The Phoenix Suns defeated the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night sending the Suns to the second round of the playoffs. In the game, Devin Booker had a huge night, going for 47 points and coming up big for Phoenix in the series-clinching game“That was the mentality that we wanted him to have,” said Head Coach Monty Williams, “He’s a gifted scorer.”
However, the Suns slowed down the Lakers on the defensive side of the basketball as well, holding the talented team to 41% from the field and 29% from three. This frustrated the Lakers early, putting them down 36-14 at the end of the first quarter. Lakers star LeBron James struggled from the field shooting only 11-26 and 3-10 from three.
“As the series went on, he just wore down a little bit,” said forward Jae Crowder. “We just wanted to get in his way a little bit, throw a lot of different coverages and bodies at him and try and wear on him.”
The Denver Nuggets, who also won their series Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, will now face the Suns in the next round. Phoenix will have to stop the likely MVP of the league Nikola Jokic for a ticket to the Western Conference Finals. Here are some of the key factors the Suns will have to pay attention to in order to move on.
Although this is repetitive from the Lakers series, the offensive rebounds will be a deciding factor as to who will come out on top. As was seen in the Laker series, the team that wins the rebounding advantage will most likely win the series.
Statistically, Denver ranks towards the top of the NBA in rebounding averaging 10.5 offensive rebounds per game. Although a lot of it does come from Jokic, forwards Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon attack the glass and are aggressive with their putbacks.
This means that unlike the Lakers series, the forwards and guards need to be more aggressive with their boxouts. In the Lakers series, it was the Laker big men, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Montrezl Harrell that scared the Suns on the glass. However, it’s now the athleticism of the Denver forwards that will especially concern the Suns as Porter Jr, and Gordon are excellent in converting offensive rebounds to points.
This means guys like Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges have to play the role of Deandre Ayton in this series. This means that every time on a Denver shot, they need to find these athletic wings and make sure to box out in order to keep them off the glass.
Suns need to push the tempo
The Nuggets have beaten teams all season with their slow style of play, ranking 27th in offensive tempo. They give the ball to a slow player in Jokic and play through him. This normally ends up with Jokic in the post looking for a shot or using his passing skill to find open teammates.
The Suns can not allow this to happen. They need to control the tempo and push the ball like they did against the Lakers. Denver’s goal with playing slow is to control the speed of the game and make their opponents work on both sides of the floor. Phoenix needs to get the ball and go. They need to break out on the fast break, trying to make Denver catch up to their pace instead of falling into the Nuggets’ trap. This means getting the ball to Chris Paul or backup point guard Cameron Payne and pushing it.
This will be a very interesting series. How Phoenix will come out and defend Jokic will be a question to most fans. Do you double him? Do you single cover him, let him get his points while shutting down the rest of his teammates? That’s what makes Jokic and the Nuggets such an effective team. The players around Jokic can all shoot and make 3’s which gives opponents defensive fits.
Phoenix will host Denver on Monday at 7 p.m. for Game One of the series.
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