Jan 28, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Jordan Hill (27) dunks against the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game 74 Preview: Suns vs. Lakers

Dec 23, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Chris Kaman (9) and center Jordan Hill (27) talk on the court against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. The Suns won 117-90. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night is upon us once again and this evening, Los Angeles faces the task of avoiding yet another series-sweep this season, in this instance at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Tonight, the Lakers will take on the high flying Suns roster that has excelled expectations right from opening night. On a six-game winning streak, Phoenix currently find themselves amidst a battle for the 8th seed in the western conference, a struggle that Lakers fans will be all too familiar with from the end of last season.

One only has to look at the dynamic backcourt duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to understand why the season has been a prosperous one for the Suns. In his last game (vs. New York), Dragic notched his ninth game of the season with 30+ points, sinking 11-17 from the field. As for Bledsoe, he scored 16 points with 7 rebounds and 6 assists to match. What is most attractive about this duo is that they produce beautiful chemistry on court. The amply named “Dragon” blooms as both a scorer and a facilitator, the later being a role that is often reversed between the two depending on who is having a hot scoring night. He’s a strong, tough guard who is more than capable of attacking the rim with flair and explosiveness, traits that LA have struggled to contain so far this year. Bledsoe also carries a lot of these same characteristics. In fact, they average very similar stats.

Bledsoe: 17.6ppg, 5.7apg, 1.56spg, .466 FG%, .796 FT%, .353 3P%

Dragic: 20.6ppg, 6.0apg, 1.4spg, .515 FG%, .756 FT%, .428 3P%

Dec 13, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) and Goran Dragic against the Sacramento Kings at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Kings 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 13, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) and Goran Dragic against the Sacramento Kings at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Kings 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s impossible not to look at those stat-lines and not marvel in their excellence. Their physical stats allow them to dominate on court whilst their speed allows them to run a fast, flowing offensive game. They dominate when breaking away and if the Lakers remain as lapse as they’ve been all year on their transition defence, it could be a very long night indeed.

Before our heads drop entirely, the Lakers hold a few notes of optimism going in to tonight’s matchup. LA have posted back-to-back home victories in the past seven days, including a routing of the Knicks on Tuesday. OK, that’s about it. Honestly, that’s it. Eek.

Friday night’s drubbing against the Minnesota Timberwolves could stand as the most horrendous defensive performance on the year, aside the near-fifty point mauling by the Clippers. The Lakers allowed Minnesota to score 41 points in the first quarter and at least 32 in the following three periods. Future free agent target Kevin Love collected yet triple-double performance finishing with 10 rebounds, more than anyone on the Lakers team. In fact, LA were out-rebounded by an astonishing 23 boards. That cannot occur again tonight against a team who this season have collected, on average, 43.2 a game this season.

If the Lakers wish to remain effective tonight, they’ll need to fight fire with fire and get their perimeter game rolling early on. In their last meeting in January, neither team were able to get hot beyond the arc. However, cast your mind back to the December 23rd matchup in Phoenix and we can see the damage that ensues if LA can’t sink their threes. In that tie, the Suns shot 43.8% from beyond the arc with Gerald Green single handily scoring 6 of his 11 attempts from downtown. The Lakers? 6-20 with a roster of just seven available. To avoid disaster, Jodie Meeks (who leads the team in three point field goals made) will need to ignite early on.

Another key factor could be recent recruit Kent Bazemore who has impressed almost all of the fanbase in his first 18 games. Whilst he’s not known for his ability as a shooter, the now- small forward is averaging a fine 13.6ppg since joining LA in February, setting a career-high with 8 assists a week ago against Orlando.

Mar 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kent Bazemore (6) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center. The Lakers won 103-94. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Hill could be another key player in tonight’s game after having a magnificent two weeks of play. The 6-11 center is set to start once again at the four alongside former exile Chris Kaman. His performance in Milwaukee on Thursday provided a shining light amongst a shower of shame. He matched his career-high in points (28), as well as collecting 16 boards, one shy of matching his CH set against Detroit back in November. He continues to shine as a starter and this will need to be evident once again tonight. His energy and hustle will also certainly be needed down low against the rebounding sophomore, Miles Plumlee, who collected 12 boards against the Knicks on Friday. With 11 double-doubles so far this season, the Duke alumnus has provided his ability on both ends of the court, yet another tricky battle for LA tonight.

The injury list remains frustratingly extensive for the Lakers. Jordan Farmar, of course, remains a definite “no”. Pau Gasol (vertigo), Xavier Henry (torn ligament, left wrist and sore right knee) and Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) are also all listed as doubtful.

Tonight could be a fun one. In the three games this season that Phoenix and LA have met, we’ve been treated to some entertaining affairs. However, entertainment won’t be enough to stop another embarrassing season-sweep. The Lakers will need to act fast, strong and contain Phoenix’s speedy offence, a task that is easier said than done.

 

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Tags: Eric Bledsoe Goran Dragic Jodie Meeks Jordan Hill Kent Bazemore LA Lakers Los Angeles Lakers Miles Plumlee Phoenix Suns Preview Suns

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