Lakers – Suns Matchup Spotlight: Kobe & J-Rich

59088020Early on Tuesday morning, we posted a preview of the Lakers – Suns Western Conference Finals, focusing on the individual matchups at each position, and giving L.A. the edge at the shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center positions.

In four regular season meetings between the two teams (3-1 Lakers), no matchup was as one-sided as the shooting guard position:

Kobe Bryant: 27.5 points, 54.4% FG’s, 28.6% 3′s, 7.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists.
Jason Richardson: 8.8 points, 30.9% FG’s, 14.3% 3′s, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists.

While Bryant steadily recovered from various injuries to score at least 30 points in five straight playoff games beginning with Game 6 against Oklahoma City, no Sun picked up his play from regular to postseason more than Richardson, whose scoring went from 15.7 points in 79 games to a team-high 21.9 points in the playoffs.

As might be expected, nobody is more aware of that fact than Bryant, who began his video study of Richardson and the Suns as soon as L.A. swept Utah.

“He’s playing extremely well,” said Bryant. “He’s playing like he was playing in that year when he was really comfortable in Golden State, with a lot of confidence, shooting the ball extremely well. He’s been a big, big key to how well they’re playing.”

While Ron Artest could see Richardson from time to time, it’s Kobe that’s bent on curtailing the production of the ever-important third scorer alongside Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

On Tuesday afternoon, we posted a podcast with Lakers Scout/Director of Video Services Chris Bodaken, who’s been rolling through tape from the four regular season matchups (and just cutting a surplus of Suns video in general). We touched base with Bodaken once again on Wednesday to specifically discuss what he saw on tape from the Bryant – Richardson matchup, and he had some interesting info.

One reason that Richardson’s numbers were so bad against L.A. was that he simply missed some wide-open looks, particularly from three, in some cases because Bryant allowed him to shoot were he struggling early in games.

Another is that Bryant is simply too strong and smart to give Richardson what he often gets against other opponents.

“Richardson likes to come off a screen and step a bit off the post to catch the ball, and either face up and make a move or back down,” said Bodaken. “But he doesn’t get that against Kobe because Kobe’s too strong. Richardson can overpower some guys, but not Kobe.”

One thing that makes Kobe so great is his ability to dominate games on defense as well as offense, and his matchup with Richardson will certainly be something upon which to keep an eye trained once the series begins on Monday at STAPLES Center.