Knowing that both the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns had a week's rest coming into Game 1, I was expecting some ugly basketball often because of it. The Lakers started rusty while the Suns came out hot building a 7-point lead early. Phoenix finished the game shooting 49.4% from the field but were held to only 22.7% from three-point land. The Lakers eventually got their groove back and pounded the Suns downlow to capture the lead for good in that same first 12 minutes of play.
The Suns pretty much became stagnant and never really had an answer to everything the Lakers started doing. The defending champs shot a blistering 58% from the field and outshot the Suns from behind the arc at a whopping 47.1%.
Phoenix will try to do more of the same of jumping out early. They've no choice but to take better advantage of a possible poor shooting start by the Lakers in Game 2. The Suns missed quite a few open shots, but that may not continue on Wednesday. Of course, I also expect them to employ more of the zone defense to help negate the daunting size advantage of the Lakers. Then again, Phil Jackson and the Lakers were expecting to see more of that in Game 1 than what they showed. So look for the college-style defense early and often in Game 2.
The Suns could also try taking away the role players for the Lakers defensively in Game 2, but even that could prove a difficult task for them because Phoenix don't have a lot of defensive-minded players. Even the role players for the Lakers are good enough to know what the defense is trying to do because the Suns aren't the first or will be the last team to attempt that kind of defensive strategy on them.
Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudamire tried to get the offense going with some of their staple pick-and-rolls on Monday, but the Lakers did a decent job at defending most of it. Actually, the Laker defense didn't give much options to Nash and the Suns offensively. They were active at closing down passing angles and driving lanes while keeping Stoudamire as far away from the hoop as possible.
But that won't discourage Phoenix from trying go to their bread-and-butter system in Game 2. They'll just try to involve more people this time around, and Nash will likely try to take over the scoring load more this time around. That might actually bode well for the Lakers since it will take the rest of the Suns out of the game. Besides, that will give Derek Fisher more chances of stopping Nash. We all know how much he's waiting for an opportunity to disprove everyone who thinks Nash has a huge advantage over him. I just think Fish will turn up his aggression when Steve decides to challenge him.
Stoudamire might look to score closer to the basket. But seeing as to how effectively he shot those 15-footers and how ineffective he is going up against any Laker big in the lowpost, I don't see him changing his game much for Game 2. Much of his attacks going to the hoop depends upon Nash setting them up for him. Against the Laker defense, those types of plays will be scarce.
As for the Lakers, they will wait and see what the Suns do first on both baskets before they reveal their adjustments. They'll keep pounding the ball in the paint until Phoenix gives them a reason to go elsewhere first. It will take a major defensive effort by the Suns to make the Lakers stay away from their bigs for good.
On the other hand, I don't think Alvin Gentry would want to give Kobe more opportunities to destroy them. Come to think of it, Bryant will never turn it down no matter what the Lakers do offensively or what Phoenix does defensively.
Andrew Bynum only played 19 minutes and scored just 4 points Monday night. He mentioned that his knee is getting worst before Game 1, and that doesn't sound well for him. The good thing is he's still not sitting any game, and that the Lakers are used to playing in the playoffs without him. So that isn't entirely a major concern, as of now.
Robin Lopez gave Phoenix a surprising solid return to action with 14 points and 6 boards in Game 1. He started over Jarron Collins because he provides the size and defense to go up against Bynum. But don't rely on him to all of a sudden keep Bynum from scoring. When Andrew decides to put up points, Lopez is still not good enough to stop him.
Jason Richardson was held to only 15 points. The Suns aren't so successful whenever he doesn't score more than 20 points a game, and you can bet the Lakers will never take their eyes off of him on defense. Grant Hill was a non-factor again against the Lakers with 7 points on a miserable 1-of-5 shooting. Having to defend Bryant takes away his energy and rhythm offensively. He did have a couple of good defensive plays against Kobe, but a handful of good defense will not get the job done against Bryant.
Phoenix was able to sweep the Spurs because they controlled much of each game on both sides of the floor. Offensively, they forced the Spurs to matchup with them. Defensively, the Suns threw active bodies at Tim Duncan and took away the lanes from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. As we all know, active and the Spurs are hardly mentioned on the same sentence. Having their bench outwork San Antonio's second unit helped as well.
But all of that doesn't apply much to the Lakers simply because the Lakers are a much better team and better coached than San Antonio, and Gregg Popovich will be the first to admit that.
The bottom line is: the Suns will show some adjustments on offense and defense. Unfortunately for them, the result will be the same as Game 1.
Tuesday's Phil Jackson interview:
Game 1 post-game interviews: