I bet the Suns are glad they held onto Amare Stoudemire as rumors were running rampant at the trade deadline that he could be on the move. The Suns have got excellent play in the post season out of unexpected sources but they are going to have to take their game up another notch to deal with the defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers look hungry to win another championship so this series should be a great one to watch. Here is a closer look at the matchups:
POINT GUARD: One could argue that Steve Nash is the best point guard on the planet. He keeps his teammates involved in the offense while still getting his own points as he is a outstanding shooter from everywhere on the court. Nash has hit 51.2% from the floor, 46.4% from three point range and 89.1% of his free throws so far during the playoffs. Nash has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Suns in the playoffs and he is averaging 34.0 minutes, 17.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game.
Derek Fisher is a point guard in name only as Kobe Bryant is the real director of the offense. Fisher’s game is shooting the ball as he has nailed 42.2% of his three point shots in the playoffs so far. Fisher has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Lakers in the playoffs and he is averaging 34.1 minutes, 10.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
SHOOTING GUARD: Jason Richardson has been the Suns’ best player this post season as he is taking his game to a different level. He has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Suns in the playoffs and he is averaging 33.0 minutes, 21.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.0 steal per game. He is shooting well from everywhere on the floor in the playoffs as he is hitting 51% of his shots from the floor, 51.5% from three point range and 77.5% from the free throw line. Richardson will have his hands full defending Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant is probably really the best player in the NBA (sorry LeBron) as he is a closer. He wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line and he produces way more with those shots than probably anyone in the league. Bryant has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Lakers in the post season and he is averaging 38.5 minutes, 26.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game. I expect him to at least average those kinds of numbers in this series.
CENTER: It’s looking like Robin Lopez is going to be ready to go for this series after sitting out all of the playoffs due to injury. He gives the Suns a legit big man to deal with Andrew Bynum inside. Lopez played in 51 games (31 starts) for the Suns during the regular season in which he averaged 19.3 minutes, 8.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.1 assists and 1.0 blocked shot per game.
Andrew Bynum is a rising force for the Lakers. He gives them muscle, offense and defense from the pivot. Bynum should have a good series against the Suns. He has played in 10 games (0 starts) in the post season and he is averaging 27.8 minutes, 10.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 2.0 blocked shots per game.
POWER FORWARD: Amare Stoudemire hasn’t looked like himself in the playoffs so far but I have a feeling that he is going to step up in this series. He is a free agent at the end of the year and this series could make him millions. But the Suns need him to have a big series against Pau Gasol to have any chance of a upset in this series. Stoudemire has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Suns in the playoffs and he is averaging 35.7 minutes, 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocked shots per game. The Suns need him to better those stats in this series.
Pau Gasol is the second best player on the Lakers but it’s close between him and Kobe. He has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Lakers in the playoffs and he is averaging 37.6 minutes, 20.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 blocked shots per game. Gasol will need to hit the glass in this series and he will have to keep up with Stoudemire who loves to run and finish in the open floor.
SMALL FORWARD: Grant Hill is a warrior as doctors told him to quit playing a couple of years ago. But he wanted to win a championship and that’s what motivates him. Hill has played in 10 games (all starts) in the post season and he is averaging 29.6 minutes, 9.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He does the little things it takes for his team to win.
Like Hill, Ron Artest does the dirty work for the Lakers. He plays defense first before even thinking about looking for his own shot. He has played in 10 games (all starts) for the Lakers in the post season and he is averaging 36.0 minutes, 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
BENCH: Before the year started I would have said that the Lakers had a better bench than the Suns but they don’t right now. The Suns’ bench is a big reason why they are still playing right now as they have 10 players on the roster that have played in every game of the playoffs. F/C Channing Frye could cause some problems for the Lakers if he’s on his game as he is a outstanding long range shooter. Frye has played in 10 games (0 starts) for the Suns during the playoffs so far and he is averaging 28.2 minutes, 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. PG Goran Dragic has also been outstanding in the playoffs this year single handedly beating the Spurs in one of the games. He has played in 10 games (0 starts) for the Suns in the post season and he is averaging 14.3 minutes, 7.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Leandro Barbosa brings instant offense of the bench for the Suns. He has played in 10 games (0 starts) in the playoffs and he is averaging 15.8 minutes, 7.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. Forward Jared Dudley has been outstanding in the playoffs too playing in 10 games (0 starts) in which he is averaging 23.4 minutes, 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Louis Amundson brings effort, defense and rebounding off the bench. He has played in 10 games (0 starts) for the Suns in the playoffs and he is averaging 12.3 minutes, 2.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.1 assists per game. Center Jarron Collins might not get on the floor much in this series despite starting all 10 games at center in the playoffs for the Suns. He is averaging 11.4 minutes, 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in the post season.
The Lakers will probably have a tighter bench rotation than the Suns will. It all starts with forward Lamar Odom who has been called out a few times in the playoffs by Phil Jackson. Odom has played in 10 games (0 starts) in the playoffs and he is averaging 26.9 minutes, 8.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Shannon Brown gives Kobe a break once in a while. He has played in 10 games (0 starts) for the Lakers in the playoffs and he is averaging 16.5 minutes, 6.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. Jordan Farmar will backup Derek Fisher in this series. Farmar has played in 10 games (0 starts) for the Lakers in the playoffs and he is averaging 12.5 minutes, 4.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Luke Walton and Josh Powell have both played in 9 games off the bench for the Lakers but neither of them have been much of a factor.
COACHING: Alvin Gentry definitely is a solid coach on the rise. He goes with the flow of the game as he let his backups pretty much win a game in San Antonio. The Suns are 8-2 (80%) under Gentry in his first trip to the post season but now he is matched up against the Zen Master so he will have to coach even better in this series.
Phil Jackson always has his Lakers ready to play. They are now 106-52 (67.1%) with Jackson leading the way for them. He knows how to get the most out of his team all of the time.
PREDICTION: I look for this to be a classic series as the Suns are a team on the rise but the Lakers are the King of the Mountain. I like the Lakers to win this series in 7 hard fought basketball games.