It was not pretty. But the Lakers got it done and did their part.
The Lakers, with a full squad (outside of Dennis Schröder) available, struggled early against the very undermanned Phoenix Suns. But they pulled away in the second half and got the victory they needed to stay in the hunt for an outright playoff spot. 121-107 was the final.
We’ve seen the Lakers do this time and again. They seem to sleepwalk at times and the Suns, with nothing to play for, just played freely. No Devin Booker. No Chris Paul. No Deandre Ayton. No Kevin Durant. But guys like Cam Payne, Torrey Craig, and Terrence Ross got it going for Phoenix. LeBron James and Anthony Davis had a difficult time getting buckets in that first half.
Still, the Lakers stayed close to the Suns. Back-to-back threes by Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell closed the half and the Lakers trailed, 62-61.
Unfortunately for the Suns, Bismack Biyombo hurt his knee while Cam Payne had a bad landing. They didn’t play in the second half. And like I said earlier, the Suns had nothing to play for.
The Suns were still taking it to the Lakers in the third. But at the end of the quarter, the Lakers had a 7-0 burst to give themselves a 96-89 lead in what’s usually a terrible third for the team.
Phoenix had one last gasp as they tied the game at 96 to start the fourth. But from then on, the Lakers took over. LeBron James, who had not been playing clean as of late, spearheaded an 11-0 run in the next four minutes. From there, D’Angelo Russell took it home and sank three threes in a row. The final score doesn’t indicate how much trouble the Lakers had. But a win is a win.
The Suns were just overwhelmed, talent-wise. They already didn’t have their four stars. TJ Warren sat out the game as well. And then they lose Cam Payne and Bismack Biyombo after halftime. That’s 7 players in their rotation. That’s tough to overcome.
In the meantime, the Lakers’ focus has been put to question multiple times this season. Will they turn it up come postseason? I’m sure they’ll be okay. This isn’t LeBron James’ first postseason. Same with Anthony Davis. They know what it takes to win a championship.
I do think that it’s funny that the Lakers outshot the Suns from three, 18 threes to 9. I thought the Suns could win if they laid it from the perimeter. But Phoenix only made .250 of their threes. The Suns actually outscored the Lakers inside the paint, 52-48. Suns also got a lot more shots off, too, due to the Lakers turning the ball over (15 times) and offensive boards (+3 by Phoenix).
The backcourt took care of things for Los Angeles. D’Angelo Russell scored 24 points. Austin Reaves continues to be great offensively with 22 points. Malik Beasley scored 21 off the bench, which was much needed for both Malik and the team. LeBron James shot badly but had a 16-6-6 line. And Anthony Davis grabbed all the boards (21) to go with his 14 points.
Torrey Craig led the Suns with 18 points while Jock Landale played most of the second half in Biyombo’s absence; he had 17 points and 10 boards. Josh Okogie scored 16 points and half of them came from the line.
The Pelicans defeated the Knicks so the Lakers had to win to stay ahead. With the Grizzlies locking in the second seed with a win over Milwaukee, the Kings had no chance so they sat starters against Warriors. The Dubs took advantage and took the win.
So we still don’t know where the Lakers will land. As of now, they’re still 7th in the West. It all comes down to Sunday. The Lakers have an afternoon game against the Jazz. Then from there, we’ll see what’s in front of the Lakers.
Hey, at least we’re talking about this sort of thing now instead of doom and gloom at this time last season!