You remember these guys, don't you? The Phoenix Suns? They spent a couple weeks passing through our lives last spring, when they harbored the not-terribly-rational goal of beating the Lakers in the conference finals. Wasn't that cute of them? The Suns had a few moments of not sucking in that series, but come on now. When your theoretical path to victory involves the phrase "Grant Hill shutting down Kobe Bryant," you've plowed well past wishful thinking into some clinically unhinged state that finds common sense gagged with an ether rag and tossed in the trunk of a car.
This season might find Suns fans looking back on their conference-finals participation, for which I believe David Stern awarded each player one of these sweet-ass ribbons, as a relative golden age. The offseason that followed wasn't what you might call a ringing success. GM Steve Kerr waved goodbye to skinflint owner Robert Sarver and is now calling games for TNT. Amare Stoudemire, whom Pau Gasol humiliated so badly he started crying like a little baby right there on the court - you don't remember this? I'm almost positive I do - fled the conference in shame. For good measure, Louis Amundsen took off in free agency as well, leaving the Suns without a true power forward. Backcourt waterbug Leandro Barbosa is now in Toronto. The Suns did, however, pick up Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, because just as in baseball you can never have enough pitching, in basketball you can never have enough second-rate small forwards.
Full disclosure: I don't really like the Suns. You probably couldn't tell from my neutral, objective prose, but I thought I should mention it. I'd hate to think there are secrets between us.
Phoenix has played two games so far this season, a loss to the Trail Blazers and a victory over the Jazz. Unluckily for them, the latter just took place last night, in Utah. Click "play" now, if you would.
Making matters worse, they're one of the oldest teams in the NBA and one of the most reliant on jumpshooting, and as such find it especially useful to have fresh legs. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been off since Tuesday night. Based on my junior-high-bio understanding of how the human body works, I'm giving the edge in the "not being exhausted" column to the Lakers.
What the Suns do have going for them is Steve Nash. Like 27 other starting point guards in the league, he could do big damage against the
defense "defense" of Derek Fisher. Seriously, what teams don't have point guards of whom that previous sentence could be written? Miami and Atlanta, maybe? For game previews this year, I need to draft up a standard paragraph I can just plug in with a few keystrokes. Let's give it a shot:
At point guard for <opponent> is <player>. He has a big advantage in quickness over Derek Fisher and will be looking to exploit that matchup early and often. If the game is close in the final minutes, the Lakers will no doubt switch Kobe Bryant onto <player> to contain him. Until then, we'll just hope for the best.
Great work, Dex! You've just saved yourself a couple hours over the course of the season.
So yeah, Nash is still very good, but the truth is, he didn't exactly kill Fish in the playoffs last year. Of the four starting PGs the Lakers faced in the postseason, Nash maybe wasn't the least effective - that might've been Rajon Rondo, who admittedly was guarded by Kobe most of the time - but certainly posed fewer difficulties than did either Russell Westbrook or Deron Williams. Besides, if opening night was any indication, Steve Blake will be on the court for about half the game anyway. Nash, for whatever reason, has been quite turnovery in the Suns' first two games, having coughed the rock up 14 times. I'm guessing he's not yet in sync with his new, down-market pick-and-roll partners.
Phoenix also still has a bucketful of guys who can shoot the three. Jason Richardson, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic... all present and employed. The Lakers' three-point defense against the Rockets wasn't up to their typical standard, as Houston hit eight of 20 from distance, but most of that damage came in the first quarter. The Rockets shot 5-of-7 from behind the arc in the first period and 3-for-13 thereafter, when the Lakers finally deigned to close out on shooters.
The Suns' D, for its part, is pretty atrocious. Oh I know, right?? I was shocked, too. The franchise has such a proud history of fielding top-notch defenses. The 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the Bad Boy Pistons, the RAF in World War II... they're all lumped together in my mind with the Phoenix Suns. The very concept of being able to score on them just seems outlandish - I should probably lie down for a moment to stop my head from spinning.
All right, I'm back. Where were we? Right, the Phoenix defense.
It would be nice to have Andrew Bynum for this game, since he had some of his best outings last year against the squishy Suns frontline. (Granted, the important thing is he got to watch some soccer. I kid! Grrrr.) Even without him, the Lakers shouldn't have much problem putting up points. Pau Gasol, after tussling with Yao Ming on opening night, will no doubt be grateful to operate against the comparatively puny Robin Lopez. And whoever's guarding Lamar Odom, be it Turkoglu or Warrick, should get worked over mercilessly. Despite being one of the league's taller teams, the Suns are a bad rebounding squad (OHAI Channing Frye!), so second-chance points will be there if the Lakers are willing to work for them.
That's really what tonight's game will come down to for the Lake Show: focus and effort. They have to keep track of the Phoenix shooters. They need to get the ball inside to Gasol and Odom. And they need to muscle their way into good rebounding position so they can play volleyball at the rim. Check those boxes, and another victory on the Suns' home floor will be theirs. It'll feel like May all over again.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.