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I Swear This Series Is Going to Start Soon


Sometime around 6:15 tomorrow night, this will be the scene at Staples Center: Steve Nash, dribbling the ball above the key ("yo-yoing," in classic Lakerese), with Derek Fisher guarding him about four feet away. Amare Stoudemire will trot up to set a pick on Fish. Jason Richardson will be on the baseline, getting ready to rub off a screen from Channing Frye or Robin Lopez and flash out to one of the corners. This exercise in spatial geometry will repeat itself dozens of times in the Western Conference Finals, and how the Lakers react to and disrupt it (or not) will, in significant part, determine who gets to four wins first.

Welcome to part three of my Lakers-Suns series preview. Glad you could make it. Part one on Thursday reviewed the head-to-head regular season series between the two teams. Part two on Friday looked at the Suns' postseason experience. Today we peek at what the numbers tell us to expect when the Phoenix offense is working against the Laker D, and vice versa. I tend to think that for all the various ways we have to chop up statistics, data generated over the full regular season is the most instructive, so that's what I'll be mostly leaning on here. The idea is to pan out from the last few weeks of playoff action and remind ourselves of the identities the teams carved out over 82 games.

When the Suns Have the Ball

Here's how the Phoenix offense matches up with the Laker D in certain important metrics. League rank is indicated in parentheses.










Reb Rate


PHX Off.

13.6 (19)

0.31 (11)

77.0 (11)

0.26 (26)

52.0 (3)

41.2 (1)

54.6 (1)

58.5 (1)

27.6 (10)

1.15 (1)

LA Def.

13.2 (18)

0.26 (1)


0.23 (21)

48.1 (12)

32.8 (1)

48.4 (6)

52.2 (2)

74.4 (9)

1.04 (4)

This is strength-on-strength, the NBA's flagship scoring unit against a Laker defense that ranked in the top five all year long. There will be stretches when the Suns are dropping bombs and making the Laker D look addled. Then there will be stretches when the Lakers seem to be guarding five guys with six, and those six guys seem to have three really long arms apiece. The series against Oklahoma City was primarily a defensive struggle. In the Lakers' second-round series with Utah, the offenses ran wild. This one, I suspect, will be a mix, with both high- and low-scoring games intermingled.

For a Nash-led team, the Suns are surprisingly turnover-prone. Nash himself will cough the ball up, as will his understudy, Goran Dragic. Amare, too, is unusually susceptible to the TO. Forcing steals and charges isn't a consistent strength of the Laker defense, however, so Phoenix may find that its weakness goes unexploited. As with so much of this series, a great deal hinges on the Richardson-Ron Artest matchup. J Rich doesn't commit a great many turnovers, in part because he has decent handles and in part because Nash does so much of the ballhandling for Phoenix. Ron will want to force him off the three-point line, which would mean putting the ball on the floor. That, in turn, would leave Richardson vulnerable to the strong, fast and stealthy hands of the Ronster.

When talking about the Suns' attack, attention generally and understandably sways to their three-point skills, which are indeed admirable. What's less discussed but is just as important is their accuracy in shooting twos. Amare, Nash and Richardson are all efficient inside the arc. Guys like RoLo and Louis Amundson are, if not the most creative offensive players, dependable finishers at the rim. You can't ignore or cheat off any of these guys. There are no Thabo Sefolosha types that will allow Kobe Bryant freedom to roam. Sound positional defense, active rotations and consistent effort will be in great demand. If those three things are in place, superior height and length will keep Phoenix from shooting holes in the Laker D.

The Suns are a sneaky-good offensive rebounding team. The energy of Lopez and Amundson generates second looks, and for their positions Richardson, Dragic and Jared Dudley are all very productive on the offensive glass. Here again, the Lakers need to show discipline and effort from all five spots on the floor. Not just the bigs, but the wings and guards as well, need to find a man and box out when the rock goes up. Lopez and Andrew Bynum are important unknowns in this equation. Nobody's quite sure how much or how well either of them will play.

Also, if Lamar Odom feels like averaging double-digit rebounds in this series, that'd be cool.

When the Lakers Have the Ball

Let us turn now to how the Laker offense compares with the Suns' D.










Reb Rate


LA Off.

12.4 (5)

0.29 (19)

76.5 (12)

0.23 (13)

49.2 (14)

34.1 (24)

49.6 (17)

53.8 (17)

27.6 (8)

1.09 (11)


11.6% (30)

0.30 (16)


0.22 (16)

47.9 (9)

35.5 (18)

49.1 (12)

53.3 (9)

70.8 (29)

1.10 (23)

Here we get to the "weakness on weakness" portion of the show. It's true that both the Laker offense and the Phoenix D have turned up the dial a notch or two in the playoffs so far, but let's not lie to each other: neither of these units is an all-time killer. What we're about to find out is which postseason performance is more of a mirage. Did a short, and shorthanded, Jazz team make the Laker offense look better than it is? Was the Suns' defense let off easy by getting to face an old and weary San Antonio squad? If yes is the answer to both questions, which unit will crash to earth more horrifically?

Iunno, but I do know this: the Lakers are not going to commit many turnovers in this series. The Suns forced TOs at the lowest rate in the league this year, the Lakers were among the best at taking care of the ball, and they enter the series on an incredible run: in the last six quarters against the Jazz, spanning 135 possessions, the Lakers coughed the pill up only nine times. How many times, Principal Rooney?

Sick nine times? sound bite

Heh. Classic. SAVE FERRIS.

So that's a good start. Nearly every Laker possession will result in a shot of some kind. The quality of those shots... well, you never do know with this Lakers team, do you? The Suns' defense doesn't present any challenges different from what the Lakers have been dealing with all year long. Run the Triangle. Play inside-out. Use the time allotted by the shot clock to find the open man and get a high-percentage look. It sounds simple - it basically is simple - but sometimes the Lakers insist on making it complicated.

The Suns' shot defense manages to confound stereotypes. Because they have a bad D on the whole, it's often assumed that it's easy to shoot against them, but that's not the case. They're about league average in three-point percentage allowed, and they're in the top 10 in opponents' two-point percentage. A particular strength of theirs is forcing misses from the foul line in. The Lakers should look to route the ball consistently through Kobe or Pau Gasol in the post. With their fantastic court vision and passing skills, those two can interpret the defensive pressure and find either cutters going to the hole or open jump shooters on the weak side. Firing up midrange J's, however much they may warm the cockles of Stu Lantz's heart, isn't the way to go.

The Suns can force their share of misses all right. Their D struggles because it never generates turnovers, as discussed above, and because it's atrocious on the glass. This is where the Laker attack has a huge advantage. You're going to hear the word "volleyballing" a lot in this series, as that's what Pau and Lamar will be doing over and over again: reaching up to control missed shots, tipping them either into the hoop or back out to the perimeter. Not only will this result directly in pointage, but it'll also take some air out of the Phoenix offense by discouraging them from leaking out on the break.

Can someone do me a favor and speed up time? Monday can't get here soon enough.

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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