The Suns are going to win? Yeah, sure. Now tell us why
A fella picks the Suns in seven probably as much for wishful thinking as anything but there is some rationalization that kind of makes it make sense. Like this little breakdown of the series that starts Monday night:
Derek Fisher vs. Steve Nash
Nash isn’t as fast as Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who killed Fisher in the first round, nor is he as strong as Utah’s Deron Williams, who killed Fisher in the second round.
But Nash is a leader, he can make shots, he can create havoc and he’s as tough pound-for-pound as anybody in the league. Oh, and his shooting is perfect antidote for any decision the Lakers may make to slough off him to cover others.
Fisher’s aging, is hardly quick and athletic; but he’s a streaky shooter and you have to admit he makes big shots at key moments late in close games.
Kobe Bryant vs. Jason Richardson
No way Richardson can stop Bryant and you’re going to see Grant Hill covering Bryant for a lot of the time. Doesn’t really matter, though, because Kobe’s Kobe, he has a score to settle with the Suns from years ago and, if his knee holds up, he could be phenomenal, like he usually is.
Richardson can indeed stretch defences with his three-point shooting but since the Lakers aren’t likely to double anyone, those open looks could be few and far between. Besides, that Bryant fellow’s not a bad defender in his own right.
Ron Artest vs. Grant Hill
Again, this is a matchup in flux since Hill will move around a lot so it’s probably not fair to judge it one-on-one. But whoever said life, or NBA Western Conference finals preview packages, was fair?
Artest’s been pretty good in the playoffs and the best thing the Suns can hope for is that he knocks down a couple of early threes because it gets him thinking he’s some deadly long-distance shooter.
This would be a big edge for the Lakers if Artest actually had to cover someone critical to Phoenix’s offence but Hill’s hardly that. Artest’s biggest challenge is going to come when he’s guarding someone off the Suns bench.
Advantage: Lakers, slightly.
Pau Gasol vs. Amar’e Stoudemire
You want to talk about your study in contrasts? How about the smooth Gasol against the power of Stoudemire? How about someone with finesse against someone with brute strength? Fascinating in a lot of ways.
Gasol’s a stud, no question about it, he can finish with both hands, he rebounds effectively most of the time and he’s probably quick enough to recover and catch up with Stoudemire rolling off high screens in Phoenix’s bread-and-butter play.
Stoudemire? Might have been the best player in the league for parts of the second half of the regular season but he’s got a tendency to wander on defence and that’s where Gasol’s going to have a huge edge.
Andrew Bynum vs. Robin Lopez
The medics may determine this one, actually.
Bynum’s got some cartilage issues in his knee and hasn’t really practiced hard in a week; Lopez returns after missing more than a month with a bad back. Instead of numbers, they should probably wear red crosses on their jerseys.
But all things being equal, Bynum’s bigger, stronger and more experienced. Trouble for him is the Suns are not going to get a lot of minutes out of Lopez and then it’s matter of finding out what Phoenix backup that Bynum can cover.
Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton for Los Angeles; Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa, Luis Amundson for Phoenix
Remember way back in the day when the Suns had to ride all their starters for like 40 minutes a night because you and I were almost effective as their bench? Um, not so much any more. Phoenix comes at you with waves of shooters and quickness and you never know which one’s going to have some kind of huge breakout game (hi, Goran!). Oh, and Dudley’s going to make one of the Laker bigs come far away from the basket, which is foreign territory for them.
Odom’s the enigma in this whole thing. Sublimely gifted, he can dominate or disappear depending on either his mood, the day’s biorhythms or what have you. The rest of them? Relatively marginal talent.
Phil Jackson vs. Alvin Gentry
Mind games? You want mind games? Oh, Phil will give you mind games like few others and there’s a level of condescension to him that some (hi, Doug!) find rather irksome. Still, the dude can coach, can’t he?
About the only thing many people know about Alvin is that he’s not Terry Porter and that seems to have worked wonders with the Suns.
And now the requisite other stuff to think about:
How often are we going to see Kobe Bryant move over and guard Steve Nash? I’m betting it’s quite often and that’s going to have pretty big impact on games, methinks?
So, in his playoff history, Nash had had a gory gash on his nose one year, been hip-checked into a scorer’s table another time and bloodied over his eye a week ago. If he heads onto the court followed by a swarm of locusts, we’ve got ourselves a story.
The series could very well turn on three-point shooting and I’d like Phoenix’s chances in that regard.
The last time Bryant faced the Suns in a playoff game, he absolutely disappeared in the second half of Game 7 in 2006, three shots, one point and accusations he went in the tank in protest of a shoddy lineup around him. I’m betting that doesn’t happen again.
The real burning question: What kind of hair or fashion statement will Ron Artest make for Game 1?
Hands up everyone who really, really, really wants Nash to play for a championship? Thought so.