Saturday, April 21, 2007

Suns v. Lakers Series Preview.

* I already posted this over at The Starting Five, just putting it here anyway.

What to Look For
: Somethin’ biblical.

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect –- if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time (Matthew 24:10-13;24 NIV).

They were thisclose. Thisclose to an upset. It didn’t happen. Instead, Kobe Bryant was accused of a cardinal sin, quitting on his team in a game 7, an accusation that will linger in the air of this entire series.

They were thisclose. Thisclose to being upset. It didn’t happen. Instead, Steve Nash maintained his mystique and may hoist another MVP trophy during this series.

Obviously, last year’s playoffs don’t actually count towards this years award, but to think that they aren’t remembered is a bit naive, no? If the Lakers had won that series, Kobe would have been absolved of practically all previous transgressions and would have finally shed the image of a brooding loner. If the Suns had lost that series, the deification of Nash and Phoenix would have been proven to be a ruse in the worst possible fashion. Instead, Nash is still praised for turning a team with two other All Stars-one of them also a candidate for DPOY- a former coach of the year, and a candidate for sixth man of the year into division champions. And Kobe Bryant is still a Judas.

Once again, both men stand before us to be judged.

Sooner, rather than later, we’ll all see who the prophet is.

Phoenix Strengths/Weaknesses: Phoenix has continually baptized opponents in the streaking fire that is their fastbreak, flames fanned by outrageous team percentages in field goals (49%), threes (40%) and free throws (80%). Nash & STAT will pick n’ roll the damn air outta the ball and the Suns unselfishness as a unit always creates an open shot. They get the job done. On one side of the court. Their inefficiencies on the other end are just as well known and equally deadly. This team has plenty of athletes, and two of the league’s premier defenders in Bell and Marion, however Nash’s inability to contain anyone allows easy penetration and subsequent fouls on interior help defenders. This team isn’t that deep to begin with, so any foul trouble that forces adjustments in the lineup will either tire out the remains of an already overworked crew, or force them to rely on players outside of their regular rotation. Despite a formidable front line, the Suns were consistently out rebounded this year, including three of the four games against the Lakers. A team that can’t be depended on to rebound or play defense better not miss often.

Los Angeles Strengths/Weaknesses: Kobe/Anyone not named Kobe. That’s the consensus. Before they were plagued with injuries, the Lakers were showing signs of cohesion with a 30-19 record. But February was quite a while ago, and currently this team is a hot ass mess. They’re just like the Suns, on the wrong end of the court. Porous defense and out boarded. Offense has been a completely different story altogether. Depending on who you ask, Kobe is either Moses, leading a weary tribe into the promised land, or Pharaoh himself. The cohesion of this seasons past is definitely needed, but the question at hand is whether a young, inexperienced-and depleted roster can muster such a collective effort on demand. Which Lamar Odom will emerge in this series? Does Smush want a contract or a victory? Can Radmonovich repeat last years playoff heroics? Can Bynum & Turiaf establish themselves as a post presence? Can Kwame… be counted on for anything? The Lakers will play amidst a parted sea of questions that can cave in on them without any faith in each other.

How They Match Up: Despite the glaring differences in talent, these two teams should play each other pretty evenly. Neither team will put forth a sustained defensive effort, so expect plenty of Nash blowing by Smush and vice versa. Phoenix is obviously flush with shooters, so Walton, Radmonovic and Vujacic need to remain an outside threat for the Lakers. Everyone will need to stay at home on their defensive assignments rather than chasing penetration since both teams are infatuated with the trey. Stoudemire will get his, but he can be countered by the Laker big men who together should thrive in a half court setting. Marion probably won’t get any plays called, and Odom will attempt to punish him on the offensive blocks, so if he tires and disappears again like he did in last year’s series, things will definitely tighten up again for the Suns.

The X Factor:
This could be the biggest series of Kobe Bryant’s life. It almost would have been better for him to have been blown out last year than to be called a quitter. Twenty four minutes of basketball weighed more in many minds than all of his miracles in the past two years, and because of that he is still proclaimed to be the author of vanity and deceit, leading the game away from it’s essence. Those last twenty four minutes of basketball weighed heavily enough on his mind for him to wear them as a constant reminder on his chest, and now he has come full circle. Fair or not, Kobe’s legacy will be affected by his decision making in this series. Will he trust his teammates completely or will his leadership abilities be undermined by a desire for personal vindication?

Series Prediction:

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20, KJV)

Lakers in 7.