Eddie Johnson: Lakers feeling the heat

By Eddie Johnson
Suns TV analyst

The basketball world finally saw tonight what folks in Phoenix have been raving about since the All-Star break, the new-look Suns with a big-time bench. The Suns have been here before, but they were only a seven-man unit and not because they did not have the players, it was because Mike D�Antoni  refused to play them.  Alvin Gentry is being rewarded by a group of guys who have gained confidence because he believed in them. It�s funny how that works, and you would think most coaches would communicate like Gentry has done all year long with the guys that support the starters.

Game 4 was all about the Phoenix Suns bench. They not only put up a whopping 54 points, but they also out�rebounded the Lakers  bench 23 to 11. That stat is a little deceiving because the bench did most of its damage against the Lakers starters.

Phil Jackson has to respect the guile of Alvin Gentry, who refuses to be swayed by Jackson in terms of substitutions. Phil has slowly gotten his starters back into the game early in second and third quarters, but Gentry continues to stay with his bench, and that has worn down the Lakers.

When  this unit is playing well, they are extremely difficult to guard because they all can score effectively. Usually a team has one or possibly two players off the bench who create problems, but the Suns unit has no main targets, and this forces the Lakers to play man-up with no help.

If it were not for the offensive brilliance of Kobe Bryant, this game would have been over in the first half. I am convinced after watching him tonight that he is the best offensive machine I have ever seen. He single-handedly kept them in the game in the second and third quarters.

But that was not enough, and when Channing Frye is spreading the floor and pulls Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom from under the basket, this allows the Suns to crash the offensive glass, and they grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.

The zone is still bothering the Lakers, and the Suns might have found the answer to solving the triangle offense. The Lakers still scored 106 points, but it was in catch-up style and did not control the tempo. The Lakers looked confused and were forced to take 28 three-point shots, which makes 60 attempts in two games.

The biggest key is that the Suns have been the aggressor in the last two games, and that has added up to 73 free-throw attempts to 33 for the Lakers.

Kobe talked about the fact their defense is sub-par, but Kobe has to realize that the Suns have scored and shot well in the series. The Lakers in the first two games just shot fantastic, and that is what has changed in the series. The Lakers offense has stagnated, and the zone has been the difference.

Keys to look for in game 5?

Lakers

–Try and re-establish home court advantage and dictate tempo by involving Gasol and Bynum early to get the crowd hyped.

–Get extremely aggressive with Steve Nash and force him away from the two-man game with Amar’e.

–Force more than eight turnovers and try to get some easy baskets in transition

–Play their bench more minutes to save Gasol and Kobe for a fourth-quarter run, because playing them tired against the Suns bench has not worked.

Suns

–Stay with the zone and force Kobe to create consistently and take long shots instead of getting to the rim.

–Continue to put Amar’e in isolations with Gasol and Bynum, because they cannot guard him.

–Run at every opportunity and attack the basket, because the longer the series goes, the big minutes the Lakers starters are playing will start to effect them.

–Bench needs to carry over consistency from game 4.

–Keep Amar’e, Frye and Robin Lopez out of foul trouble.