These are not the same Lakers (20-25). Not even close. These Lakers are now playing as one. For each other. And best of all, they're playing with a passion and confidence Laker fans have not seen the entire season. But with all of the excitement of finally seeing this team play like a team, we have yet to see the Lakers translate everything they've shown us these past 3 games on the road.
The Lakers own a horrible record away from Staples Center at 5-15 and have lost their last 7 games in their purple jerseys. What makes tonight's matchup against the Phoenix Suns (15-30) a little unsettling is the Suns have plenty of guys who can shoot the ball from deep. That means that the floor will be spread for the Lakers defensively, which leaves a lot of space in the paint for players like Goran Dragic to operate on offense.
Tonight's game is the first of 7 straight road games of the annual "Grammy Tour" for the Lakers. If this team have really turned it around, these games will test how much they've learned to play for one another and then some. But the Lakers don't need any reminder of just how important it is now to pick up wins. There are only 37 games left in the season, and the Lakers have yet to even out their record before they can even take over the 8th spot in the west. So, the time for excuses have long been gone for them. It's now or never.
This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams with the next at Staples Center on Feb. 12. The Lakers won the last game back in November, 114-102. They split last season's series at 2 apiece with each team winning in their home floor. So, the Lakers are looking for their first win at the US Airways Center since Jan. 5, 2011. The Suns are 11-11 at home and have only won once in their building in their last 5 games.
NOTE: This is the first time Steve Nash is in Phoenix as a Laker.
Matchup of the Game
Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic: These guys are former teammates in Phoenix, so they are very familiar with each other's game. But Nash was still injured in the previous meeting. In that game, Dragic led the Suns with 22 points and 7 assists. He was getting shots in the paint and getting open 3-pointers in transition. Nash will have to take as much of those away to help the Lakers win their first road game in 8 tries. Then again, this is Steve's first trip back in Phoenix wearing the Lakers jersey. Who knows, maybe he has something in store for Suns fans tonight.
Keys to the Game
> Defense: The Suns are still a perimeter team. They live and die by their jumpshots, so the Lakers can't worry too much about defending the paint even in transition. Rotation has to be quick and transition defense smart.
> Rebounding: There will be plenty of jumpshots taken tonight by the Suns. The Lakers have to box out and rebound as a team if they also want to slow down the tempo of the game to a grind.
> Contain Dragic: This guy will probe and attack the paint just to get the defense collapsing. Kobe Bryant might guard him but the game plan is still not allowing Dragic control the game for Phoenix.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Metta World Peace: He wasn't much of a factor against the Hornets last night, but he's been feasting on small teams the entire season. He had 22 points and 3 steals in the previous game versus the Suns due to Dwight Howard getting all of the attention inside and defending guys who have no handles. Look for him to be a major headache for Phoenix again.
SUNS: Luis Scola: This guy isn't the most athletic or explosive bigman in the NBA, but he's smart and tenacious in the post and around the boards. Metta might end up defending him tonight instead of Earl Clark, so we'll see how effective he'll be offensively.
Tonight @ Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
US Airways Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the rest of the season.
SUNS: Channing Frye (enlarged heart) is out.