After winning three games in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers are undergoing a renaissance of sorts, starting with the refreshingly unselfish play of star Kobe Bryant. Kobe has been truly masterful during this streak, looking more like Magic by dishing out more assists (39) than field goal attempts (34). His unselfish play has also rubbed off on the rest of the Lakers who have put up an average offensive rating of 114 during that stretch of play.
The big question is whether L.A. can sustain this high level of play to climb back into the playoff race, beginning tonight in Phoenix against the Pacific Division rival Suns. Don't overlook the Suns because of their 15-30 record, either. This game will be a big test for L.A. playing a younger, highly-motivated team on the second leg of a back-to-back. If the Lakers play focused, mistake-free basketball tonight and get hot from beyond the arc, the Lakers should extend their winning streak to four.
For an aging team like the Lakers, playing against a young and energetic team like Phoenix requires discipline and focus on both ends of the court. But when this game comes on the second half of a back-to-back, that need is magnified. The Lakers are 2-5 on the year during these type of games, yet both wins came on the road in which the Lakers kept their turnover rate low (12.5 percent) and kept the opponent off the fast break. With an average turnover rate of 14 percent on the year, ranking 22nd in the league, it's crucial for the Lakers to come out with this same type of mistake-free basketball on the road tonight.
The Money Ball
The old saying "you live by the three, and die by the three" may not hold true with the 2012-2013 Lakers squad. By advanced metric -standards, the notion that shooting too many threes leads to team losses is not true for L.A. For example, they rank third in the NBA in three-point attempts (1115) and shoot a mediocre 35 percent from long range (only good for 15th in the NBA).
However, when adjusting to the fact that a three-pointer is inherently worth more than a two, it's really only important to look at the effective shooting rate. And at 51 percent, L.A.'s eFG% is good for seventh in the league. Look for the Lakers to get hot tonight from three against a porous phoenix defense (25th in defensive eFG%) and notch a fourth consecutive victory.