The Lakers will try to extend their winning streak to four games.
It’s going to be a really tough test for these Lakers as they take on 2021 NBA Finalists Phoenix Suns. As Lakers fans remember, the Lakers got ousted by these Suns in their last playoff appearance. The Suns then swept the Lakers in their regular season series last year. But as we also know, the Suns were embarrassed at home by the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the second round last spring.
It’s probably why Phoenix doesn’t get as much love this season; it’s like pundits thought their window was slammed shut after their demise in the hands of the Mavs. But this is still a really good team and could still be a hell of a challenge come playoff time. Suns are 10-6 and second in the Western Conference. Maybe being a bit under the radar will actually help them (see Milwaukee Bucks in 2021). Still, they are 3-4 in their last 7 games coming into Tuesday night.
Devin Booker is an all-world scorer. His 27.6 points per puts him in the Top 10 in scoring among all players. He’s shooting over 38 percent from three. And maybe going against the Lakers will boost him; he shot 50 percent (18 for 36) from behind the arc against them in four games.
Chris Paul won’t be available; he hasn’t played in a couple of weeks due to a heel injury. Cameron Payne has been starting for him and has flourished as a starter (20.2 points, 6.3 assists, and .455 three-point shooting in 6 games). Mikal Bridges continues to be their ace perimeter defender; he’s also their second leading scorer at 15.8 points per game. Deandre Ayton looked very unhappy going into this season but he’s doing pretty decent at 14.6 points and 8.1 boards per.
Not having Cameron Johnson has hurt them. He became the starter after Jae Crowder was sent home before the season started. But, unfortunately, Johnson tore his right meniscus early this month. Defensive-minded Torrey Craig has taken his place and is on a little nice run. Craig has averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last four games. Ex-Warrior Damion Lee has provided some nice shooting off the bench. Lee even made a game-winner against the Mavs earlier in the season. And the Suns have a glut of bigs they can back up Ayton with. Jock Landale has gotten the bulk of the minutes but Bismack Biyombo can be called in at a moment’s notice as well as Dario Saric.
The Suns are in the Top 10 in both offensive rating (points scored per possession) and defensive rating (which is the opposite; points allowed per possession). They also have the highest net rating in the league (offensive rating minus defensive rating). So, yes, the Suns are still a very very dangerous team. And they might have an extra gear as they look to extend their winning streak against the Lakers to 8 (three in the 2021 playoffs and a 4-0 season sweep last season).
Ayton and those glut of bigs (I love saying that) may be able to give Anthony Davis some trouble. Having Thomas Bryant back definitely helps so that Davis doesn’t have to take all that pounding. With that said, Davis played two games against the Suns last year and averaged 21.5 points and 13.5 boards in those contests. He did go 6 for 18 (.333) in their first game but did go to the line quite a bit (10 for 11, .909). If he continues to have that mentality that he’s better than everyone else on the court, his superb run of 30+ points and 15+ rebounds could continue.
I still like Russell Westbrook setting the table off the bench. Lonnie Walker IV has had spectacular plays and been a pretty consistent scorer. We can all see Austin Reaves becoming more confident. Troy Brown, Jr. doesn’t get enough credit for being a steady rebounding swingman.
What I do want to see is Patrick Beverley make shots. He only puts up under five shots a game so his chances of scoring are lessened. But he still has to convert his shots. .274 from the field is gross.
The Lakers have played pretty good defense in this three-game win streak (103.6 points allowed per 100 possessions would actually top the season right now). But the Suns are offensive juggernauts, especially compared to the three teams the Lakers previously played (Nets, Pistons, Spurs). Chris Paul not playing will hurt the Suns but Cameron Payne has showed he is resilient and is no slouch. And Devin Booker absolutely cannot get loose.
LeBron James will miss his 5th straight game on Tuesday but that’s okay because the Lakers have seemed pretty capable without him. Of course, the schedule has been a little friendly for the Lakers but, as I’ve said before, take the wins wherever they can get them. And they should worry about themselves more than the opponents. And with James out, Anthony Davis can continue to assert himself as the #1 option for the Lakers, which is what the team and the fans want him to be all along with LeBron winding down his career.
And with the Suns being a bit vulnerable, it is a chance for the Lakers to strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.