May 17, 2010, 3:01 PM EDT
Through the years, the one constant in the Lakers/Suns battles is that the Suns never really stopped Kobe Bryant. Raja Bell did a respectable job, but those were the days Kobe had to keep gunning because his other options were pass to Smush Parker or pass to Kwame Brown. Better to shoot over the triple team.
Slowing Kobe will again be crucial for Phoenix — the Lakers are going to get points inside from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The Suns are going to struggle with that. But if the Lakers are getting points from the perimeter, efficient points from Kobe as well, the Suns are in a lot of trouble.
Good luck Grant Hill, the job is all yours.
Grant Hill has been the defensive specialist for the Suns. He made the Trail Blazers offense sputter when he was on Andre Miller (well, that and Brandon Roy being injured made their offense sputter). He slowed Manu Ginobili of the Spurs last series.
Grant Hill is 37 years old. We are required by law to mention that. Doesn’t mean anything except one thing — he’s not as quick as he was at 25. Hill now relies more on veteran savvy and his fantastic basketball IQ than just pure foot speed anymore.
He is not as quick as Kobe Bryant anymore. In a pure isolation clear out, Kobe should be able to blow past Hill.
That “should” could be a “would” if not for one thing — Kobe’s not healthy. He has not practiced with his team once in the week off between series. He had his knee drained of fluid. His ankle is still sore, his finger still hurts. Kobe is not the explosive Kobe of old.
Kobe now relies much more on his veteran savvy, his basketball IQ to get the shots he wants in the offense. To set up his teammates.
And that’s where Game 1 gets really interesting — if Kobe is explosive enough to get the 28 points a game he is averaging in the playoffs in an efficient manner on Hill, the Suns are in trouble. They have to commit resources inside, they can’t bring reinforcements away from the basket, too. All that would mean the Lakers are getting easy baskets.
There are a lot of other things to watch — can the Suns keep the pace up? Can the Lakers slow the game by pounding the Suns inside? Can Pau Gasol guard Amare Stoudemire? Can Stoudemire guard Gasol? Who would win a footrace between Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum at this point? Smart money on the last one is on the tortoise.
But as always, things circle back to Kobe. During the season, the Suns used Jason Richardson on Kobe, and he backed Richardson down in the post and beat him up pretty good. The Lakers won three of four. If Hill doesn’t change that equation, the Lakers will win four in this series pretty quickly.
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