Kobe Bryant's 40 points in the Lakers' 128-107 Game 1 victory grabbed the headlines, but it's the play of Pau Gasol that is key to this series versus the Suns. With Andrew Bynum's knee is worse shape than Bryant's, Gasol and fellow forward Lamar Odom will be called upon to deliver more inside play for LA. Game 2 of the Western Conference Final is Wednesday night at Staples Center beginning at 9 p.m. (ET) on TNT.
You can’t teach height.
When the job is to get a pumpkin-sized leather ball into a basket 10 feet above the ground, it helps to have some tall people around. I remember the first time I stood eye-to-chest with an NBA center – an instantly humbling experience, at least from my point of view. And this guy wasn’t even seven feet tall like Pau Gasol.
The Los Angeles Lakers have exploited their height advantage all season long, finishing first in the Western Conference at 57-25 (33-46-3 ATS) and finding a higher gear in the playoffs at 9-2 (7-4 ATS). One of the primary reasons the Lakers were able to sweep the Utah Jazz in the second round was the absence of 6-foot-11 center Mehmet Okur, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the first round. Gasol scored 23.5 points per game against the shorthanded Jazz with 14.5 rebounds, 5.5 of those on the offensive glass.
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Now the giant Spaniard gets to throw down on the Phoenix Suns in the Western final
. The Suns eliminated the Lakers from the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, but that was before Gasol (22.97 PER) was liberated from the Memphis Grizzlies roster.
The Lakers are on track to win the West for the third straight year since that masterful trade; Gasol scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting in Monday’s series opener against the Suns, cementing a 128-107 victory as 6-point home faves. Los Angeles improved to 4-1 SU and ATS versus Phoenix this season.
This was a disheartening loss for the Suns. Even with Gasol’s long arms making the pick and roll difficult for Phoenix point guard Steve Nash, the visitors were still able to convert 49.4 percent from the field, right in line with their league-best 49.2 percent during the regular season. The real problem was at the other end. Kobe Bryant had an efficient 40 points (13-of-23 from the field), while Lamar Odom carved up the Suns for 19 points and 19 rebounds as L.A.’s sixth man.
Phoenix also has to digest losing Game 1 despite the return of starting center Robin Lopez (17.66 PER), himself a towering 7-feet and 255 pounds. Lopez was a plus-2 in 24 minutes of work, shooting 6-of-7 for 14 points and adding six rebounds. The Suns didn’t need Lopez in the early rounds against the thin frontcourts of the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. They need Lopez now.
One adjustment the Suns can make is to hand the sophomore an extra 10 minutes or so at the expense of Channing Frye (15.09 PER), whose long-range shooting is of lesser value in this series. Frye was 1-of-7 on his trey attempts in Game 1.
The Suns could also benefit from the deteriorating health of Lakers center Andrew Bynum. His swollen right knee is reportedly getting worse; Bynum played just 19 minutes on Monday and finished the game dead even in plus-minus. It was with Odom (a mere 6-foot-10) joining Gasol on the floor that L.A. really started clicking.
Odom has played some of the best basketball of his career against Phoenix, but if Bynum becomes too hobbled to contribute, there isn’t much frontcourt talent on the Lakers bench aside from Odom to fill those minutes.
The other option for Phoenix supporters is to wait for Odom to have one of his frequent “bad” games. Consistency has never been Odom’s strong suit – his enigmatic play has been blamed on everything from tragic deaths in the family to his cravings for candy. But the Suns offer the kind of matchup that Odom appears to enjoy. It could be a long wait before we see Evil Lamar rear his ugly head in this series.
The NBA betting odds
for Wednesday’s Game 2 at Staples Center have the Lakers as 6½-point favorites with a total of 215, up from 210½ in Game 1. The favorite-'over' parlay would be a classic combo in this situation; the 'over' is 4-1 in the last five Suns games and 4-0-1 in L.A.’s last five.
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