Lakers play Suns in their first In-Season Tournament game

The Lakers will try to go 1-0 in this new In-Season Tournament.

The Lakers are about to end the road trip and they’re probably thanking all the gods they know. They have gone 0 for 3 on this expedition that’s about to be completely ill-fated if they can’t get the job done on Friday night.

They’re going to be in the Arizona desert for their last game of this current tour (if you haven’t guessed, the Lakers have the 4-4 Phoenix Suns as their basketball enemies). And the stakes are a little bit higher as this will be the first game of the In-Season Tournament (capitalized for importance) for the Lakers.

How does the In-Season tournament go? 30 teams are divided into 6 groups of 5 teams. Each team plays the other four teams in that group. The winners of each of the 6 groups and the best records (a lot of tiebreakers will be done, for sure) advance to the 8-team tournament. The winner of that tournament gets additional prize money, bragging rights, pride, and a brand-spanking new trophy that they can show off. By the way, all these Tournament games will count in the regular season standings except for the Finals. So it’s very similar to what the WNBA does except they don’t do an actual tournament for it; only the two best records from their Cup advance to the Finals there (which doesn’t count, like in the NBA, in the regular season records).

The Lakers and Suns are in West Group A along with the Grizzlies, Jazz, and Blazers. Also, prepare for your eyes to be offended as they have some wild court colors for these In-Season Tournament games.

Now that I got that out of the way, what of the Lakers and what of Phoenix? Well, let’s start off with the good guys (hey, we cover Los Angeles; leave us alone). The Lakers have lost three in a row and are coming off a humiliating loss against the upstart Houston Rockets. They never led in that contest and now it’s up to them to wipe off that stank and take it out on the Suns, a team that they have beaten earlier in the season.

The good news for the Lakers is that Anthony Davis (hip; those don’t lie, I’ve been told) and Jaxson Hayes (ankle) have been upgraded to probable. Good because the Lakers need all the energy, talent, and help they can get. Rui Hachimura just returned against Houston while Gabe Vincent and Jarred Vanderbilt continue to be out.

While not as alarming as their 2-10 start last season, it’s still worrisome that they’re 3-5 and getting hit with so many injuries immediately. Asking LeBron James to do everything once again when he’s been doing everything for the last two decades is quite a lot. It’s annoying and quite cruel that fans are like, “Well, Anthony Davis is right on schedule!” when it comes to injuries (by the way, don’t do that; that is incredibly awful) but the fact of the matter is that his health issues have plagued him his entire career. So I can understand the hesitation of handing Davis the keys to the franchise.

Anyway, the Lakers were able to defeat the Suns because of that incredible defense in the fourth quarter. But they haven’t really done much of that for a lot of the season. If they want to be taken seriously as a contender, they’ll have to get back to what got them to the dance last season. They absolutely cannot sustain bad starts and hope they can turn it into a championship run. What they did last year was pretty miraculous.

Meanwhile, we know what Kevin Durant can do but we really don’t know what the Suns in full power can do just yet. And well, they’re going to need more from their other stars and supporting cast. The problem is that one star is out in Devin Booker. The good news is that Bradley Beal might play on Friday night. That’ll take some pressure off guys like Eric Gordon and Jordan Goodwin, who should be more in the background than in featured roles.

I don’t have much to say in this preview (well, okay; yay, Durant and LeBron at the same time!) because when it all comes down to it, the Lakers look like they’d rather be anywhere else than on the basketball court. We’ve seen this problem last year and it’s biting them again this season. Not that I think everything will take care of itself but they should bring that energy if they want to have a chance to defeat Phoenix.

We’re here to watch the Lakers play basketball, not watch them wait for their leftover Chinese food to be done microwaving.