The Lakers have now won eight straight games during these playoffs while going largely unchallenged, going 7-1 against the spread in those games. The Lakers have made it easy to forget that Phoenix was probably the hottest team in the NBA before this series started, as LA has dominated the first two games in every fashion. And yet, the Suns are actually favored in Game 3 as the scene moves to Phoenix Sunday at 8:30pm ET on TNT.
The betting odds say the Phoenix Suns
aren’t quite dead yet. The betting public has other ideas.
The Phoenix Suns were much more competitive in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers
, but in the end the Lakers (-7.5) still bagged the cash in a 124-112 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series. That’s eight wins in a row for the Lakers at 7-1 ATS; the Over is 5-0-1 in L.A.’s last six games, all against the smaller defenders of the Suns and Utah Jazz.
It hardly seems a fair fight. And yet the Suns opened at LVSC as 4-point favorites for Sunday’s Game 3 at the US Airways Center. Cue the stampede: Even with most books deciding to open instead at Phoenix –3, bettors are on the Lakers like white on rice, forcing the line down to Phoenix –2½ at press time. The total, meanwhile, has edged upward from 219 points to 219.5.
Optimism is in short supply in the desert. The Suns had some success in Wednesday’s Game 2 with 6-foot-8 Grant Hill (23 points) sliding to power forward and Jared Dudley (15 points, plus-2) earning 30 minutes off the bench at small forward. But that success came at a cost at the other end of the floor, where the Lakers countered with big contributions from their biggest players – none bigger than the 7-foot Pau Gasol
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For handicapping purposes, the matchup between Gasol and the 6-foot-10 Amare Stoudemire is the most important business of the day. Gasol racked up 29 points on Wednesday night and regularly torched Stoudemire down low. Defense just isn’t Amare’s strong suit, especially in small-ball situations where he’s playing the center position. This is why the Suns tried the Shaquille O’Neal Experiment in the first place.
Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry doesn’t have too many options. Promising second-year center Robin Lopez (back) has returned to action after sitting out since late March, but his mobility is limited and he was even less effective than Stoudemire at stopping Gasol. And Channing Frye looked like a cardboard cutout trying to defend the quicker Lamar Odom – Frye lasted just nine minutes and missed all five of his shot attempts.
Stoudemire, Lopez and Frye all have the potential to be valuable contributors on offense for the Suns. But something has to be done to stop the bleeding. Odom served up his second double-double of this series on Wednesday night with 17 points and 11 rebounds, adding three steals for good measure.
Andrew Bynum (13 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes) appeared to have less trouble with his swollen right knee than he did in Game 1; he hit all five of his shots before allowing Odom to take things over.
This is what the triangle offense (aka the triple-post) is all about. You need to have some frontcourt beef to keep the Lakers from scoring unmolested in the paint, like the way the Oklahoma City Thunder gave Los Angeles a scare in the opening round with 6-foot-10 bruiser Serge Ibaka at power forward.
Provided you can contain Gasol and Bynum/Odom, you then have a chance that Kobe Bryant will go rogue and try to shoot his team to victory, jacking up some low-percentage shots in the process.
Bryant didn’t have to do that in Game 2. Instead, we saw Kobe the Facilitator feeding the triangle offense with 13 assists to go along with a quiet 21 points. Steve Nash had 15 assists for the Suns, but he and Stoudemire each had five turnovers as they struggled to find their way through the tangle of long-armed Laker defenders.
Like Nash said after Game 1, the Lakers will likely continue to be the taller team in this series. Bettors will also likely continue to pound the Lakers until Phoenix gives them a reason not to.