4/05/2005 12:00:00 PM|||Kurt|||The Lakers travel to Phoenix tonight to take on a Suns team that is 15-5 in their last 20 and has the best record in the NBA. What’s more, the Lakers almost certainly will be without Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm — the guys with the three highest PERs on the team. The bookmakers have the Lakers as 14.5-point dogs. A loss tonight and the Lakers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, although that comes as no surprise. Let’s talk about the one positive for the Lakers the last several games, Caron Butler. With Odom down Butler has seen more of the offense — his minutes have jumped to 40 per game the last 10 from a season average of 35.2, and his points per game is up to 19.8 per game from a season average of 14.8. The thing is, Butler isn’t playing any better than he has all season, he’s just getting more touches. Butler is shooting 47% (eFG%) in last 10 games, barely up from his season average of 46.5%. His points per shot attempt in the last 10 is the same as his season average of 1.05. He is grabbing slightly fewer rebounds (5.9 per 40 minutes in his last 10, a 6.4 average for the season). We can go on down the list, but it’s all pretty much the same. If the Lakers are going to make a big trade in the next two years, it likely means Butler or Odom is going to have to go. There are two things that need to be asked here: Who is the better player and who can play better with Kobe? On the first question, I think it’s clear Odom is the better player overall, not just on offense and rebounding but on defense — both are poor but Odom’s opponents PER is 17.7 (and he has to cover some very good fours, a deep position in the league right now) while Butler’s is a sad 19.3. As for the second question, who plays better with Kobe, I’ll turn to 82games.com’s player pairs, which show a +/- for the team when these two players are on the floor (averaged for 48 minutes), plus offensive and defensive efficiency. First, when Kobe and Lamar are on the floor, the Lakers play basically even with their opponents, a +/- of 0. With Butler, that is -3. More specifically, the problem is defense. With Butler and Bryant on the floor the Lakers have a slightly better offensive efficiency rating than with Kobe and Odom — 100.7 (points per 100 possessions) compared to 99.3. However, the Butler/Bryant combo allows 103.2, compared to the Odom/Bryant combo of 99.7. Those +/- numbers are not without statistical “noise” — there is a lot of overlap when all three are on the court at once — but it starts to show that for all their problems, Kobe and Lamar mesh better than Kobe and Caron. I’m glad Butler’s numbers are up the last few games and maybe he is landing on some scouts/GM’s radar, because I think he and Devean George are the Lakers two most tradable commodities this summer (two guys whose reputation my be higher than their actual worth) and both should be on the block. Update: Chris Mihm is now on the DL and Vlade has been activated for tonight's game.|||111272792238503928|||On Tap: Elimination