It’s always exciting when the Phoenix Suns play the Lakers, but figuring out who guards LeBron James adds an extra twist to this matchup.
Whenever LeBron James is on the floor, he has to be the first, second, and third priority for the defense. It’s absolutely imperative that all five eyes are on him. When the Phoenix Suns try to contain him tonight, they’ll undoubtedly throw all kinds of looks at him, including double teams and switches. But the hardest job will be for the player tasked with matching up with James each time down the floor.
Taking a look at the wings on the roster, the best matches in terms of size, build, and athleticism are Trevor Ariza, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, and Mikal Bridges. Historically, the best approach to guard James is to have two players on the floor able to help onto him and a center who can contest his shots at the rim. But that still doesn’t mean just anyone can be his primary defender.
Of those four, Warren is the worst defender, so he’s unlikely to be assigned to James at all. The other three, though, could all get chances to guard the king. Bigger players have been better suited to guard James over the years though, so the slimmer Bridges might function more as a help defender.
That means one of Ariza and Jackson will likely be guarding LeBron James at all times. For Ariza, going up against a star player won’t be anything new. He’s an established quality defender used to guarding other teams’ top scorers. Josh Jackson, on the other hand, may project as a quality defender, but he definitely isn’t known as a go to stopper around the NBA. Still, when Ariza’s on the bench, Jackson’s their best bet to guard James.
The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to stop Lebron James. Slowing him down might not even be a fitting term for what the Suns can reasonably do. But someone has to guard James, and there’s a good chance it’s a combination of Ariza and Jackson.