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Game 6 Lakers-Suns preview: Who exactly has the advantage here?


I don't like momentum much as a talking point.  It can be a powerful force both when it is for and against you, but it can only be relied upon until it can't any more.  Take Channing Frye for example.  Through the first 3 games of this series, he had no personal momentum.  Every shot he was taking, we were all sure would miss.  He gave no signs of being able to snap out of it.  Now, he feels confident in what he's doing, and was the Suns 2nd best player in Game 5.  Or how about the Lakers bench guards?  Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar played so well in Games 1 and 2 that people actually started asking whether they were better than their much more vaunted Phoenix counterparts.  3 games later, I think we all know how laughable that question is. The more obvious discussion of momentum is within teams.  The Lakers "had" it the first two games, the Suns for the next 2.  In Game 5, momentum was a fickle creature, jumping ship multiple times.  The Suns started with it.  The Lakers took it.  The Suns took it back.  With the way the game ended, I'm not sure who kept it overnight.  Maybe nobody. 

All that said, momentum is going to play a huge part in tonight's game.  I'm not even sure which team has it, but whichever team comes out with it has a chance to capitalize on it to get the result they want.  IF (capitalized because it is a big if) the Suns are demoralized by coming so close to the big road win only to fall short on a "lucky" play, the Lakers will have a chance to come out and step on their opponents throat quickly (as we have seen this team do in Denver last year, OKC and Utah this year).  If the Suns come out even more confident because they came close on their opponents home floor and only need one more chance to make it happen, the Lakers will be playing an uphill battle all night long.

This match-up won't be dictated entirely by the Suns, however.  The Lakers are too powerful a team to have play dictated to them.  If the Suns come out strong, the Lakers likely won't go docilely into the night.  They see the Boston Celtics in the Finals.  We've seen them pull out mildly unexpected wins once they found out for sure who their next round's opponent was.  If nothing else, I expect the Lakers to be more competitive than they were in the first two go rounds in PHX.  Anybody expecting otherwise is not well versed in the ways of these Lakers.

At this point, there's no analysis left to be done.  The Suns will play a majority of zone, and it will be up to the Lakers to attack that zone properly as they did for most of Game 5, and drain the outside shots if they decide to take them.  Draining 3s is one way to defeat a zone real quick, but the Lakers' 3 point shot has deserted them in the last 3 games.  However, there is precedent for the Lakers rising to the challenge and shooting well on an opponent's home floor in a close out game (see OKC, game 6).

On the other side of the court, Phoenix is going to run as much as they can, and then run pick and rolls most of the rest of the time.  If their outside shooters hit at a high clip (something that hasn't happened nearly as much as PHX fans think it should), they are extremely difficult to stop on that side of the ball.  But, if the Lakers limit the Suns transition game (for which the only answer is an efficient offense), they will likely score more points.  If the game required that you run half court sets every time, I don't think the Suns could beat the Lakers under those circumstances.

What will be interesting to see is whether PJ builds on the rotations that we saw in Game 5.  The ineffective Shannon Brown saw his minutes stolen, and stolen well, by Sasha Vujacic.  Sasha seemed to get under countryman and rival Goran Dragic's skin just a little bit, though I wouldn't read too much into it.  More importantly, he looked poised on the court, and did hit a couple open shots.  In terms of capability, he is clearly the best shooter the Lakers have, but we all know his capability and his production do not go hand in hand.

There's one more thing I'd like to see more of, which was stolen from what I've gleaned off Suns fans.  I'd like to see Ron-Ron get some time defending Amar'e.  With Andrew Bynum failing to take advantage of his major edge in size because of physical limitations, I think the Lakers should go small, with Ron at the 4, Pau or LO at the 5 (If the Suns are playing Frye and Amar'e at the same time, we absolutely can play LO at the 5) and see what Stoudemire does when he can't automatically blow by his man.  No one out-muscles Ron-Ron, but he also has enough quickness to keep up with guys like Kevin Durant.  He'd be giving up lots of size to Stoudemire, but it might be a nice change up to throw, making Amar'e beat the Lakers with straight post moves that I'm not sure he possesses.  It's certainly not something to be done in large doses, and it is dangerous to try and beat the Suns at their own game (going small) but if Amar'e is in full Bully Ball mode, abusing our bigs along the way, it might be worth a look.  Besides, we talk all the time about how the Lakers are as versatile a team as you'll find.  Part of the reason they are so good is because they can beat you even when they play your style.

The Suns, and their fans, seem to be quite confident in the team's ability to respond to the stomach punch of Game 5.  They've identified trends that are comforting to them, and troubling to us.  Stuff like the fact that Lakers appear to be fading down the stretch of these last 3 games.  I'm not sure if it's properly labeled as fatigue, but the Suns have closed games 3-5 better than the Lakers have.  In the Suns' mind, the Lakers are wearing down, and the longer this series goes, the worse it will get.  In that case, all the more reason for the Lakers to end the game tonight.

Without actually looking ahead, looking ahead the Celtics will have 5 days off before the start of the NBA Finals, which will start in the West no matter what.  The Lakers can virtually match that rest period with a win tonight, and if fatigue really is a factor with this team, it's a rest they sorely need, so the Lakers have just as much motivation to go for the kill as the Suns have to keep on fighting.  If the Suns win, the Western contributor will have only 2 days rest before the Finals go full tilt.  Against an aging but still quite strong Celtics opponent, that would be an obvious disadvantage for either team.

I predicted Lakers in 6 before this series started, and I do think that's what will happen.  The Lakers don't have killer instinct in the normal sense, they don't step on opponent's throats, or destroy their will in the 1st half.  But, when the prize of advancement is this close, they have routinely put together their A+++ game to end a series at the first possible moment.  Meanwhile, the Suns are a mentally tough team, but they rely on outside shooting quite a bit, and in a game they know they need to make the shots or their season will be over, I expect a couple of guys to fold.  Especially on the bench, they've got too many guys who've never been in a situation of this magnitude.  But, if they don't, a game 7 is a very real possibility.

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