Part one of this article briefly analyzed what the new Laker, Pau Gasol, brings to the table and whether this team will be able to blend and deliver in the playoffs.
In Part two however, I would like to compare the new-look Lakers with one of the top teams in the West, and see whether the Lakers are good enough to reach the NBA finals.
The team discussed here will be the Phoenix Suns.
I have chosen them because of their first-place standing in the West.
Let’s see how the Lakers will matchup against the Phoenix.
I will not try to predict the outcome of the series, however.
I will list a few facts that may or may not help each team to win and let the reader decide for themselves which team appears to be better.
First, I would like to see what this matchup would look like if the Suns had not made a trade for Shaq.
Phoenix represents an interesting and exciting opponent for the Lakers.
The Suns, with their run and gun, high-flying offence, will create several matchup problems for L.A.
The most important of those is at small-forward, where there is no way Lamar Odom can keep up with Shawn Marion.
This matchup seems to represents the entire Phoenix-L.A. series.
The small and fast Phoenix Suns against the tall, young, and athletic Los Angeles Lakers.
The Suns have a very small lineup, they are undersized at every position and this obviously means they will try to outrun L.A.
Nash will try to push the ball up the floor as much as possible and he will be joined by Marion, Barbosa, and Stoudamire.
However, the biggest problem for the Suns will be rebounding.
Also, the Lakers front court, despite being much bigger, is young and athletic enough to accept the Suns running challenge.
Odom not only runs, but often leads the fast breaks, and Gasol loves an opportunity to get an easy layup or a dunk.
Nevertheless, because they are so big, the Lakers will try to force Phoenix to play half-court sets as much as possible.
Phil Jackson will try to establish both Gasol and Bynum inside where Phoenix will struggle.
The reason for their struggles will be the fact that Marion is 6-7 and cannot defend both Bynum and Gasol inside.
He won’t get much help from the defensively challenged Amare Stoudemire though, and Brian Skinner has only six fouls to give.
The Suns will have to play zone which will benefit the sharpshooting backcourt of the Lakers.
It is also more difficult to grab defensive rebounds while playing a zone defense, giving the Lakers an even bigger advantage in this situation.
The Lakers also have a deeper bench which is crucial in the playoffs.
The bottom line is that the Suns are fast, but they are too small to try to play the Lakers in a half-court game.
This is precisely the reason they traded for Shaq (well, that and they did not want to pay Marion a great deal money in the future).
They chose Shaq over several other healthier options, like Ben Wallace and Samuel Dalembert, for his leadership and ability to play offense and defense.
Maybe the Suns know something we don’t.
Maybe Shaq was just bad because he saw no need in trying to win for the horrible Heat. Perhaps on arrival to Phoenix he will revert back to his own self again (as he promised).
He is certainly not the player he used to be, but he is still big and intimidating.
If Shaq can be active for about twenty to thirty minutes per game, that will certainly mean more bench time for both Gasol and Bynum.
The Lakers will not get a lot of easy looks up close with Shaq manning the post, and the Suns now have a huge, two-headed monster called Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire to throw the ball to in the post.
If Shaq can play regularly and average his 15 points and eight boards a game, the Suns will be hard to beat, and the controversial trade with the Heat would pay off.
Of course, this depends a lot on Shaq’s health, which has not been great throughout this season.
The Suns need the big fella to play big inside in the playoffs.
Also, it would be interesting to see Shaq back in L.A. trying to beat the Lakers. Health permitting, he may even turn this into Kobe vs Shaq series.
This brings us to the Kobe factor.
Bryant sees this year as an opportunity to win it all.
Last year, the Lakers managed to win one game against the Suns and they were without Gasol, Fisher, and a much improved Bynum and Farmar.
This year Bryant will be hungry, and the victory will be so much sweeter if his old buddy Shaq will be playing on the other team.
The Suns know they cannot defend Bryant, but now they will have to be very cautious while double teaming him as some of his teammates are more than capable of taking the game over themselves.