First of all, I am very unsure about this prediction. I don't know who the Suns will have in terms of interior defense if Lopez doesn't play, and I don't know how he will do if he is back. By I do know this: the Suns can be an offensive nightmare for any team that plays them, and I think in beating San Antonio, they beat a team that plays very similar to L.A. So I'm going to be brash and bold, and say that the Suns are going to win this matchup, and advance to the Finals (and wouldn't you love to see Nash, a guy that's been so close, hold the trophy?).
First, let's look at matchups. On defense, Nash will guard Fish (advantage, Suns). I'm assuming Grant Hill will take Kobe (big advantage, Lakers). Richardson marks Artest (even), A'mare takes Gasol (slight advantage, Lakers), and Lopez/Frye take Bynum (I can't really tell until the injury situation sorts itself out. I see Dudley taking Odom, with Dragic taking turns at point, and Amudson providing a big body and fouls underneath. I think the Suns are going to try to take the ball out of Kobe's hands, make him pass it like they played Ginobili, and live with a few easy baskets by the L.A. big men. Obviously Kobe is better than Manu, but I think in terms of what the Lakers try to do offensively, they're similar to the Spurs. Both have a great PF, decent centers, spot-up SF's, ok point guards, and a good wing creator. Both will try a combination of pounding it inside (Duncan/Gasol), or letting wing players create (Ginobili/Parker/Bryant). The Lakers can and will score, but I think this year's Suns team brings a defensive toughness (especially off the bench) that they haven't had before.
Despite their defensive improvement, the Suns' chances lie with their offensive, and I think this is where I can show Phoenix's superiority. Nash vs. Fish/Brown/Farmar? This is not going to be close. Nash is a different beast than Westbrook or Williams, and the Suns have surrounded him with different talent. Williams is so strong, and has become an elite shooter. Westbrook is pretty exciting and can do it all. But I think Nash is better in terms of getting in the paint and finding guys, or creating for himself. He's not as fast or strong, but he's more sudden, more unpredictable. Also, his guys are better at finishing at the rim, and won't get blocked like Boozer/Milsap. Finally, the Lakers switched Kobe onto Russell when the going got tough, and relied on Fish to check the offensively challanged Sefolosha. I don't think they can take that risk with the Suns because Jason Richardson has taken his play to another level in this year's playoffs. You absolutely cannot leave him alone right now. Theoritacally, you can match Kobe onto Nash, Artest onto J-Rich, Odom on Hill, Gasol on Stoudemire, Bynum on Frye/Lopez, but I think that lineup takes the Lakers out of a lot of their offensive flow, lets the Suns run and shoot all over the place (but does take away the paint), and most importantly, decimates the L.A. bench. I don't know if you'll see this lineup in crunch time, but it definitely is not a good option.
In other places, I see Kobe playing great D on Jason, Artest and Hill a wash, and Stoudemire taking it to Gasol. A'mare has been playing with zeal, and I don't see Gasol being able to check him when Duncan failed. At center, the Suns are going to probe how L.A. is going to handle Frye shooting the 3: that was huge for them against Portland when they were outmatched in the paint.
I know L.A. has been playing well, and should finish it's own series soon. I know Kobe has a few extra gears in there, and that the team is a different beast in the playoffs. I know that L.A. took the season series from the Suns, and you cannot discount that (remember Cleveland/Orlando last year). But I think these Suns are playing at a level we have never seen a Phoenix team. They are together (have you heard the B.S. report interview with Jared Dudley?). They are tough. They get rebounds and play defense (the two most telling things about playoff basketball). Nash is in the zone. Amazingly, so is A'mare. They have the better bench. They shoot better. I think they can do it. And if they beat L.A., I love their matchups with Orlando/Cleoveland, too. Maybe we will see Nash hold that trophy this year.
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