All the classic matchups will be played out in this series: Speed versus size. The outside game versus the inside game. A deep bench versus a short bench. Championship experience versus hungry championship wannabe's. Kobe versus the world.
WHY THE LAKERS SHOULD WIN
While Derek Fisher would be bested in a 100-yard dash by half of the Suns roster, he's a big-shot, big-time, mistake-free clutch player. If he can't guard Steve Nash without help, Fisher will wind up with open shots while Nash is running into perpetual screens as the triangle unfolds. Also, the defensive range of the Lakers' bigs enables them to specialize in building walls to keep guards away from the rim -- as they eventually did with Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.
But don't be surprised if the Lakers simply give Nash room to shoot -- the theory being that they would be better off if Nash scored 40 and only had 5 assists, rather than having him score 25 and dish out upwards of 15 assists.
Actually, Fisher should do a workmanlike job against Phoenix backup point guard Goran Dragic -- cutting off angles, resisting being over-powered, and pushing him to help spots.
At the same time, Shannon Brown has the speed, quickness and will to defend to stay in touch with Nash, and to buzz around Dragic for profit.
Kobe Bryant will overwhelm Grant Hill, who simply lacks the necessary strength to even think of containing the Lakers' fail-safe scorer. Meanwhile, Kobe has the tools to crowd Hill and take away his money shot, i.e., a fadeaway jumper. Leandro Barbosa's paltry defense will be routinely chumped by Kobe. However, watching Jordan Farmar and Barbosa chasing each other up and down the court will leave all spectators breathless.
Ron Artest will be attached to Jason Richardson's chest all throughout the series. After dealing with Kevin Durant's speed, length and range, J-Rich will be a piece of cake for Ron-Ron. Look for Artest to do the same to Jared Dudley.
Pau Gasol has the length to bother Amare Stoudemire's interior shots. Ditto for Lamar Odom. Look for Stoudemire to be reduced to a mid-range jump shooter. At the other end, both Gasol and Odom will have their way with Stoudemire's shot-block-oriented defense. On his drives hoopwards, Stoudemire tends to make blind spins -- rest assured that there will be a Laker waiting there to swipe the ball away. However, if Stoudemire does get his mojo working, look for Artest to switch over and calm him down.
Odom has the stuff to hang with Channing Frye beyond the 3-point line. And Louis Amundson will be hard-pressed to do battle with whichever pair of long-armed 7-footers the Lakers have in the game.
Jason Collins will bang Andrew Bynum and pick up early fouls. Because of his prolonged stay on the injured list, there's no way that Robin Lopez will be a major factor. When Bynum sits, neither Collins nor Lopez will provide a meaningful impediment to Gasol's clever offense.
Absent a lock-down wing defender (with the quasi-exception of Dudley), the Suns will have to double-team Kobe, a tactic that L.A. is used to combating. Even worse, Phoenix will likewise be forced to two-time Gasol, one of the smartest and best-passing bigs in the league. When properly executed, the triangle offense eats up double teams.
With a tandem selected from Gasol, Odom and Bynum, the Lakers will play volleyball on their offensive glass, and the extra shots will make a huge difference. Plus, the shot-blocking capabilities of these three will enable their teammates to stay glued to the Suns' deadly long-range bombers.
The Lakers should take the air out of the ball, take only good shots, play inside-out basketball, and force Phoenix to play defense for 18-22 seconds on each possession -- thereby taking the zip out of the Suns' running game.
In about two weeks time, experience, size, resourcefulness and the inimitable talents of the best player on the planet should be sufficient to make the Suns set for good.
WHY THE SUNS COULD WIN
The Lakers' screen/roll defense is the weakest aspect of their game plan, particularly when Fisher or Farmar is playing the point. It also happens to be a primary weapon of the Suns. Look for Nash and Stoudemire to run high S/Rs at every opportunity, winding up with uncontested jumpers for the former and/or dunks for the latter. And when the Lakers are compelled to rotate and offer help in the middle, kick-out passes to Richardson, Frye, Dudley and Barbosa will make the scoreboard flash like a pinball machine.
Whatever number Alvin Gentry calls, Nash will dribble circles around Fisher, thereby forcing L.A. into help situations that will also free up the Suns' dead-eye perimeter shooters.
Yes, Richardson will have trouble getting away from Artest, and Hill will need all of his veteran wiles to shake off Kobe. But Stoudemire is too quick for Bynum or Gasol.
Phoenix can also depend on Artest firing up an abundance of misguided 3-balls, on Bynum turning the ball over when his dribble is crowded, on Kobe wandering on defense and being over-the-top individualistic on offense, as well as on Farmar and Brown making poor choices with the ball.
If Phoenix can hold its own in the battle of the boards, hit its outside shots, reduce the effectiveness of the triangle with selective switches and anticipatory poaching of passing lanes, then the series will be up for grabs.
Moreover, there will be enormous pressure on both coaching staffs to make timely and significant adjustments from play-to-play and game-to-game. Figure that Phil Jackson has the edge in this department.
However this incredibly intriguing series does evolve, hoop-o-maniacs of all persuasions are guaranteed at least a thrill-a-minute.