What can Suns do to challenge Lakers?
Given how thoroughly the Lakers dismantled the Suns in Game 1 of the West finals, it's easy to conclude that Phoenix will be unable to make the series a competitive one. However, the Suns suffering one lopsided loss does not necessarily mean that their cause is hopeless.
In fact, there are several adjustments that the Suns can make to successfully turn the tide.
Since there's no way to hide the atrocious defense of Amar'e Stoudemire and Channing Frye in any kind of man-to-man alignment, the Suns must resort to a junk defense.
An ordinary zone, whether it's a 1-2-2, a 2-3, or a 2-1-2, won't do the job because the Lakers have faced all of these formations before.
Besides, standard zones will be shredded by Pau Gasol's clever passing, Lamar Odom's determined dive-cuts and Kobe Bryant's long-distance accuracy.
Also, zones of every description are extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounding, which happens to be one of the Lakers' strengths.
Another zone option is a box-and-one that moves into a diamond-and-one depending on where the ball is. This defense has somebody -- Grant Hill? -- playing chest-to-chest with Kobe as soon as he crosses the time line. This should be done whether Kobe has the ball or not. Meanwhile, everybody else falls into a 2-2 or a 1-2-1 zone. In this way, Kobe can be denied the ball, and will also be doubled whenever he brings the rock within reach of the other zoners.
The biggest advantage for Phoenix is that the Lakers have never faced this kind of defense. It should, therefore, create some confusion and hesitation. However, it should be used sparingly so that the Lakers don't get used to playing against it.
Adjustments have to be made to keep this junk defense within the bounds of legality, and all of the Suns will have to crash the boards to keep the Lakers' bigs from playing volleyball.
This five-man defensive rebounding effort will seriously diminish the Suns' chances to fast break, but they didn't score many points on the run anyway.
There are several other areas in the Suns' normal game plan that can be tweaked for profit:
Stoudemire has to become convinced that his defensive efforts in the low post must commence before his man receives the entry pass. Fighting for position is imperative.
The Suns had some early success in fronting the low post, but then they abandoned this tactic after giving up two or three successful lob passes that led to easy hoops. There's no reason why they shouldn't resume this strategy, but only if they can pressure the passer, front with aggression, and have a weak-side defender ready to help.
Stoudemire and Robin Lopez have to make quicker baseline rotations when one of the Lakers carries the ball into the paint.
Steve Nash has to be extra careful when spinning with the ball in the lane since there were always quick hands waiting to strip him.
Phoenix needs to run more curls off of weak-side screens for Jason Richardson. The Lakers never had an answer for this maneuver.
Lopez and Stoudemire must concentrate on boxing out.
Everybody should be reminded that Odom is a lefty.
Since the Lakers' bigs showed to such good effect that the Suns' bread-and-butter high screen/rolls were mostly ineffective, other measures must be taken.
For example, running Nash or Goran Dragic off staggered screens and double screens.
On two occasions, the Suns played a double high-post, thereby offering Nash a screen to his right and to his left. The first time they ran this set, Stoudemire stepped back, received a pass from Nash, and buried an 18-footer. The second time, Nash managed to turn the corner and dribble his way to an uncontested layup. MORE! MORE!
Also, get the lead-footed and easily discombobulated Andrew Bynum involved in defending S/Rs. But set the screen up below the foul line -- as the Jazz are wont to do -- so that the Lakers' other defenders don't have enough time to offer substantial help.
Start Frye instead of Lopez to force Bynum to defend either Frye or Stoudemire away from the rim. And have faith that Frye's 3-point shooting will improve.
Instead of going around any proffered screens, Nash can simply reverse direction. This will leave the screener's defender in no man's land, create uncontested jumpers for Nash, and give the erstwhile screener an open cutting lane to the rim.
What else can Phoenix do?
Try playing Nash and Dragic together.
Find a way to tempt Odom to drink more pre-game coffee.
Have Louis Admundson start a fight with Kobe in hopes that both of them will be banished from the game.
And if all else fails, pray for divine intervention.