Hey, I'm back y'all! If you didn't know, I decided to take the obscenely long break in between games to fly to Mars and back, THAT'S how bored I was. Not really, but you get my point. Seriously, I understand that the rest is very beneficial for the players (in most cases) and that the NBA needs the TV money to keep players' wives rolling in limited-edition automatic-converted Lamborghinis, but this extended break doesn't make my job any easier, and we all agree that the NBA should go out of their way to make my life easier (if not, evidently my subtle mind-control techniques aren't working fast enough).
Anyways, enough of going off-topic. The Game is soon upon us, and it may actually be the most important game of these Los Angeles Lakers' season so far. After the embarrassing beat-down Boston gave Orlando yesterday (seriously, straight evisceration, painful to watch), the Eastern Conference Finals are most likely only one game away from finishing up (after watching the Magic give up in such a despicable way, I don't see them coming back); and thus it is important the Lakers keep pace.
Now, while very few are left who believe that the Suns can win 4 of the next 5 games, especially with the first two games showing that LA is fully capable of tossing all the Suns' 'improvements' out the window and straight-vivisecting them, shit happens. As such, it's imperative that the Lakers keep their foot on the pedal and don't allow the Suns any breathing room to get their confidence back.
Also, even if a lack of focus in Game Three just means an extra game is played in this series, that's an extra 48 minutes where someone can potentially get injured, another 48 minutes' of wear-and-tear on this Laker team that is no stranger to injuries. And it's an extra 48 minutes of rest Boston gets on us.
Look, let's cut the politically-correct crap for a second here, and just admit, that if we do win two of the next 7 games (there's still a possibility we don't), we'll face Boston. No-one who watched the Magic begrudgingly accept a beating-up last night would honestly believe there's any realistic chance of them coming back, even before looking at how a team has never come back from being down 3-0 in a series before. Boston's impressive array of bigs allow them to single-cover Dwight at all-times, essentially pulling the plug on the prized Orlando offense; and Rajon Rondo, the Jeff Van Gundy - proclaimed 'best all-round point guard in the game' simply runs the Boston offense too well and has too many weapons at his disposal to be stopped by this demoralised Orlando squad.
The Boston Celtics are an old team, our primary advantage on them would that they would hopefully get tired before we do. As such, it is of tantamount that we do not allow them to gain more rest than we receive before a potential Finals matchup.
But I digress, while the Boston - Orlando series may be all but over there are still games left to go in this Western Conference Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. At the very least, two games to go, including this one; hopefully that will be all, but you never know.
The Suns are a different animal on their homecourt, with their point-differential per game increasing from approximately +3 to approximately +9. They average more points, shoot better, execute better, and play with more hustle and energy. As with virtually every team in the League, their home crowd energises them. Also, they know they are on the ropes. They know that this upcoming game is essentially a must-win for them, as otherwise they'll fall into that dreaded three-zip deficit that no team in the history of the NBA has recovered from.
There WILL be a push. Undoubtedly, there'll be a team-wide boost in effort from the Suns, a desperate attempt to salvage their season. However, considering the fact that their defense will never truly be capable of shutting down the Laker O, a push fueled by scoring from the likes of merely Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Jason Richardson will not be enough to fuel them to a win. Even a Goran Dragic 23-points in a half rerun may not be enough. For them to win, their stars need to start playing like stars.
Amare Stoudemire has been pathetic this series, by the standards of a player not-too-long-ago considered to be hands-down one of the best big men in the NBA, and the best offensive big man in the League. This series, he's been the third-best big man behind Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and he may be lucky to be third as Andrew Bynum's knee injury is hampering his play.
Offensively, STAT's production has been decent but unexceptional, and that is simply not enough if Phoenix want to win this series. If Amare wants max money next season, he needs to start playing like a max-contract player, and putting points on the board at a high rate of efficiency. Defensively, Amare has been disgusting. The Lakers' bigs have been repeatedly abusing him in ways that are too dirty for a family-friendly website to adequately describe.
Steve Nash has been a decent facilitator throughout the first two games of this series, but the Lakers length has caused several of his passes to be tipped and turned into turnovers each game this series, somewhat negating the value of his play. What Steve Nash needs to be if the Suns are to have any chance of winning this game is a scorer. He is the Suns' most efficient and effective scorer and capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor (just don't ask him to dunk), If he realises this, and realises that he has Derek Fisher guarding him, things have the potential to get ugly.
The Lakers need to realise that any truly dangerous run will be keyed by these two realising their potential and attacking with aggression, and as such need to work early and often to keep the Suns' two All Stars out of their respective comfort zones. Nash needs to be cut off, not given angles and lanes, and Amare just needs to be banged around a bit. Both need to be made to work on defense, Nash run off screens off-ball to get Derek Fisher open shots, and Amare should be exploited in the Low Post and on the Pick-and-Roll, similar to how he exploited Tim Duncan in the prior series.
Other than that, the Lakers really just need to keep doing what they're doing. Execute offensively, cut off passing angles and ball movement defensively, and they should be home free.
It would do Los Angeles well to bear in mind that the Suns WILL inevitably make a push in this game, likely go on a run. Hell, they may even get a few stops. The Lakers need to be prepared for this, and to keep their composure throughout this run. The Lakers are big and talented enough to bring it back. Just keep getting a hand in the Suns' face and pounding the paint, and eventually the Suns' shots will stop falling while the Lakers' shots find net.
Of paramount is that, if by some miracle the Suns' defense does disrupt the Laker offense, instead of the guards getting frustrated and moving away from the offense the chuck up ugly midrange shots off isolation, as they were so wont to do in the Regular Season, that they keep doing what works and run the Triangle. Keep making the post-entry pass, keep cutting off-ball, keep passing the ball and moving it around, and eventually the offense will find a loophole in the Suns' defense and get a bucket. And then it'll be like a dam, that one slight crack will open the floodgates.
It's impossible to know when this run will come. The Suns may come out of the gate with it. Maybe it comes after going down in the first. Maybe it comes after half-time. Maybe it comes at the beginning of the fourth, whilst the Lakers have relaxed with a small lead. Hell, maybe there are mutiple of these such runs. The only way for Los Angeles to combat this is to ensure that they always assume that on the very next possession, Phoenix will make their push, and maintain this mentality throughout the game.
It's a tough task to maintain focus through such an extended period of time, but this is Playoff time, baby. This is what champions do, and if the Lakers ever lose focus it may pay dividends to remind them of Game Four in 08. Boston haven't forgotten. They've got the rings to show for it.
Not that I'm looking ahead or anything.
PS: Anyone else find it odd that these are the Western Conference Finals, and yet I'm writing what surely must contend for my shortest article ever?