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Lakers - Suns Preview: Be the bully

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It is said that a bully rules only through fear and intimidation.  If you stand up to a bully, the bully will back down because, at heart, the bully is just as afraid of actual conflict as you are.  Well, I'm sorry to throw a rock through the window of life's cliches, but that's a load of crap.  Bullies do rule through fear and intimidation, but they can usually provide a damn good reason for you to be afraid of them.  9 times out of 10, that reason is size.  Bullies tend to be bigger than their prey, and while standing up to a bully is a romantic notion, the likely end result is that you'll get your ass kicked.

The Los Angeles Lakers are (one of) the bullies of the NBA.  Or they used to be.  They used to prey on all of those small teams out there that can't deal with the Lakers superior size.  That's how last night's 108-83 victory was obtained, as the Pistons had no answer for the length of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, who combined for 50 points on 29 shots.  That's how last season's championship was obtained, using their size advantage to make it difficult for teams to score, and culminating with an NBA Finals in which the bullied transformed into the bullies as the Lakers outworked the physical Celtics on the glass.  But the Lakers haven't been very bullyish lately.  They don't strike fear in their opponents hearts.  Their size has not been intimidating.  This has nothing to do with the league standing up to them.  It's actually the exact opposite.  The Lakers haven't given teams a chance to stand up to them, by refusing to stand up themselves.  Like a fat kid who just stole two kid's lunches, the Lakers are now letting the other kids walk right by them because they don't have much of an appetite right now.

The problem is that once you let enough kids by, you start losing your reputation.  The fear and intimidation go away.  Maybe this is where the misconception of standing up to a bully comes from, that eventually all bullies get too fat and satisfied and stop trying so hard, and this is mistaken to mean that the bullies never had the stomach for the fight in the first place.  Once gone, there's only one way to get your reputation back.  You gotta kick some asses.

Enter the Phoenix Suns.  Much like last night's opponent, they are very much a team ready to have its ass kicked.  From the moment Ron Artest put back that missed jumper to win game 5 of last year's WCF, the Suns have been on a downhill slope, and last month's trade of Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat (et. al) seems to have been the event that has finally caused things to snowball.  They've lost five of their last six, with the last three losses coming against teams below .500, with the most recent a come-from-ahead defeat in which they were outscored by 13 in the final period against the team with the worst record in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings

Ironically, the Lakers won't be able to beat Phoenix with just size.  The new look Suns boast two legitimate 7 footers, just like the Lakers, with the difference being that our legitimate 7 footers double as legitimate basketball players.  So it will be with skill, and with anything the slightest bit resembling defense, that the Lakers should be able to reign victorious tonight.  That's because Phoenix doesn't have the slightest idea what defense is.  Their defense is the worst in the league by a big enough margin that they would have to hold the Lakers to something like 50 points tonight just to improve their ranking from 30th to 29th.  And their offense doesn't even outrank the Lakers' O straight up (though L.A.'s offense is still rather inflated from a ridiculous start that looks more and more like a false idol every game). 

The Suns are division rivals and they can take motivation from the fact that we ended their season last year and started them down the path of futility they now find themselves, except that nearly half the squad has changed since then.  They beat the Lakers in Staples Center earlier this season (back when the Lakers were good, no less), but nearly half the squad has changed since then as well.  That victory was borne on the backs of 12-17 shooting from 3 pt land from players no longer on the roster.  Good luck getting that from Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat.

All signs point to a Laker victory, but then they do so far more often than the Lakers actually win.  Still, Phoenix is a team that is ready to be bullied.  The question is whether the Lakers have the mentality to do so.  Once that mentality is regained, the reputation won't be nearly so hard to earn back.

Lakers

Suns

RECORD

24-11

14.18

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.1 (3)

-2.0 (18th)

PACE

92.9 (15)

94.3 (8)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.2 (3)

111.1 (4)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

13.1% (8)

13.5% (12)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.232 (13)

0.232 (12)

Free-Throw %

79.4 (4)

76.0 (17)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.235 (12)

0.272 (4)

3PT% (Off.)

37.2 (10)

37.4 (9)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.6 (10)

52.7 (2)

True Shooting% (Off.)

 55.1 (11)

56.9 (3)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.4% (6)

25.1% (19)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.6 (10)

113.2 (30)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.1% (22)

13.5% (18)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.192 (2)

0.219 (7)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

.247 (23)

.234 (19)

3PT% (Def.)

33.3  (3)

36.2(17)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.8 (5)

52.7 (29)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.7 (4)

56.9 (29)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.0% (25)

69.1% (28)

All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.