Watch Alex Len with the fast break dunk off a beautiful pass from Markieff Morris and a hockey assist from Goran Dragic.

Huge fast break dunk by Alex Len! #SunsVsLakers

A video posted by Dave King (@davekingnba) on

The streaking Suns travel to Los Angeles to battle the struggling Lakers at 7:30PM MST.

Just two short weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns were amidst a six game losing streak that seemed to indicate that there were serious issues with the team and that change was inevitable.

Tonight, the Suns will look to push their win streak to six games in Los Angeles as they take on the Lakers.

Who: Phoenix Suns @ Los Angeles Lakers

What: Round 3 of 4 between two Pacific Division rivals

When: 6:30pm PST/9:30pm ET

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Why: Because the Suns will likely win

Previous Matchups

The Suns blew out the Lakers 119-99 in their first game of the season, as Phoenix's three point-guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas combined for 57 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds. Things also got heated in the third quarter as Eric Bledsoe was ejected from the game after expressing his frustration over being repeatedly hacked by Kobe Bryant.

Both teams played again shortly after that in LA and the Suns won again, but in a much closer game than the first. Markieff Morris posted 23 points,10 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the Suns to a 112-106 victory.

Is Kobe hurting the Lakers?

Since that matchup on the Suns' opening night, the Lakers have lost 20 more games and currently hold a 9-21 record, good for the fifth worst in the NBA. Kobe Bryant has sat out the last three games after some disastrous shooting performances.

Without him, LA went on to shock the Golden State Warriors (owners of the best record in the NBA) at home by sharing the wealth and playing freely. They also went on to lose their next to games, to the Bulls and the Mavericks. Kobe is returning tonight and will no doubt be motivated to quell theories that the Lakers might actually be a better team without him.

This begs the question: are the Lakers a better team without Kobe Bryant this season? The evidence does seem to indicate that this has been the case thus far:

kobe on-off numbers

Kobe is averaging nearly 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game, but he's doing so with the worst efficiency of his career. And at 36 years old, his defense is not nearly where it was. It's not unreasonable to consider the possibility that the way Kobe Bryant is playing this season (high volume, low efficiency) might be detrimental to the team.

This isn't to say that the Lakers would be some sort of world-beaters without Kobe. This team is bad, with or without 36 year old Kobe Bryant. But as Kobe now lacks the physical skills to get to the rim and finish as well as he once did, he's taking more of the tough, inefficient shots he used to make at an absurdly high rate--and he's no longer making them at an absurdly high rate. Perhaps a Kobe that shoots less and plays more as a playmaker wouldn't be the worst thing for the Lakers.

And if there are any Kobe fans out there who disagree with any of this, I'd be happy to debate this with them in Temecula.

Streaking Suns

After losing six games in a row, the Suns are suddenly on the cusp of winning six in a row. After Alex Len was promoted to the starting lineup in place of Miles Plumlee, the Suns lost at home to the Milwaukee Bucks on a last second shot, then went on to string five straight victories together.

Think about that for a second: the Suns are one wild, rim-skating Kate Khris Middleton buzzer beater away from being 6-0 with Alex Len as their starting center. As a starter, Len is averaging 9.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in just 22 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, that translates to nearly 15 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks per game.

Granted, Len is also averaging over the NBA-allowed 6 fouls per 36 minutes, but if your 21 year old center's greatest weakness is needing to foul less, you absolutely live with it. Foul trouble is an issue that plagues most young big men in the league and once he learns to avoid it, 30+ minute per game Alex Len will be an absolute monster.

Some other stats from the Suns' current five game win streak:

  • The Suns are averaging 111 points on 49% shooting from the field during the streak.
  • Eric Bledsoe is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and was a net +42 in those 5 games.
  • Goran Dragic is averaging 17 points and 5 assists and was a net +12.
  • Isaiah Thomas is averaging 17 points and 4 assists and was a net +34.

Prediction

Kobe's motivation to play well in his return tonight will only be stronger because he hates the Suns, so Phoenix might have to weather the storm at the onset. But as long as the Suns don't fall into the trap of underestimating a weak opponent again (after all, the Lakers did beat the Warriors just a few days ago), they really shouldn't have trouble winning this one.  Suns win, 109-98.

If I'm wrong and the Suns lose, you can meet me in Temecula.

A preview of the Suns game at the Los Angeles Lakers, who get Kobe Bryant back against the West's hottest team.

      
 
 

FanDuel Keeps on Trucking!

While there's no tournament this week dedicated to SB Nation, there's always games and always a chance to win. Join using this link, read the tasty tidbits below, pick your team, and leave your lineup in the comments.

Then brag your ass off on Twitter using #FanDuelSBN. Extra points for extra obnoxiousness.

Phantasy Phix

The Phoenix Suns, riding a 5-game winning streak, hit the road this week for three games in four days. It's a road slate that gets tougher and tougher each game.

First, the Suns face the Los Angeles Lakers, who may or may not play Kobe Bryant. The 36-year old Bryant has sat out the last three Laker games due to tiredness, even the nationally televised Christmas Day game, but has reportedly targeted Sunday's game as the game to return. The Lakers have gone 1-2 with Kobe out.

After that, it's the first game of the season against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, followed by yet another roadie against Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back.

Let's take a look at who does well and who doesn't against these teams.

Who loves the Lakers?

Markieff Morris loves playing the Lakers. He scores and rebounds above his career averages.

Nearly everyone really loves playing the Lakers, who have by far the league's worst defense. Just pick your favorite Suns (except Bledsoe) and see what happens.

Who hates the Lakers?

Eric Bledsoe has been terrible against the Lakers this year after being really good a year ago, so he's a hit-or-miss guy. He sat the entire fourth quarter of one of the games while Hornacek played the hot Thomas and Dragic down the stretch.

Who loves the Pelicans?

Eric Bledsoe eats Pelicans for dinner. Last year, in 3 of the games (missed one to injury), Bledsoe put up 21.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds - all at or above his season averages.

Goran Dragic also loves the Pellies. He put up 24 points per game against them last year in 4 games (all starts).

Markieff Morris was great against the Pelicans last year, putting up 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists coming off the bench. Now he starts against the incredibly long Anthony Davis so we'll see how that goes. Morris might have a tough time getting off his shots in the paint.

Who hates the Pelicans?

I can't really find any Suns who play poorly against the Pelicans.

Who loves the Thunder?

Eric Bledsoe went off in two games last year against the Thunder (he missed the other two with injury), putting up 22 points, 9 assists and 5.5 rebounds - all above his season averages. A couple weeks ago, he only popped 12 points and 4 assists in the blowout loss, so he should be looking for redemption.

A year ago, Gerald Green was incredible against OKC, putting up 28 points per contest in 3 games (1 start). He made 18 of 30 three-pointers in those games. En fuego. A couple weeks ago, Green was so-so in the Suns blow out loss.

For Sacramento, Isaiah Thomas was incredible last year against the Thunder, putting up 31 points per game in 30 minutes a contest.

Who hates the Thunder?

Markieff Morris has not done well agains the Thunder. Last year, he scored below his averages on points and rebounds and this year was a complete no-show in the earlier blow out. Athletic fours like Ibaka appear to give him fits.

Who loves the Suns?

Fantasy-wise, these three opponents LOVE the Suns in so many ways. But the Suns love them more, and have found a way to beat these teams over the past year+. The Suns are 2-0 against the Lakers this season (5-1 since last year), 2-2 against the Thunder since last year and went 4-0 against the Pelicans last season. This week's game against the Pellies is the first of this season.

As Suns fans are aware, Kobe Bean Bryant does well against the Suns. Unless it's Game 7 of a playoff series in 2006, anyway. He seems to hit a higher percentage of his midrange shots against the Suns than his season average, so if he plays you can expect big fantasy stats. He will be well-rested too. Pick him up if he's playing.

If you're needing some rebounds for your fantasy team, pick up anyone playing against the Suns this week. For the Lakers, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer have always feasted on the Suns on the boards and in the paint. Anthony Davis is Anthony Davis, Omer Asik is a monster and Serge Ibaka is a beast as well.

In fact, the Pelicans and Thunder are near the top of the league in rebounding and the Suns give up the league's most rebounds to the other team when factoring offensive and defensive rebounds into the picture.

The Pelicans' Ryan Anderson has made it his calling to bomb the Suns from deep, and is on a roll lately for the Pellies on the perimeter. Expect Anderson to fill it up from three-point land, especially when the Suns go small.

And finally, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are incredible offensively against the Suns.

Who hates the Suns?

Swaggy P (Nick Young) has never played well against the Suns, scoring below is career average against the boys in purple and orange.

Last Call

Got it? I've given you the winners and losers. The rest is on you. To recap: #FanDuelSBN, leave your lineup below, and of course the link to make it all happen. I'd say "good luck" but you don't need it.

Ever since the Phoenix Suns took Alex Len with the fifth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the word fans have gotten used to — other than “injury,” of course — is...

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