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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Los Angeles Versus Phoenix Preview

Western Conference Finals

#1 L.A. Lakers (57-25) vs. #3 Phoenix (54-28)

Season series: L.A. Lakers, 3-1

Phoenix can win if…the Suns are able to produce high percentage scoring opportunities in the open court by getting defensive stops and pushing the ball before the Lakers can set up their half court defense. Steve Nash must break down the Lakers' point guards off of the dribble in order to create open shots for his teammates and himself. Amare Stoudemire has to assert himself not only offensively but also defensively and on the glass. The Suns also need Jason Richardson to be a consistent scoring threat, forcing Kobe Bryant to expend energy defensively.

L.A. will win because…the Suns have no answer for Bryant, who averaged 27.5 ppg on .544 field goal shooting in four regular season games versus Phoenix. Bryant typically scores prolifically and efficiently versus the Suns: in 2008-09 he averaged 28.3 ppg on .467 field goal shooting against the Suns and in 2007-08 he scored 31.3 ppg on .537 field goal shooting versus Phoenix. The Lakers have won the regular season series versus the Suns 3-1 in each of the past three years.

The Suns' problems defending Bryant are compounded by the fact that it will also be difficult for them to match up with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint. If the Suns double team Bryant, then Gasol or Bynum will have a field day.

Other things to consider: Kobe Bryant sat out four of the Lakers' final five regular season games to rest his injured right knee but the time off did not cure whatever was ailing him and he clearly did not have the usual bounce in his legs when the playoffs started. Although he rescued the Lakers in game two of the first round versus the Thunder by scoring 39 points--including 15 in the fourth quarter--Bryant did not really hit his stride until game five of that series: the Lakers had an extra off day and the well rested Bryant asked for--and received--the responsibility of checking young Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. Bryant's suffocating defense enabled the Lakers to win that pivotal contest and then they closed out the series behind his 32 points on 12-25 field goal shooting in game six.

Bryant seemed like the Kobe Bryant of old--as opposed to an old Kobe Bryant--as he averaged 32.0 ppg on .523 field goal shooting in the Lakers' sweep of the Utah Jazz, scoring at least 30 points in each game. Bryant is the only player to score at least 30 points in four straight playoff games versus the Jazz--and he has accomplished this feat twice. Bryant's 32 point performance in game four against Utah marks the seventh straight time that he has scored at least 30 points in a potential closeout game on the road, breaking the NBA record held by Elgin Baylor.

It cannot be a comforting thought to the Suns that Bryant will have had a week of rest prior to game one of this series.

Through 10 playoff games this year, Bryant is averaging 26.9 ppg while shooting .457 from the field, .375 from three point range and .790 from the free throw line. The Lakers are 6-0 when Bryant scores at least 30 points but just 2-2 when he scores 24 points or less. Bryant shot at least .455 from the field in five of his six 30 point games but shot .444 or worse from the field in three of the four games in which he scored 24 points or less. As I have insisted since the playoffs began, the key factor for the Lakers to be successful is for Bryant to average at least 26-28 ppg while shooting .450 or better from the field; those levels of productivity and efficiency by Bryant force opposing teams to tilt their defenses toward Bryant, opening up easy scoring opportunities for Bryant's teammates.

This may seem odd to say, but the Cleveland Cavaliers' premature ouster from the playoffs aids the Lakers' quest to win repeat titles. The Cavs--with their deep rotation of big guys--matched up better with the Lakers than any other playoff team in either conference and they wore down the Lakers during both regular season meetings. The Celtics probably match up better with the Lakers than the Suns or Magic but the Magic--who did not match up real well with the Cavs--will probably take out the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. So, when LeBron James decided to spend game five of the Cleveland-Boston series wandering around aimlessly behind the three point line he changed the theme of the 2010 playoffs from "Win a ring for the 'King'" to "Win a ring for the thumb"--Bryant now has a great opportunity to capture his fifth championship, tying Lakers legend Magic Johnson and moving to within one title of Michael Jordan.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:11 AM



At Sunday, May 16, 2010 6:08:00 AM, Anonymous Aqzi said...

Thanks for the analysis, David.

Please explain (briefly, if possible) how you think the Celtics match up better with the Lakers than the Magic.

"The Celtics probably match up better with the Lakers than the Suns or Magic but the Magic--who did not match up real well with the Cavs--will probably take out the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals."

At Monday, May 17, 2010 4:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As we saw during the 2008 NBA Finals, the Celtics are a very physical team not only defensively but also offensively (they set hard picks and they post up very aggressively). Pau Gasol does not like to be "touched," to play toe to toe in close quarters versus physical players. The only really physical player the Magic have is Howard and the Lakers can put Bynum on Howard for at least part of the game but against Boston there is no way for Gasol to avoid facing a player who is more physical and aggressive than he likes to be. Also, even though Howard is an athletically dominant player, he does not "punish" opponents the way that Shaq still does and the way that several of Boston's players do with hard screens/hard fouls.

The Celtics also play more effective team defensive game versus Bryant than the Magic do.

At Monday, May 17, 2010 2:35:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

The Celtics matched up in 2008 because Bynum didn't play and Luke Walton had to guard Pierce (or Allen when Kobe switched over) because Ariza was hurt. Bynum and Artest change the equation for the better and Gasol has become a much tougher, focused and confident player (on both ends). I'm not disagreeing with you that the Celtics match-up better than Orlando, but only adding that the Celtics don't match-up as well as 2008.

Orlando has the home court over L.A. and the Celtics don't, which matters greatly in a 2-3-2 format. As a Laker fan, I rather see Celtics mainly for that reason.

Do you give any credence to the claim that Grant Hill has become a defensive stopper and could limit Kobe to less than .450 shooting while keeping him off the line?

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 1:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Guess we know the answer to your question. 40 points on 13-23.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 5:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You are correct that the Lakers had serious matchup problems in the 2008 Finals because Kobe was the only healthy player on the roster who could competently guard Pierce and Allen (the Lakers had a similar problem in the 2004 Finals vis a vis Billups and Hamilton).

Bynum did not play in the 2008 Finals and did not contribute much during the 2009 playoff run, so my evaluations and predictions concerning the Lakers are not predicated on him being an impact player. I know that the "stat gurus" and certain commentators are in love with his game but due to injuries he is often either out of the lineup entirely or else very limited, so to me he is essentially a very well known role player. Jeff Van Gundy is usually very insightful but I have to laugh when he says that the Lakers cannot win the title without a healthy Bynum. Why not? Bynum averaged 6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg in last year's playoffs. I am sure that if push comes to shove the Lakers can find six points and four rebounds somewhere else--we know that Kobe can provide the points and he can provide an extra rebound or two per game, for that matter.

Home court advantage is certainly nothing to dismiss lightly but if I were the Lakers I'd rather play the Magic in Orlando using the same game plan that the Celtics just employed in game one than take a chance facing a Boston team that is really hitting its stride now defensively.

Regarding Grant Hill, the anonymous commenter beat me to the punch: no, I don't think that Grant Hill can slow down Kobe, let alone stop him. This is a playoff series in which Kobe will put up monster numbers if his knee does not flare up between games.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 11:28:00 AM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Thanks for your reply. Bynum is a role player (who, unfortunately costs $13m a year) and his chronic injuries are making this a Oden situation. Like good role players, though, he can steal a game or two in a series with a really good game (like Leon Powe in 2008, or Dragic, Jason Terry, etc.). Bynum's definitely capable of that. He has good hands and can finish strong, which is useful if bigs are rotating off him to Gasol and Kobe (as opposed to, say, Brian Cook and DJ Mbenga in 2008).

First impressions are hard to reverse, but Gasol has really toughened up since 2008 and will drive the ball into rough, aggressive bigs instead of meekly kicking it out. Give him a fresh look.

(Also, I never said Hill could guard Kobe, I was just asking...)

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


david why is everyone makeing a big thing about bynum barkley legler and others have for a player who averaged 10 and 8 in playoffs 8 amd 8 vs utah how is he the diffrence? kobe is always the diffrence since he scored 6 straight 30 point games they won every game had 40 last night look healthier.

odom had 19 and 19 great game last night but his problem has been consistency he hasnt done much in this playoffs and kenny smith a queens guy is tooting his horn if he played in a suns system he get 17 and 10. alot of players could get 17 and 10 in suns system cause so many possesion in a game look at al harrington q rich and others even j rich stat stuff in that system. triangle is a presistent offense you have to be consistet in and odom cant.

the lakers size is a factor defensively only other laker major factor is pau gasol who is a true beast far as bigs they mobile athletic bigs which give teams problems. the suns cannot play good enough d to win series too small have no answer for kobe this all equals a 5 game series david.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

So you think that Boston will beat the Lakers in the Finals if they both get there? I think the Magics have more firepower and present a bigger problem to the Lakers than the Celtics.
The one problem with the Celtics-Lakers matchup is that I still don't believe that Pau Gasol has toughened up. So KG-Perkins-Wallace will play him real physical. The one plus on lakers side is that they have Artest. Something they didn't have in 08. Artest can bother Paul pierce.
And do you think that this Boston team can stop Kobe?

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How many playoff games could it legitimately be said that Bynum "stole"/tilted in the Lakers' favor during the championship run? He did not have a single game with at least 10 rebounds and he only reached double figures in points five times (with a high of 14 and two games with exactly 10) in 23 games. Bynum is better than Cook and Mbenga but that is hardly saying much, particularly in light of Bynum's salary and considering how highly praised he has been by "stat gurus" and commentators alike.

Gasol has shown more toughness in the past two seasons than he did in 2008 but the Celtics' frontline would still pose a challenge for him if the teams meet in the Finals.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 6:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have no idea why some people have exaggerated Bynum's importance or why they have overlooked how well Kobe is playing.

I have mentioned before that it is great to be Pau Gasol because opposing defenses cannot key on him due to Kobe's greatness--and it is even better to be Odom, because all he has to do is produce one good game a month and he receives so much praise. Not that he--or anyone else--should be expected to get 19 and 19 every night but that was just Odom's third double figure rebounding game in 11 playoff contests this season. He has reached double figures in points just four times and in five out of 11 playoff games he shot .429 or worse from the field. Odom is not "underrated"--contrary to what so many people say--but rather he is an underachiever who is very inconsistent with his effort and focus.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2010 6:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I never said that the Celtics would beat the Lakers; I merely pointed out that the Celtics match up better with the Lakers than any of the remaining teams do. My original pick before the playoffs began was that the Cavs would beat the Lakers and I will not make another Finals pick until we know which teams will be playing for the championship.

The Celtics cannot stop a healthy Kobe but they can throw a variety of defenders at him, including Pierce and the two Allens; more importantly, if Gasol plays softly then the Celtics can reprise their 2008 strategy of sending their whole team at Kobe and daring anyone else to beat them. For the Lakers to defeat the Celtics, Kobe must score 26-28 ppg while shooting at least .450 from the field and Gasol must hold up his end of the bargain by converting a high percentage of his easy opportunities in the paint and being a significant presence defensively and on the glass.

At Wednesday, May 19, 2010 7:53:00 AM, Anonymous Gyrel Dagooc said...

I like the Lakers, but Im pulling for the Suns. I think it would be nice to see Nash finally win it all.. Kobe and the Lakers have had their shots already. Much like Patriots in NFL.. We want other teams to win the trophy. Suns..

At Wednesday, May 19, 2010 8:12:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

How many playoff games could it legitimately be said that Bynum "stole"/tilted in the Lakers' favor during the championship run?

I wrote,"he can steal a game" so you misquoted me by changing the tense and you limited the discussion to 2009. That's a convenient switcheroo because it ignores his 21/10 in 27 minutes in game 5 v. OKC and 17/14 in Game 2 v. Utah. Those are good games from a role player, especially one hobbled by a a torn meniscus and out of shape.

Kendrick Perkins has played more minutes and more games but corralled double digit rebounds only twice and scored more than 10 only once in these playoffs. Rasheed has terrible numbers (not advanced stats, just bread and butter numbers).

Bynum is a fine role player, if overpaid and over-hyped, and definitely better than what the Lakers brought vs. Boston in 2008. He will have an impact in that series and play as well as Perkins, if not better.

At Thursday, May 20, 2010 1:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


personally i think unless kobe get hurt this series is over 124 POINTSAND 128 POINTS FIRST TWO GAMES SHOW PHOENIX STILL SAME DEFENSIVE TEAM. kobe dropped 40 in game 1 so they decided to double him he promply dropped 13 assists in this one to go with 21 points pau gasol dropped 29 9 5 then artest benefiecary of some of kobe assists dropped 18 odom another benefeciary of kobe as well dropped 17 11. odom and pau could create they own shot artest totally benefited from kobe doubles the suns play no d so they got no shot in this series lakers top 4 get 94 and 89 next two games this is a sweep.

if lakers play boston boston will be alot better defensively vs kobe so pau will have to be big in that series if they are to win it becuase thats who they gonna play i kindof like the celts winning it all they d tough.

At Thursday, May 20, 2010 4:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You said that he "can" steal a game, so I asked you to provide some examples of games that he has "stolen." I did not misquote you or misrepresent what you said; I asked you to support your contention by citing a specific example, just like when people say things like "Carmelo Anthony is an elite player" I respond by asking how they define "elite" and where specifically they would rank Melo among the top NBA players.

Notwithstanding your dispute over semantics, though, I think that we essentially agree about Bynum: he is a role player for the Lakers, not an integral part of the team. The reason that I mentioned last season's playoff run specifically is that the Lakers basically won a championship without him last season so I don't understand why anyone would say that he is a vital piece to the puzzle this year.

The key big man for the Lakers if they meet the Celtics in the Finals will be Gasol; he simply has to be productive (at least 18-20 ppg plus 10-plus rpg) and efficient (shooting percentage above .520) both offensively and defensively. If Bynum contributes something that will be a nice bonus but if he does not then Odom will have to step up and be more consistent.

At Thursday, May 20, 2010 1:55:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

Do you think the fact that the Lakers are able to so effortlessly score on the Suns will hurt them in the Finals if they meet the Celtics?? Because I still don't trust Gasol against Boston's Physical play, we saw what they did to Howard and he's way stronger than pau. The only plus(not named kobe) the Lakers would have is Ron Artest who's a physical defender and we know Paul Pierce got problem with Physical players. Because Right now the Celtics are the favorite to win the whole thing(who saw this coming?). Another plus the lakers have is that Boston's bench is not as deep as it was back in 2008. Besides that, a lakers-celtics series would depend on how much pain Gasol can withstand from being hit by Perkins/KG/Wallace.

At Thursday, May 20, 2010 6:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What does scoring easily on the Suns have to do with playing Boston? I don't think that it "hurts" to be able to win a playoff series easily, if the Lakers do in fact eliminate the Suns quickly.

I agree with you about not completely trusting Pau's ability to stand up to Boston's physical play but it's not like he would suddenly become a more physical player if he faced a physical team in this round nor is there really another team in the league that is as physical as Boston (the Cavs were the closest and they pounded the Lakers with their big man depth this season).

The addition of Artest certainly helps the Lakers; now Kobe can either check Allen or else Fisher can guard Allen and Kobe can check Rondo if Rondo gets out of control.

Objectively, the Lakers should be considered the favorites because they match up very well with Phoenix and Orlando and they match up well enough with Boston considering that the Lakers have the home court advantage in that odd 2-3-2 format that puts much pressure on the road team to sweep the middle three games.

I could say more but I'd rather wait until the Finals matchup is officially set.

At Sunday, May 23, 2010 7:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


since the celts dismantled orlando they look prime for 2 titles in 3 years. the lakers are dismantling the suns they looking for back to back i think it is a intriguing series when it takes place.

theres no posey or house so the celts got 3 3 point threats rather than 4 and posey and house were big in the series vs lakers 2 years ago

paul pierce was guarded by vlad and walton 2 years ago this year by artest pierce has slowed a bit of late and lebron showed a great defender what artest is can slow him down.

pau gasol only played 45 games vs the lakers 2 years ago in reg season 21 in post season now he been there 2 years and at the peak of career now averaging 21 and 12 in postseason question of the day could he handle physicality? if he could they can win if he cant they lose.

rajon rondo a star now he wasnt two years ago fisher had huge trouble with westbrook and quick point guards like rondo, if he has a cleveland like series he could tip the scale.

kobe shot 40 percent two years ago averaged 25 5 5 kobe not as good now as he was 2 years ago and since big 3 have been there last 3 years his best game was 36 point game 3 2 years ago, so theyve done a pretty good job on kobe over the 3 years against him relatively if he averaged 28 to 31 ppg i think lakers win big if he doesnt then there in trouble he is the engine to the car.

i think lakers win in 6 19 of 25 teams have won title in 25 years of 2 3 2 format when they have had homecourt i think lakers make it 20 of 26

At Sunday, May 23, 2010 8:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some very good points. I will provide my take on the Finals when the matchup is set for sure.

At Wednesday, May 26, 2010 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


i thought the way to beat the zone was penetrate it why they overpassing or trying to pass in the middle of the zone they never played agianst is the way they acting. they shot 49 percent but in game 1 and 2 they took 16 and 17 3's shot 50 percent, in game 3 and 4 they took 32 and 28 60 3 point shot thats the game david.

they played in phoenix hands by takeing that many 3's they have to take under 20 three points shots because when they do there pounding the ball inside to gasol and odom and getting easy baskets they made this harder than it should be with all that said i expect them to close it in 6 still.

kobe averaging 34 10 7 maybe his best series he ever played all around

At Thursday, May 27, 2010 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe is having a sensational series; it is interesting that he is not receiving nearly the attention or credit that LeBron usually gets when he puts up big numbers. If LeBron put up 38-10-7 in a game that his team lost then the dominant story line by the mainstream media would not be Phoenix' zone or Phoenix' bench but that LeBron "has no help" and "his team is being outcoached." I would not say that the Lakers are being outcoached but no one should be surprised that the Suns' bench outplayed the Lakers' bench--the Suns have had a good bench all season long, while the Lakers' bench has been terrible: Phil Jackson once said that watching his bench play makes him want to vomit, while Kobe said that if the bench plays too badly then he will just get up and check himself back into the game.

During this series we are also seeing how much Gasol struggles to score against a top level team on possessions during which Kobe does not either spoon feed him the ball or else draw multiple defenders, enabling Gasol a free path to the hoop to get offensive rebounds. The "stat gurus" who declare that Gasol is the Lakers' best player are out of their minds.

When Alvin Gentry was asked about resorting to the zone, he said that he would stop playing the zone if the Lakers stopped throwing the ball to Kobe. In other words, the Suns went to the zone because they realized that they have no one who can check Kobe; they are not nearly as worried about Gasol. It may not have been polite or prudent for Amare to call Odom's 19-19 game lucky but Amare is actually being quite candid when he says that Phoenix' game plan does not deal with Odom.

At Friday, May 28, 2010 2:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


phoenix showed me something down 16 17 18 3 diffrent occasions to only lose by two what a turn of events richardson banked the 3 to tie but gets beat to the ball by artest on final play. artest take illadvised 3 with a minute left but hits game winninng shot.

this was steve nash best game in a pivital game in playoffs i ever seen him play 29 11 he was big the bench played well scoreding 29 in second half. the lakers bench only 24 17 by odom who played well for lakers.

the star of stars was kobe again 30 11 9, 40 game 1 21 13 game 2 36 11 9 game 3 38 10 7 game 4 30 11 9 game 5 wow he has been dominant self in this series he is so important they brought him back with 5 20 left in first quarter when he picked up 2 fouls already usually you dont see the player till next quarter but without kobe the lakers offense doesnt function as good phoenix d picked up this game as well.

i think lakers got a good shot of closeing things out in game 6 but it also could easily be a game 7 i think lakers win this series but it alot harder than i thought.


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