EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

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

Bobi Klintman  of the Taipans in action during the round 13 NBL match between Cairns Taipans and Me...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Bobi Klintman could be Suns’ big wing in 2024 NBA Draft

If the Phoenix Suns want a bigger wing in the 2024 NBA Draft, Bobi Klintman is a headliner in the back of the first round.

36 minutes ago

Jaime Jaquez Jr. #11 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warrior...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Can Suns find rare instant contributor in NBA Draft?

There is no doubting the value it would bring the Phoenix Suns to select a player in the NBA Draft who was a long-term part of what they do.

22 hours ago

Emmanuel Mudiay, Knicks vs. Suns...

Kevin Zimmerman

9 players to know: How the Valley Suns’ G League team can help Phoenix

Let's peek at the Valley Suns G League roster to see which players can help the Phoenix Suns, who is a developmental prospect and more.

1 day ago

General manager James Jones of the Phoenix Suns looks on after the game against the Miami Heat at F...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Suns could triple down by dealing unprotected 2031 pick

The Phoenix Suns have an extra measure they can take this offseason to upgrade the roster, but it would come with real risk.

2 days ago

Nassir Little #25 of the Phoenix Suns on the court during introductions to the NBA game at Footprin...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Should Nassir Little be Suns’ trade asset or reclamation project?

Nassir Little is one of the few trade chips for the Phoenix Suns to use this offseason. But should they just keep him instead?

3 days ago

Tristan da Silva #23 of the Colorado Buffaloes attempts a shot in the second half against the Boise...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Tristan da Silva is ideal ‘NBA-ready’ wing for Suns in NBA Draft

If we're mapping out the perfect offseason for the Suns, it includes them selecting a wing in the NBA Draft that can be solid right away.

4 days ago

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