Channing Frye was as cold as ice the first few games of the Western Conference Final. The Phoenix reserve missed his first 17 shots in the series before finding his mark in Game 4. Frye's 14 was part of the Suns' 54 bench points in Phoenix' 115-106 win in Game 4. Now the Suns and Lakers head back to LA with the series knotted two games apiece. Game 5 tips at 9 p.m. Easterrn from Staples Center on TNT.
Is there such a thing as a hot streak?
This is one of the mysteries of life that invariably divides handicappers into two camps. The prevailing wisdom among statheads, especially in baseball circles, is that streaks don’t exist except in hindsight – like a coin that has landed heads eight times in a row. It’s still a 50-50 proposition that the next flip will land heads. True enough, and important to remember in a largely mechanical sport like baseball.
Now let’s look at Channing Frye. He missed 17 shots in a row from the field against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Frye’s mechanics were a complete mess as his Phoenix Suns took a 2-1 deficit into Game 4 of their best-of-seven series. He was out of rhythm, using unnecessary ball fakes and hesitating to shoot. Frye was cold.
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At least he was until Tuesday. Frye finally canned a 3-pointer in the second quarter of Game 4 to put the Suns up 41-34 on the Lakers. He missed his next shot, then drained back-to-back threes, eventually finishing the night 4-of-8 from the floor – all those attempts coming from behind the arc – as Phoenix (+1½ at home) won 115-106 to even this series at 2-2. Frye did not hesitate this time; his form was excellent, his stroke pure. Frye was hot.
Frye is hardly the most important player on the floor for the Suns, but they obviously have a better chance of winning when he’s on the mark. He has the potential to be a difference-maker in this series, as he was in Game 4. That’s why his 14-point performance on Tuesday was the topic of discussion around the water cooler on Wednesday. But which version of Frye is going to show up on Thursday?
This is a doubly important question because the Lakers are wondering the same thing about Andrew Bynum. He’s clearly not defending very well on his swollen right knee; Los Angeles has used the 7-foot Bynum just 17.5 minutes per game in this series, going “small” instead with the 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom paired next to 7-footer Pau Gasol, who has been virtually unstoppable in this series at 22.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game.
The best predictor we have of the future is the past, and given Bynum’s health and his level of play over the past few games, there’s little reason to be optimistic about his contribution to the Lakers in Game 5. Frye, on the other hand, is in a position to succeed – all he needs to do is continue what worked in Game 4. Easier said that done, of course: Frye’s one of those smart and sensitive types who can be thrown off his game, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson knows a thing or two about the mental side of sports. Even so, Frye is trending upward right now and Bynum the opposite.
This gives Phoenix some betting value going to Staples Center as a 7½-point road dog for Thursday’s Game 5. But like I’ve been yapping about all series, the 'over' is where the true value is against the betting odds. The Suns were the most efficient team in the NBA on offense during the regular season, and they’re still on top in the playoffs at 113.5 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers are No. 2 at 112.3 points, and without Bynum at his best, L.A. has become more one-dimensional offensively. The 'over' is 4-0 in this series after splitting the regular season at 2-2.
Thursday’s total is 217½ points, down from 219 at the open even while the betting public pounds the 'over.' That suggests some sharp money has come in on the 'under,' and that’s generally the value play, but the first two games at Staples Center produced combined scores of 235 and 236 points, both in regulation.