Lakers to continue to defend the Suns in Game 2 with the same exactness and precision that they demonstrated in Game 1.
The Lakers' bench stepped in Game 1 outscoring the Suns bench 44-35. Odom jump started the Lakers in the first quarter. He brought energy, rebounding and scoring, finishing with 19 points and 19 rebounds. Phil Jackson will continue to give him big minutes in Game 2 because he is much more mobile and versatile defensively than Andrew Bynum. The Suns got very little production from Channing Frye, who I felt was a key to the Suns ability to win. Frye shot 1-for-7 from the 3-point line and was not able to stretch the floor and open up lanes for Nash or Stoudemire. The Suns need him and others to make 3-point shots in Game 2.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 2