By Dwane Casey (as told to Dave McMenamin)
Last season the No. 7 seeded Lakers grabbed a 3-1 First Round series lead over the No. 2 seeded Suns before succumbing to Phoenix in Game 7. What's in store for the rematch? We called on former NBA coach Dwane Casey to break down the series and make a prediction.
Transition defense is going to be huge in this series and making it a playoff-type of game. The playoffs become a halfcourt game and the game slows down, so transition defense on makes and misses for the Lakers is going to be huge. A lot of times youíre not going to be able to find your man in transition and thatís where the Phoenix Suns get you. In transition, youíre running back looking for your man and then boom, all at once, there's Shawn Marion going in for a layup. So you need the philosophy ďtake the nearest man to youĒ until they have a chance to switch back. Other than Andrew Bynum, L.A. can match up with all the Phoenix interior players and perimeter players in transition.
WHAT TO EXPECT: SUNS
Right now Phoenix is one of the most confident teams in the NBA. They hit a rough spot a couple of weeks ago, but I think they bounced back.
The key to them is a healthy Steve Nash. Heís healthy now, heís rested and heís the key to their team as far as running their break, running their offense and getting the ball up and down the floor.
Seventy percent of their offense comes from random play, whether itís pick and roll or the draw and kick. After the initial play breaks down is when you really have to be ready to play defense against Phoenix.
On defense, Phoenix wants to scramble. They want a helter-skelter halfcourt situation where they can run and jump and trap a post. Really, itís not a trap, itís sending a body halfway over there hoping you give up the ball before the trap gets there and they do a great job of disguising that, thatís their style of play.
The big X-Factor for Phoenix is Barbosa. I love him as a player. Heís a great 3-point shooter. His speed is lethal.
HOW THE LAKERS RESPOND
One thing you canít do as a coach with Steve Nash is show him the same look every time down the floor. One time if you go under (the screen), heís going to make you pay. One time if you jump him, if you jump the pick and roll, heís going to make you pay. Heís seen every type of coverage there is in terms of a point guard and he knows exactly what he wants to do.
What we tried to do is show him different looks. One time you go under the pick and roll, one time you can switch it, one time you could jump it and so mixing up your coverages really seems to bother him more so than a steady diet. Coming down in a zone may be a different thing that you would like to do with him.
It would be a little drastic to ask Kobe to chase him around and guard him in that situation, but I think you do give him different looks in one-on-one situations. You put length on him for a period of time, then go with speed and quickness where you make him work so he canít rest bringing the ball up the floor. You try to make him turn his back, to zig-zag a few times in the full court situation, to try to wear him down. Thatís the key.
The key thing for the Lakers to win is transition defense. They need to locate a man and the closest man and stop the ball first. And then you got to limit Phoenix to one shot. A lot of times you get into that pick and roll situation where youíre watching the ball, here comes the shot, and Phoenix has that darting rebound ability with Shawn Marion and all those guys tracking down the ball. Thatís how they get those extra possessions, not from tough paint rebounds, but the long shots and spread-the-floor type rebounds.
KEY MATCHUP: ODOM vs. STOUDEMIRE
Thatís a big matchup because Amare's so active now. Heís like a pogo stick. I think with his you have to make him play defense. For the Lakers, they need to involve him in pick and rolls and involve him in elbow handoffs that make him come out and guard Lamar Odom.
Odom will be a big concern for the Phoenix Suns because he is such a versatile player. He can go out in the open floor, he can play in the low post, he can take Amare Stoudemire off the dribble which will negate some of Stoudemireís shot-blocking abilities because heíll be guarding the ball. He can also get Amare in foul trouble so that matchup has to be a concern for the Suns.
WHAT TO EXPECT: LAKERS
The distribution of the ball will be key for L.A. Getting the ball going from side to side. One of the best methods they have to attack Phoenix is an aggressive Lamar Odom going to the basket Ö an aggressive Luke Walton Ö because theyíre going to throw the kitchen sink at Kobe whether heís in the post Ė Phoenix has what they call the ďtag,Ē if Kobeís in the post, they want all the other four guys to collapse into the paint and cover the paint and make you make baskets from the outside. So, if they keep the ball moving and keep disguising where they have Kobe it will help them. If the Lakers just keep going to Kobe, pounding to Kobe, they will crowd him and the Lakers will come up with a lot of empty possessions. Plus, Raja Bell isnít chopped liver when it comes to defense. The Lakers have the best chance with the equal distribution of the basketball which the triangle offense does a great job of.
Offensively what the Lakers have to do is make the extra pass. Two passes after that double team comes will get the Suns scrambling. If you stay disciplined, you can get any shot you want after two passes out of their double team. You have to make them play defense because they want you to hurry up and shoot the basketball and theyíre very good at forcing their will on to you.
Mike is an experienced coach also, but I donít think Phil is going to be so excited to be in the playoffs that heís going to get caught up in an up-and-down game. His master touch will come by slowing the game down, executing the triangle, and not letting it get into an up-and-down game. Thatís what they did a great job of last year, was making sure they controlled the tempo that was in favor of the Lakers and thatís how they stretched the series.
Whichever team can impose their will. Either Lakers with their triangle, or Phoenix with their up-tempo. I see Phoenix being such a lethal team right now because they learned from last year that they canít get in a halfcourt game with the Lakers. I think Phoenix will take care of business at home. Itís hard to say, but I think it will go five games.
-- Dwane Casey appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association