We've had a week with which to look at the match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, and that week has done nothing to quell the confidence of either side of this coin. Lakers fans are so sure we've got this that a lost game in Los Angeles might qualify as a panic. Suns fans are confident their time has arrived at last. Finally, finally, it's time to stop talking and start watching. Answers are coming. But, before answers arrive, we must unleash our predictions. If you listened to the podcast earlier in the week, you've already got a leg up on the competition.
Enjoy after the jump.
Lakers in 5
Phil Jackson has shown in the past that he is able to neutralize the attack of running teams and teams with stellar point guards (the Suns with Nash, the Hornets with Chris Paul) by slowing the tempo down. He accomplishes this by instructing his players to pound the ball inside - closer shots not only are higher percentage, but they have rebounds closer to the basket, which are less likely to ignite a fast break versus a longer rebound from an outside shot.
Now for the fun prediction part: I'm going to say that the Suns win game one, causing mass panic and oxygen shortages in Laker land, followed by the Lakers winning the next four games in succession. Yeah, that's the ticket. Lakers in 5. Confidence in my pick of length and winner of series? 12.5%
Lakers in 4
I'm quite amused by some so-called "experts" whom are either picking this series to go 7 games or the Suns to win. What has changed in the past 2-3 seasons for them to go loony? A Phoenix sweep over the Spurs and some supposed improved defense. Cute. Our Lakers own this team, and the advantages they enjoy over Phoenix haven't gone away. Yes, Lakers are still bigger and yes, they still have more talent. This Phoenix team isn't as good as they were during the Seven Seconds or Less era, when the Kwame Brown Era gave the Suns fits, yet they are supposed to challenge a defending Champion Lakers team peaking? Uh-uh. Not happening. Grant Hill couldn't guard Kobe if Hill were still 27, never mind 37, and neither can Jared Dudley, nor Jason Richardson. Much like Boozer, Pau and Andrew will take turns embarrassing Amar'e. On both ends. One of the things you need to remember is Phoenix's big men like to scurry around and shoot threes. Ours post up, rebound, and block shots. Even if the Suns screen/roll provides problems for Drew, there's our ace in the hole, Lamar Odom. As Saurav mentioned, Deron Williams provided a much greater challenge than Steve Nash. Mostly because Nash wants to create, not slash to the hoop. Fish can handle that. Mainly, I can't imagine this series being close because the Lakers own the Suns these days because they do what Phoenix does well, BUT the Suns can't do what the Lakers do well. Even if they can give the Lakers' defense trouble, they cannot stop the Lakers' offense. Same ole same. Plus, the Lakers have their road swagger back. The Suns might get a game if they absolutely shoot the lights out one game. I'm predicting another sweep.
P.S. Sasha's back. Even though he's returning from injury, here's hoping the Machine returns. Pride is on the line vs. fellow Slovenian, Goran Dragic.
Lakers in 5
3-1. The season series. I don't care about the back-to-back situation, or Channing freaking Frye missing a game. 3-1. And that's with Pau and Artest both missing a game each. I don't care about Jason Richardson lighting on fire from three, nor do I care about Amare supposedly playing 'MVP-calibre' basketball, or about Grant Hill's defense, or Goran Dragic (let's see him actually score 23 again, first?). The Suns have improved since the season series. So have the Lakers. Pau Gasol IS the MVP of the Second Round. Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. Derek Fisher is showing us all why he's been in this League for 14 years. Artest is bored after having the unenviable task of being assigned to C.J Miles for a series. Drew is bigger than anyone Phoenix has. All Phoenix can pull on L.A are Steve Nash and the bench. Let me just make one thing clear, Deron Williams > Steve Nash. Did that help Utah much? Nope. A bench cannot win the Suns 4 games, it'll be lucky to win them one. The Suns took one game in the season series, and I'll give them one here, if only because it's my personal policy to never predict a sweep.
This entire paragraph probably sounds extremely arrogant, but I smell blood. And no doubt, so do the Lakers.
Lakers in 5
The Suns' timing is all wrong. Had they caught the Lakers in the first round - before Kobe Bryant had found his postseason stride and guys like Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar started making threes - I'd have given them a real shot in this series. I might even have made them the favorites. That they encounter the Lakers after the latter have had two rounds to smooth out their offensive glitches and get relatively, though not fully, healthy means the Suns' admirable season is just about over. Ron Artest will do to Jason Richardson what he did to Kevin Durant, the length of the Laker bigs will bother Amare Stoudemire into a few bad games, and the Phoenix offense won't hit hyperdrive as often as they need it to. When the Lakers have the ball, look for the usual: big numbers from Kobe and Pau Gasol and just enough timely shooting from the supporting players. I also expect a big series for the Lakers on the offensive glass. Call it one blowout win for each team, with the Suns keeping it close but falling short in the other three games.
Lakers in 6
Moreso than many others round these parts, I hear and believe in the talk coming out of the Suns camp. This is a new age for them. Previous results don't mean a whole lot in regards to this particular team. The Suns have been winning games in ways that didn't seem conceivable a couple years, or even a couple months, back. The strong rebounding, the lip service paid to defense, and a bench that plays as an entirely different team (and both teams are good, mind you) than the regulars. As our friends at Bright Side of the Sun will tell you, the Suns are unquantifiable. We've never seen this version of the team before, and we don't know what they are capable of.
But unquantifiable does not equate to unstoppable. The Lakers are so, so much better than any team the Suns have faced (the opposite is also true, for what it's worth. Utah and OKC can't hold a candle to PHX either). And that's how it should be. Thanks to two relatively surprising upsets in the 1st round, neither of these teams have even played somebody from the top half of the bracket until now.
We may not know what Phoenix is capable of, but we do know what the Lakers are capable of. They have the capacity to play tremendous defense. In the half court, they have one of the top defenses in the league. In this area, the difference between the Suns and Lakers is night and day, or day and night if you prefer not get your metaphors crossed. Even with Phoenix's defensive "improvement", their defense just isn't on the same level.
Until recently, you could say the same thing for the offense. Before the playoffs, the Suns offense was probably better than the Lakers offense by a larger margin than the Lakers defense was better than the Suns defense. Now? Not so much. The Lakers offense still can't hold a candle to what the Suns can do on that side of the ball. But the Lakers offense is looking better than it has at any point during the regular season. The combination of a top 3 defense and a top 6 offense should be enough to handle a top 1 offense with a top 15 defense.
I don't think home court means a whole lot in this series. Neither team plays for the foul that much, so the officiating is less important than we've seen in other series. Phoenix's crowd doesn't suck, but it can't compare to where the Lakers have come from. And Phoenix is just as capable of getting super hot at Staples as they are of doing so in PHX. I expect the first 4 games to split in some fashion, and the Lakers will take care of business in games 5 and 6, closing it out on the road. If you think that's crazy, the Lakers 9-1 record in close out opportunities over the past 3 years says your wrong.