Lakers-Suns Preview: Andrew's Missing Out

PHOENIX - JANUARY 05: Vince Carter #25 of the Phoenix Suns lays up a shot past Andrew Bynum #27 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 23 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. The Lakers defeated the Suns 99-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tonight the Lakers face the Phoenix Suns, topped only by the Golden State Warriors in ineptitude on the boards. With Andrew Bynum, this instantly becomes an easy game as one could bank on him gobbling up all the spare boards and leaving Phoenix no chance of winning. Without Andrew, it's still an easier game than most on the difficult tail-end of the Lakers' schedule, but the Suns' still-effective offense does pose concern.

It'll be interesting to see how the Lakers respond to facing a respectable offensive squad, particularly without their defensive anchor. Perhaps the Lakers will continue their streak of excellent post-All Star Break defense without Bynum (they certainly did so last game against Portland) and limit the Suns in a way which allows them to win with relative comfort. Or perhaps they will simply utilise the more free-flowing offense introduced when Lamar Odom enters the starting line-up effectively enough to outscore the Suns. Or perhaps they'll do neither, and lose. That's why they play the games, after all.

The Suns are quite the changed team compared to the last time they visited Los Angeles, courtesy of a major trade with the Orlando Magic featuring the move of Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to the Magic in exchange for  Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat and cash/draft picks. I'd argue they've been rendered worse off by the trade, as although the addition of Gortat is undoubtedly beneficial in terms of size and defense, those factors aren't what kept the Phoenix Suns in the playoff picture; and the addition of a single player (or two, as Pietrus is also a respected defender) is not enough to completely change Phoenix's identity. Meanwhile, at this point Jason Richardson is several magnitudes better than Vince Carter (not to mention he had a propensity for lighting up the Lakers), and although getting rid of the cancer that Hedo had become is a good thing, even a lazy and malcontent Hedo has his uses, as he is far more versatile than Mickael.

Out of those new additions, likely the one who will cause the most issues for the Lakers is Gortat, whom I have a sneaking suspicion about in that he's just the type of player that possesses the right build and athleticism to bother Pau Gasol. VC is old, past-his-prime, unclutch and in general everything Henry Abbot believes Kobe to be (not to mention VC gets the pleasure of being guarded by Ron Artest tonight, lucky him). Whilst Pietrus is known as a 'defensive specialist', the '09 Finals serve as a testament of his effectiveness on Kobe - not to mention Kobe's ankles seem to be doing a perfectly fine job of hampering Kobe in themselves.

When the Suns beat the Lakers this season, it was thanks to a veritable barrage from long range. The Suns are a very respectable three-point shooting team, no doubt, but an encore performance is always unlikely - particularly considering that the top two three-point shooters, percentage-wise, who've played for the Suns this season (excluding Gortat, who's taken and made one three) are Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu - both of whom have been traded. That leaves Jared Dudley and Channing Frye as the two the Lakers must watch for on the perimeter, as Steve Nash doesn't really look to lead a team to victory by shooting. Odom is the perfect matchup for Frye in that he has no problem playing out at the three-point line, but Dudley is more worrying in that Ron's not the best at fighting around screens and Kobe doesn't often bother - perhaps Matt Barnes will be a good matchup for him.

Oh, and the Suns also feature Aaron Brooks, who, while having fallen off considerably (both in role and production) from his days as Rockets starting point guard and Laker tormentor, may well be looking forward to his matchup with Derek Fisher as a chance to revitalise his career. (While I gotta give Fish extra props for his play of late, and I always gotta respect his postseason performance and clutchness, Brooks still owns him).

The most likely crutch for the Lakers in this game is Gasol. It's no secret that he doesn't particularly like getting down and dirty as a center, particularly against proper bigs such as Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez, so it's yet to be seen whether he will be effective tonight. If not, this game truly will be tough to win as, whilst Kobe's certainly continued to dazzle with his performance in the clutch, his overall performance of late highlights exactly how much below 100% he is, and I'd rather not rely on a gimpy Kobe in the middle of a shooting slump to win us 48 minutes of basketball (though it goes without saying I'd still take him over anybody in the last 5 mins of said ballgame). If Pau is indeed rendered ineffective, the Lakers will still have a chance of winning provided Lamar and the defense maintain their form. But it'll make the game harder than it needs to be, and while the Lakers' showcase of their ability to win tough and/or playing all-out since the All Star Break have been impressive, it's starting to show its downsides, such as in Kobe's condition.

Being one game behind Chicago and Boston in the loss column, it's imperative that the Lakers win easy-on-paper games like this without overexerting themselves or letting the game get too close. HCA is still very possible against 28 of the other 29 teams in the league, but simultaneously it may not be a great idea to start peaking so early.

Lakers

Suns

RECORD

50-20 (4)

35-33 (20)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.5 (3)

-0.3 (17)

PACE

90.6 (22)

94.5 (7)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.5 (2)

109.5 (9)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.37 (3)

13.43 (17)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.292 (19)

0.287 (22)

Free-Throw %

78.2 (8)

76.0 (18)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.219 (16)

0.274 (3)

3PT% (Off.)

35.8 (14)

38.0 (5)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.47 (10)

52.24 (6)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.8 (11

56.1 (7)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.75 (3)

23.66 (29)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.4 (7)

109.8 (22)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

12.93 (20)

13.21 (15)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.234 (1)

0.288 (7)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.241 (10)

0.227 (13)

3PT% (Def.)

33.8 (5)

35.5 (12)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.89 (5)

51.06 (22)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.6 (3)

55.0 (20)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.35 (20)

71.63 (28)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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