How the Lakers can stun Suns
By Greg Anthony
ESPN Insider

All of the playoff teams are now set. Sacramento, Chicago, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento, welcome to the party. With three nights of regular season action left, some matchups won't be set until the final game Wednesday night.

Among the pairings that are almost nailed down, I think the likely Western Conference No. 7 seed Lakers are going to have a really good chance in the series with the No. 2 Suns. That's based on more than just Kobe Bryant and Co. looking very good against a Phoenix team Sunday playing without Steve Nash, Raja Bell and much motivation. But this win still means something to the Lakers, because they dominated the game.

Now if the Kings (43-38) beat Seattle at home on Tuesday, and the Lakers (44-37) lose at home Wednesday to the Hornets, then Sacramento would slide up to the No. 7 seed by virtue of superior division record tiebreakers. But the Lakers control their destiny.

If and when the Suns and Lakers meet again, here's how I think the Lakers can win. There's a formula that you have to implement against Phoenix, and it requires discipline. It's about controlling tempo.

So this is where a coach like Phil Jackson earns his money.

I liken the Suns to a run-and-shoot team in football. And the way to combat that approach is with a running game in football -- in basketball you stop them by dominating the paint. That slows the tempo down.

On this Shaq-less team, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant have to be the ones doing the damage in the paint. They can't settle for jumpers every time.

A successful post game demands a double team, and that brings extra help below the free-throw line. This would give the Lakers' defense that much more time to get back in transition. The Lakers have to do that. Phoenix excels at shooting the 3 in transition.

The Lakers have a good chance in a seven-game series. The Lakers have an opportunity to come in riding a five-game win streak, playing the best hoop in their division.

I think it's going to be a very interesting series because the Lakers are a better basketball team than they were in the first half. I don't think Phoenix is playing as well as it did in the first half. This makes for a very compelling series. The key for the Lakers will be winning one of those first two games in Phoenix.

Elsewhere, a team that clinched Sunday but is still likely to be in full playoff-drive mode is the Wizards (40-40), who beat potential first-round foe Cleveland. The Wiz are in a good position in that they are still motivated to keep the No. 5 seed and a matchup with the Cavs.

So even though Washington is in, the game Tuesday against the Bucks holds seeding implications. Cleveland is the worst of the top four and the team the Wiz have the best chance of beating. The Wiz probably would not be in this position had Caron Butler not missed five games, which were all losses. He came back Sunday from and a right thumb injury and scored 21 points. I think the Wiz are going to hold on to their five spot.

Chicago, which clinched an East seed with a win over Miami, has been impressive. The Bulls are the perfect team for Detroit to play because they're going to put up some intense fights. Now, I don't think they have a chance, but an earlier playoff test will be good for the Pistons. Chicago is legit with its young core, which, although Orlando's is very good, is, I think is the best in the game.

Sacramento's looking good after clinching a playoff spot with a win over New Orleans/Oklahoma City. Mike Bibby is playing great basketball for the Kings. The only thing I worry about is the Hornets rely on Bibby's jumper, which is going to be easier to take away in a playoff series.

Because of what Ron Artest has brought, I think they're going to give the Spurs a great test in the first round, barring a late change in the seedings. Which, though banged up, will be good for San Antonio. A coach wants his team up for the rest of the playoffs. It's harder in the playoffs to get to that next intensity level unless you get pushed.


Looks like the Lakers are going to be playing the Suns in the Playoffs. I'd bet $10.00 that the Lakers will win this series.