Lakers point to inside game as main key against Phoenix Suns
It's a simple formula and one the Lakers know make them nearly unbeatable if they execute it correctly. That approach entails running their offense through the post, taking advantage of the height discrepancy they typically have with two seven-footers in center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol.
Though the Suns expect center Robin Lopez to return in time for their Western Conference finals matchup with the Lakers, beginning Monday, Phoenix's perimeter-oriented lineup means the Lakers have an easy mismatch on their hands, if they execute correctly.
"We have size, and it's been our strength," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We want to exploit it, and we certainly will against the Phoenix Suns."
This isn't anything new. One of the key components to the Lakers' semifinals sweep against Utah entailed the Lakers tremendous size advantage. With Utah without Mehmet Okur (ruptured left Achilles) for the series and Andrei Kirilenko (ruptured left Achilles missing the first two games, the Jazz had little to counter the Lakers' talent in the post, featuring Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom. In fact, the three scored 163 of the team's 437 total points in four games. They also grabbed at least 10 rebounds apiece in the first two games, a feat that hasn't happened since the 1985 Portland team accomplished it in a playoff matchup against Dallas.
If the Lakers' history has anything to do with it, their size should prove advantageous against a team that lacks any seven-footer in the starting lineup. Bynum scored 26 points and Odom came close to a triple- double in the Lakers' 121-102 victory Nov. 12 against Phoenix, despite missing the services of Gasol (right hamstring). In the Lakers' 102-96 victory March 12 over Phoenix, Bynum (18 points) and Gasol (15 points) represented two of the five players who scored double figures for the Lakers.
Of course, there are some unknowns, with Bynum using this week to get extra treatment on the lateral meniscus on his right knee and coming off a zero-point performance in Game 3 against Utah and a six-point performance in Game 4. But given his history against Phoenix, Bynum remains confident he can replicate the numbers he posted against the Suns in the regular season.
"I think I just need to be more active," Bynum said. "It's tough for me to move, but I'll be able to get it done."
The presence Bynum and Gasol provide inside benefits the Lakers in other ways too. Their double teams in Game 3 against Utah led to strong shooting performances from Ron Artest and Derek Fisher, both of whom scored 20 points on seven-of-13 shooting. In addition to Kobe Bryant's improved health, the attention the bigs command inside has helped him score at least 30 points in the last five games.
Of course, the Lakers can't just pound the ball inside for the sake of doing so. You don't need to look further than in the Lakers' embarrassing Game 4 loss to Oklahoma City to see that forcing the ball inside doesn't always work if the opponent is fronting them in the post. But in an offense that preaches balance and movement, correctly using Gasol and Bynum inside can help create that synergy the Lakers constantly try to achieve.
-- Mark Medina
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