Suns face daunting task of trying to limit Lakers’ LeBron James in playoffs

May 22, 2021, 1:41 PM
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the NBA preseason game against t...
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said it best on Saturday. LeBron James’ playoff career has shown how it’s still a mystery as to how to slow him down.

“Nobody’s been able to limit much when it comes to LeBron for a long, long time,” he said.

The last time James was eliminated in the postseason before the NBA Finals was 2010, the last year the Suns made the playoffs.

“There’s a reason why he’s been in all the Finals he’s been in,” point guard Chris Paul said Saturday, saying he thinks at times his long-time friend can even be underappreciated.

James is averaging 28.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game on 49.6% shooting over 260 career playoff games. He has 1,500 more playoff points than anybody else.

And while Williams on Friday went as far as to say James may be the greatest athlete sports has ever seen, all of that undersells what could be James’ best weapon: his mind.

Let Williams explain.

“Having coached against him a number of times, you’re always, at least for me, you’re trying to guess what he’s going to see in a certain play or certain environment if you take this away or if you take that away,” he said. “You know he’s thinking two-to-three steps ahead and that’s a task for us as a staff, for me in general when we put our guys in certain situations.

“He’s one of the more unique players we’ve ever seen in the NBA. You can’t take everything away from him because he has counters to a counter.”

The Suns will use a number of defenders on James, but the guy expected to be the primary cover is wing Mikal Bridges.

In his third year, Bridges has solidified himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA, having a real shot at making an All-Defense team.

But even with everything Bridges does well, he’s proof of why marking James is nearly impossible.

James’ combination of size, speed, strength and court vision all with that mind means he’s always going to have a pretty substantial impact on the game.

The biggest concern in the matchup with Bridges is strength, as Bridges is listed as 41 pounds lighter than James.

It’s a matchup the wing has seen a few times, and while he said his individual mentality is the same going into every game, he noted the challenges James presents.

“No matter who I defend, just gotta lock in at all times,” Bridges said Saturday. “The thing is LeBron’s so smart, his IQ. So he’s gonna know a lot of things we’re gonna do … He’s seen everything. From getting blitzed, to 1-on-1, to getting on a hit, to blitzing the post — he’s seen everything. He’s just so smart, he’s seen every coverage. So I think it’s just going out there, listen to what we have to do, play hard and make it tough.”

Empire of the Suns

The Toronto Raptors and the New York Knicks play during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas &a...
Kellan Olson

Suns wrap up Summer League play in Las Vegas with loss to Cavaliers

Suns basketball will now be on hiatus. The team's Summer League squad played its finale in Las Vegas, falling to the Cavaliers 88-85.
1 month ago
A Summer league logo is shown on center court during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the...
Kellan Olson

Suns’ Summer League team starts to gel, wins 2nd game in a row

The Summer Suns' results through two games sure weren't pretty, but for those who stuck around to catch the next two, you've seen progress.
1 month ago
Jalen Smith #10 of the Phoenix Suns grabs a loose ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the 20...
Kellan Olson

Jalen Smith produces again, Summer Suns get 1st win in Las Vegas

The Phoenix Suns' Summer League team picked up their first win in Las Vegas on Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets.
1 month ago
Phoenix Suns guard Ty-Shon Alexander is fouled by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Josh Hall (15) duri...
Kellan Olson

Ty-Shon Alexander showing midrange potential for Suns at Summer League

Ty-Shon Alexander couldn't possibly have had better people to learn the midrange game from, and he's showing his prowess in Las Vegas.
2 months ago
Jalen Smith #10 of the Phoenix Suns passes the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers dur...
Kellan Olson

Jalen Smith records double-double in Summer League debut, a Suns loss

It wasn't hard to spot the lone first-round pick on the floor between the Suns and Lakers in Summer League play from Vegas on Sunday night.
2 months ago
Nando de Colo #12 of Team France looks to pass the ball asDevin Booker #15 of Team United States de...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker wins Olympic gold medal, Kevin Durant leads USA over France

Devin Booker achieved one of his ultimate goals this summer, winning an Olympic gold medal with Team USA.
2 months ago
Suns face daunting task of trying to limit Lakers’ LeBron James in playoffs