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Lakers-Suns matchup: Five things to watch

April 07, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant says he still despises the Phoenix Suns for eliminating them in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant says he still despises the Phoenix Suns for eliminating… (Photo: Lakers guard Kobe…)

Some things to watch when the Lakers (35-21) visit the Phoenix Suns (28-27) Saturday at U.S. Airways Center.

1. Will Andrew Bynum compound his immaturity? The Lakers continue sending mixed signals between the coaching staff and players about what they think of Bynum's behavior. Lakers Coach Mike Brown expressed disappointment about Bynum ignoring advice from the coaching staff about avoiding an ejection Friday against Houston and mentioned the situation would be dealt with internally. Meanwhile, Bynum's teammates in the starting lineup all expressed patience with him.

The Lakers take a huge risk by tolerating his behavior. Their patience with Bynum's development has paid off, but their patience with his behavior has only emboldened him.Will  Bynum play with more composure while giving a solid effort? Will he dial back his intensity at the expense of trying hard? Or will he continue do just do as he pleases? No one, execpt for him, knows for sure.

2. Kobe Bryant should bounce back from his struggles against Houston. Some aggressive defense from Houston's Chandler Parsons and his bruised left shin contributed to his eight-of-20 effort Friday night. But given Bryant's never-ending hatred for Phoenix eliminating the Lakers in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs, his injuries will hardly deter him from lighting up the Suns again. In three games against Phoenix this season, Bryant has averaged a ridiculous 38.7 points on 53.7% shooting. Now that veteran Grant Hill won't guard him because he's sidelined from arthroscopic surgery, Bryant will feast even more. Bryant simply goes into Mamba mode against Phoenix. And at least against the Suns, the effort is both entertaining and productive for the Lakers offense.

3. Don't expect the Lakers' defense to suddenly improve. In nine of the Lakers' last 11 games, the defense has conceded more than 100 points. The issues have and will always point to the team's sudden belief they can outscore opponents, fatigue and overall effort remaining in question. Don't expect that to suddenly change against Phoenix. Since the NBA All-Star break, the Suns' offense ranks sixth in overall efficiency (106.8), a large improvement from a 100.2 rating before the All-Star break. The 38-year-old Steve Nash looks as effective as ever, averaging a league-leading 11.2 assists per game. And the Suns' frontline has seen statistical improvements before and after the All-Star break including Channing Frye (9.7 points, 12.4 points)  and Jared Dudley (11.7 points, 14.4 points).

4. Ramon Sessions can give Nash a taste of his own medicine. Usually, the Lakers wondered how they would defend Nash, and for the reasons outlined above it is a concern. But for once, Nash has to worry about what the Lakers' point guard will bring on offense. Nash's defensive deficiencies, ranked 145th overall, will hardly be enough to offset Sessions' aggressivness in driving to the basket and setting up teammates.

5. Can the Lakers' bench match the Suns'? Even if the stats don't show it, the Lakers bench actually looked promising against Houston. Though he shot one-of-nine, Matt Barnes grabbed 13 rebounds. Steve Blake organized the offense and led the Lakers' to a second-quarter comeback. Josh McRoberts provided both energy on the floor and restraint toward Bynum's anger. But can the Lakers replicate it against the Suns? But don't be misled by the statistics. The Suns rank eighth overall in bench scoring, but the true marker involves their efficiency, which ranks 20th in the league. That's why the Lakers shouldn't be concerned about scoring punch off the bench as much as simply maintaining leads.

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