The big questions for tonight center around how the team will fare without Andrew Bynum, who was so instrumental in the Christmas Day win over the Suns. Naturally, that puts the focus on Kwame Brown, himself still on his way back from an ankle injury. “We know what he can do defensively” said Phil, but the question is, “with Kwame in this type of situation, can he run the court with Stoudemire and is he in the kind of shape to play the kind of game that the Suns are going to provide.” The biggest question is whether he can move his feet quick enough on defense, lateral movement being so difficult on a weakened ankle, to handle the high pick and rolls that the Suns are certain to run. Phil added that , “Offensively Kwame has got to get some touches tonight. We have to give him a shot to go individually at Stoudemire.”
There are several other Lakers who have been hit by the injury bug. Sasha will be back tonight, after making it through a practice yesterday. Luke Walton is still feeling the effects of a lingering ankle injury and was pulled from practice, as Phil, “wasn’t pleased with how he was running.” Luke said he felt better today and will play an important role with his match-up against Boris Diaw, who has taken the place of Grant Hill since he went out for an emergency appendectomy. Phil thought that Luke’s injury, “might be something that we have to keep track of during the course of the season.” Vladimir Radmanovic is also out with an ankle injury and he, “still has some issues that are still healing and the foot specialist said a week to 10 days.” Phil hoped to have Vladi for the east coast swing and that he might get some action beginning the end of next week.
Phil was also asked to compare this year’s team with last year’s since it was at this point in the season last year when the Lakers fortune turned for the worst. He felt that they were definitely better, but he still, “wasn’t pleased with the involvement of Lamar, and I think Lamar has to figure a little more in the offense especially with Andrew’s absence” Phil pointed out that, “He’s playing a different role this year and the ball isn’t in his hands as much.”
Phil spoke with Andrew and said, “he feels better everyday and that the swelling is going down and he’s anxious to get back and he knows it’s going to take some time.”
When asked how the Lakers would maintain their offense without the presence in the middle, Phil said that spacing could be maintained with, “the ball movement and changing sides of the floor with the ball will do it.”
In looking at the Suns in this match-up, even with the Lakers sans Bynum and the Suns sans Hill, the questions remain the same. Can you keep Steve Nash from getting everyone involved, can you limit Barbosa on his penetration and can you keep Stoudemire and Diaw scoring with jumpers instead of dunks. On the offensive side, can the Lakers exploit their rebounding advantage and the Suns soft center for easy points and can they execute in a slow down game to keep the tempo to their liking.
With a win tonight the Lakers would clinch the season series with the Suns and go a long way to proving to themselves that they can get through this 8 week stretch still in position to go far this season.