John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
There has been a debate among owners, general managers and coaches for years about style of play. Many owners and GMs want to play more up-tempo like the Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns. They like this style because, in their minds, it is more exciting to watch, puts more fans in the seats and earns them more money. However, there is a limit to how far that style can take you. If you do not have a balanced team that can play both offense and defense you may win regular season games, you may even win a playoff series, but you cannot win a NBA championship.
There is nowhere to hide in the playoffs. All weaknesses are exposed. In the playoffs, if you cannot defend your opponent they will make you look silly. That is what is happening to the Suns. They should be commended for getting to the Western Conference finals and beating the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs. But for all their success in the first two rounds, they are getting exposed for their inability to guard and stop the Lakers from scoring.
Through two games (both L.A. wins), the Lakers are averaging 126 points per game and have scored 30-plus points in five out of eight quarters. The Lakers are currently shooting 58 percent from the field and 52 percent from the 3-point line. They have averaged 29 assists per game while only turning the ball over 11.5 times. Most importantly, the Lakers are pounding the ball inside and the Suns are allowing the Lakers to score 54 points in the paint per game. This is not a recipe for success. For all the talk of the Suns being an improved defensive team they are getting embarrassed by the Lakers.
Game 3 Adjustments
The Suns have played Kobe straight-up, doubled him, fronted the post, left Ron Artest open and dared him to shoot, and even tried zone -- nothing has worked. Every time the Suns try something new to slow down the Lakers, they patiently dissect the Suns by going to another option. The Lakers are an extremely versatile offensive team with a balanced offensive attack. Their best player (Kobe) can get 40 points (like in Game 1) or be a facilitator and get 13 assists (like in Game 2). The Suns have no answers for the Lakers, and, unfortunately, there are no adjustments to be made. Adjustments are for good defensive teams. An adjustment is a minor tinkering to your defensive scheme to help correct a problem . The Suns do not need an adjustment; they need a defensive overhaul. They are not physical enough or tough enough to be a good defensive team. Their perimeter players cannot contain dribble penetration, and their big men do not protect the rim with proper rotations or hard fouls if necessary. Defense is not a mindset. You either have it or you don’t. The Suns do not have it.
The two biggest culprits defensively for the Suns are Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Nash cannot defend and Stoudemire refuses to defend. Nash does not have the athleticism or physical strength to defend good, strong point guards in the NBA. Good point guards' eyes light up when they see Nash guarding them. He cannot stop dribble penetration and the best guards in the league can score on him and the Suns at will. Stoudemire is awful defensively, and he really hurts his team. He does not guard one-on-one, he is late on helps and rotations and he is a lazy rebounder -- he has only averaged 4.5 rebounds versus the Lakers in their two games. Stoudemire refuses to get physical defensively and use his body to stop opponents from scoring at the rim. He got abused in the fourth quarter of Game 2 by Pau Gasol for 14 points. Stoudemire wants a max contract in free agency this year and he will probably get it, but he does not defend or rebound consistently enough to win championships.
The Suns have scored 109.5 ppg in Games 1 and 2. They have attempted 162 field goals and made 80, shooting 49 percent from the field. Scoring and shooting are not the problems. The Suns' 3-point shooting dipped in Game 1, but it came back in Game 2 as they shot 42 percent from behind the arc. Their problem is defense. The Suns have no answers for the Lakers and that is why they will not win and advance.
The key for the Suns in Game 3 is to find some way to stop the Lakers. They must defend L.A. and not allow them to shoot almost 60 percent from the field. The problem is that they are incapable of doing this. They have put up no resistance in Games 1 and 2 and I do not believe anything will change. If the Lakers lose their focus and lack the same effort they displayed in Los Angeles, the Suns have a chance to get back in this series. But if the Lakers come to Phoenix with the same mental approach that they demonstrated at home this series will end in four or five games.
To win a NBA championship a team must have a blend of defense and offense. You must be to able defend, make an opponent work hard to get a quality shot and rebound the basketball. Offensively, you must be able to move the basketball from side to side against great defenses and have a balanced inside-out attack. This is the recipe for playoff basketball. It is the recipe for winning and advancing. I have never understood the infatuation with up-tempo teams that score a lot of points but cannot defend. I always felt it was a recipe for disaster. When you cannot defend it is a helpless feeling, and that is exactly how the Suns must be feeling right now.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 3