The Phoenix Suns (22-45) are hosting the Los Angeles Lakers (36-32) in a showdown between Pacific Division rivals.
Historically, these two teams have provided fans with some of the most thrilling battles and playoff series ever seen. Unfortunately, the rivalry died a bit in 2012-13, especially with Steve Nash switching organizations this past offseason.
Will this coming showdown provide the same level of excitement as some of the previous matchups, or will this become the blowout it looks to be on paper?
Let’s take a look at where you can watch the game, the latest injury report, some players to watch, a prediction on the final score and more in our Lakers vs. Suns game preview.
When: Monday, March 18 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Ariz.
Watch: TWC SN (LA), FAHD (PHX)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass (Paid Service)
Lakers Injury Report (via USA Today)
G Kobe Bryant, Doubtful, Ankle
F Pau Gasol, Doubtful, Foot
C Jordan Hill, Out, Hip
Suns Injury Report (via USA Today)
C Marcin Gortat, Out, Foot
F Channing Frye, Out, Heart
Key Storyline: Kobe Bryant’s Injury
The Black Mamba sat out an entire contest on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings, the first time he’s done so during his prolific 2012-13 campaign. He may make it two straight when the Lakers travel to take on the Suns this Monday night.
If Bryant isn’t in the lineup, things could definitely be a bit trickier. The 17-year veteran averages 27.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. He’s absolutely irreplaceable and was instrumental to the team’s success over the past few weeks.
Fortunately for L.A., it has seemingly found a way to win without the superstar shooting guard active. Against the Kings, coach Mike D’Antoni let the offense flow through Steve Nash and many players benefited from this different style of play.
Dwight Howard scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds while blocking five shots. Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake provided firepower off the bench, combining to hit nine three-pointers and score 43 points.
It was a great overall team effort and finally proved that L.A. can win without the Black Mamba carrying a roster full of superstars every night. If Kobe can’t go again on Monday, expect the Lakers to employ the same strategy against the lowly Suns.
Key Matchup: Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic
Against Sacramento, it was Nash who had arguably one of his finest games so far as a Laker. The veteran point guard scored 19 points, dished 12 assists and grabbed four rebounds—leading L.A. to a 113-102 victory over their in-state rival.
He’s going to try to accomplish the same against former teammate and current Phoenix starting PG Goran Dragic.
The 26-year-old Slovenian has arguably been the Suns best player since Nash was traded to L.A. this summer, averaging 14.1 points, 6.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.57 steals per game.
While he’s not the facilitator that Nash was, the five-year veteran has stepped his game up and is a much better defender than the 39-year-old he replaced this past offseason.
It will be interesting to watch the master go up against his former pupil once more in 2013, and the winner of that showdown is going to give their team an edge in this contest.
While these two rivals have a lot of bad blood, there’s simply not a competitive balance during the 2012-13 season, especially this stage of it.
Which team will win?
When the Lakers last visited the Suns back on Jan. 30, Phoenix was able to pull out an incredible come-from-behind victory to shock the world. At this juncture, we’d be surprised if the Suns are able to keep this one close in the fourth quarter against L.A.’s reserves.
Since Feb. 1, the Lakers have gone on a 16-6 tear and put themselves in playoff contention in the Western Conference. In that same time period, Phoenix has gone 6-14.
We expect this one could be close—for the initial few minutes of the first quarter. After that, the Lakers are going to blow this wide open and win by a large margin.
Lakers 102, Suns 93