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Five things to watch in Lakers-Suns game

February 19, 2012 |  1:57 pm

68195301Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (18-12) visit the Phoenix Suns (12-19) on Sunday evening at U.S. Airways Center:

1. Can the Lakers shake their road woes? You'd think the Lakers would have no issues dismantling Phoenix, especially two days after doing so. But the Lakers' home (13-2) and road records (5-10) remain a strong disparity for a variety of reasons, most notably their offensive execution. So it's way too presumptuous to think the Lakers can replicate their 111-point effort Friday against Phoenix. 

2. Kobe Bryant will light it up again. ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin obtained the Suns' 52-page scouting report on the Lakers, and it provides fascinating details. The revelations aren't particularly surprising, but they are interesting to read considering many of them echo similar sentiments Laker fans express in this forum on a regular basis. The nugget on the Black Mamba: "Bryant is going to get his 30 points, almost no matter what. The key is to have him get 30 points on 30 shots."  

That didn't happen Friday. Bryant ended a seven-game shooting slump in which he shot 37% by dropping 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting, striking a great balance between driving to the basket, shooting from the post and threading the needle on double teams. No doubt, Bryant will score a lot of points in this game. He repeatedly expressed his hatred toward Phoenix for eliminating the Lakers in the first round of the 2006 and 2007 playoffs. That's not going to go away. The key is if the scoring comes within the context of the offense.

Pau Gasol
3. Can Pau Gasol bounce back from a disappointing performance Friday?His four-of-13 effort Friday against Phoenix reflected his monthlong struggle in shooting from the field. Though his 18.6 points and 14 rebounds per game this month shows marked improvement from January's numbers (16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds), Gasol's shooting percentage has dropped from 50.2% to 46.8%.

Bryant openly suspected this recent stretch contributes to the ongoing uncertainty on whether the Lakers will trade Gasol before the March 15 deadline. As professional as Gasol has remained this season, he's also human. Gasol may insist the uncertainty doesn't affect his on-court play, but it's still on his mind. It's critical for his own confidence that he can improve such efforts.

4.  Can the Lakers' bench build on their success? The second unit combined for 34 points against Phoenix, a promising sign considering the bench's season-long inconsistency. Coach Mike Brown says his rotation involving Steve Blake-Andrew Goudelock-Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy and Bynum isn't set in stone. But from a chemistry standpoint, the unit remains the most effective because of Blake's passing, Goudelock's shooting, Barnes' cutting, Murphy's spacing and Bynum's inside presence. But it remains too early to know whether this unit will become a legitimate threat. 

5. Will the Lakers clean up their play? As promising as the Lakers appeared against Phoenix, it also remained a sloppy affair. The Lakers committed 17 turnovers. They allowed the Suns to cut double-digit leads in both the second and fourth quarters. Brown lamented breakdowns on weakside defense. It's unlikely the Lakers can absorb such mistakes in a road environment. 


Lakers' bench establishing a stronger identity

Lakers face tougher challenges on the road

Lakers show offensive improvement in 111-99 victory over Suns

— Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant takes an off-balance shot over Suns power forward Channing Frye in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / February 16, 2012

Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol tries to score in the lane against Suns forwards Markieff Morris (11) and Grant Hill in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / February 16, 2012