#3 Phoenix Suns
(54-28, 2nd place in Pacific Division)
#1 Los Angeles Lakers
(57-25, 1st place in Pacific Division)
How They Got Here: The Suns were the subject of a number of upset predictions in the second round of the playoffs against the Spurs, but that just wasn’t the case. Not only did Phoenix beat San Antonio, but it slaughtered it as well, sweeping the four game series in very, very impressive fashion. With just two losses under their belts in these playoffs, the Suns have to be full of confidence taking on the Lakers in this series.
Player To Watch: F Amare Stoudemire is going to provide the toughest task for the bigs of the Lakers all series long regardless of whether C Andrew Bynum is capable of giving it 100% or not. The big man is averaging 20.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and he has also blocked 15 shots to boot in these playoffs. He’ll have to be huge for Phoenix to spring this upset.
X-Factor: What a great series that G Goran Dragic just had off of the bench for the Suns! He exploded for 26 points in the backbreaking Game 3 of this series, and he has the ability to light it up in a short amount of time off of the bench. Watch out for Dragic to change the tempo of games in this series with his sharpshooting ability.
Key To Victory: We say this with every single Phoenix series, but it’s all about the tempo. The Suns absolutely have to just continue running at the Lakers game in and game out in hopes of being able to frustrate a team that just isn’t as deep as it has been in past years.
Los Angeles Lakers
How They Got Here: After struggling with Oklahoma City for six games, the Lakers wanted no part of messing around with the Jazz, as they swept away their second round foe in four games. The series was a lot tighter than it looked though, as HC Phil Jackson knows that his team just as easily could’ve probably lost three of those games as it did win them.
Player To Watch: We all know that G Kobe Bryant is the man that will have to do the scoring, but we’re going to focus in on F Pau Gasol, as he’ll be the one charged with the task of slowing down Stoudemire. If Bynum’s knee injury is really getting worse as reports have it, Gasol is going to be the best option to defend him in the post. That was a task that F Tim Duncan failed and failed miserably on, but at 20.2 points and 13.1 boards per game in the playoffs, Gasol could have much more success.
X-Factor: Once again, we’re going to highlight F Lamar Odom as the X-Factor in this series for the men in purple and gold. Bynum’s injury will force Odom into more playing time, and he’s really the only other body that can go against Stoudemire without giving up a ton of size. It’s not going to take a huge scoring series for Odom, who is averaging 8.5 points per game in the playoffs, but if he can chip in that 8.1 boards per game that he is pulling down every night, it’ll be a huge boost.
Key To Victory: Depth is the key here for LA. Jackson hasn’t had to dig into his bench that deeply, as only eight players are averaging more than 7:00 per game on the court. Guys like F Luke Walton, F Josh Powell, and F Adam Morrison are going to have to step up and make impacts to keep up with the Suns.
The Final Word: If we knew that the Lakers were 100% healthy and ready to go, we’d be backing them without any reservations. However, they’re not, and who knows if Bynum is going to be able to play a full 48 minutes in any game in this series or not, especially if the tempo gets out of control. Expect a tight series, but stealing one of these first two games at Staples Center will give the Suns the edge that they need to head to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
Suns in 6