Mike D'Antoni ran his first practice as Los Angeles Lakers head coach yesterday, which should make tonight's game very interesting. The Lakers will play host to the Phoenix Suns, whom D'Antoni coached for five years and made popular with his run and gun offense. Now that the Lakers will be playing a similar offense, it is critical that they win this game to show that they can keep up with D'Antoni's fast-paced approach.
It's not going to be easy for the team, as Steve Nash is still recovering from his leg injury and won't be able to run the offense he ran so well in four years playing for D'Antoni in Phoenix. Even worse, it is unclear whether backup point man Steve Blake will play through an abdominal strain.
On top of that, though he did lead the team in practice yesterday, D'Antoni will not be on the sidelines for tonight's game. His brother and longtime assistant Dan ran the drills, but it is appearing that Bernie Bickerstaff will once again man the sidelines as interim coach.
This is also a divisional game, and the Suns are a half-game ahead of the veteran Lakers. Seeing as how Los Angeles lost a heartbreaker to San Antonio on Wednesday night, they're going to be determined to win tonight and avoid digging an even deeper hole to start their season.
Time: Friday, November 16th, 10:30 p.m., EST
Records: Phoenix Suns (4-5) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3-5)
Betting Lines: Phoenix (+9), Los Angeles (-9)
Injuries: Markieff Morris (back), Steve Nash (leg), Steve Blake (abdominal), Jordan Hill (wrist)
Key Storyline: Lakers Debut Run and Gun Against Style's Originator
Mike D'Antoni made his mark as a coach by instilling his famous run and gun offense with the Phoenix Suns, whom he coached from 2003-2008. Even after he left to coach the New York Knicks, Phoenix kept his fast-paced style in place. The Suns remain a team known for liking to run and put a lot of points on the board in a short amount of time.
Now, the Lakers get to test out this very same game against Phoenix. The question is, who will play it better?
Granted, both teams have gotten off to slow starts this year. The Suns are still getting used to life without Steve Nash, who was replaced with Goran Dragic, while the Lakers are still looking to get out of the hole dug by former coach Mike Brown's failed Princeton offense.
Still, Phoenix has been the more consistent team overall, and the Lakers, despite improved play since Brown's firing, are still looking to find their identity. Fortunately, D'Antoni's run and gun game may allow them to do so.
The fact is that this game is going to be fun to watch. Fans love offense, and both teams should provide plenty of it.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Marcin Gortat
Here, we have a matchup of one of the game's best defensive players against one of the best up-and-coming centers. More importantly, these two used to be teammates!
Howard and Gortat played together in Orlando for three-plus seasons before the Polish big man was traded to Phoenix, where he finally came into his own.
However, despite his development, Gortat still struggles whenever he's matched up against an elite center. Sure enough, he's going to face this problem tonight in three-time Defensive Player of the Year Howard.
Still, Gortat will have something of an advantage in that he has played with Howard before and thus has an idea of what to expect from him. With patience and focus, he could easily win this matchup.
The Lakers simply need Howard to be his usual dominant self in the paint. No more passing and no more hesitation under the basket. This is a matchup that he owns, and he needs to take full advantage of it.
If he plays soft for just one play, it could be enough for the Suns to go into overdrive.
X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Though Bryant is excited about D'Antoni's new system, it's hard to believe that he's suddenly going to change the way he plays the game at age 34. When push comes to shove, he is still a player who is at his best when he has freedom with the ball and is not married to a certain play scheme.
Though certain aspects of D'Antoni's offense are sure to be featured tonight, Bryant needs to take control of the game from the get-go. With Nash out and Blake questionable, there is no viable point guard to run the offense.
Bryant needs to establish himself as the alpha dog on the court but not without getting his teammates involved. He needs to set up some post plays for Howard and make sure Gasol gets some touches too.
Fortunately, Bryant is more than capable of running a game in this fashion. He is fifth on the all-time scoring list and has five championship rings.
If there's anyone who can right the ship against a young, speedy team, it's him.
The Lakers will be at something of a disadvantage tonight without a top point man controlling the offense. However, they have experience on their side, and this will help them in the end.
Will this game be a high-scoring contest? Absolutely.
Will the Suns get past the Lakers? No way.
Who will win?
Simply put, though young and talented, Phoenix just won't be able to beat the Lakers in the paint. Gortat won't be able to handle Howard on either end of the floor, which means that the team will resort to Luis Scola to handle the inside. Pau Gasol may be soft on defense, but he has the clear advantage in that matchup.
Thus, though they'll surely keep it close at times, there is simply no way that the Suns can win this game, especially on the road.
Los Angeles Lakers 114, Phoenix Suns 106