Records: Lakers 39-12, Suns 21-32
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.2 (4th), Suns 110.0 (16th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (5th), Suns 110.6 (20th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton
Injuries: Lakers: none; Suns: Aron Baynes, Tyler Johnson, Frank Kaminisky, and Dario Saric are all out
The Lakers coming in: When is the all-star break? Oh, it starts on Friday? Wait, the Lakers’ last game is actually Wednesday, so theirs starts on Thursday? Even better.
I say all this selfishly, not just because I too would like a break but because I like watching the Lakers play good basketball and let me tell you, this recent stretch has not been it. There’s a lot of factors that contribute to this — a topic I hit in my post about Darren Collison choosing to stay retired, so I won’t get into them here. But the Lakers need a break and they need one severely.
The Lakers are 6-4 in their last 10 games, but if you’ve watched closely you’ve seen them give up leads, come out with questionable effort for long stretches, and simply try to turn it on for key portions of each game to win. That’s worked some nights, but not worked others. Again, I get why this is the case and I’m not going to criticize them hard, if at all, for how things have been lately. But I will say I hope to see better next week.
These next couple of games, beginning tonight vs. the Suns, are just ones I’m hoping they can get through relatively unscathed. We’ll see.
The Suns coming in: The Suns are banged up and are just not the same team they were early in the year. They have 4 rotation players out (or, I guess, 3 depending on how you feel about Tyler Johnson) and have lost 5 of their last 6 games. During the trade deadline there were reports that they’d made Kelly Oubre available in trades, though no deal came around that met their price.
The Suns, then, are in a weird place. Devin Booker was an All-Star snub and is truly deserving of playing in this game. I’m not going to say he should have made it because, honestly, I’m not sure who to cut to make room for him. At the time of voting, I’d have argued Russell Westbrook, but he’s since been on a tear and is playing like one of the most impactful players in the world again after the Rockets have gone to an all-smalls lineup.
Anyways, in getting back to the Suns, I thought this season might end up being different for them. They have a good enough roster to be in a similar place as, say, the Grizzlies, but just aren’t quite there. Monty Williams has clearly helped turn this team around, but something just isn’t clicking for them. Maybe it’s the injuries. Maybe it’s that some of their young players just aren’t ready to be actual difference makers in wins and losses. I honestly haven’t watched them enough to speak definitively on it all.
But, for some reason, even though they’ll exceed last year’s win total this year, the way they jumped out of the gate this season, the way things are going feels a bit disappointing. Maybe their fans could offer insight if I’m seeing this wrong.
Keys to the game: You tell me, honestly. I could give you all the clichés in the world here, but all of that is just words. Fact is, the Lakers just need to do as much as they can tonight to fight complacency, not look too far ahead, and just focus on making plays that help them win.
In a micro-view, that means limiting turnovers, getting back in transition, contesting 3’s, and being sharp in their help on both the P&R and when Booker is working off screens or in isolation. Offensively, I’d like to see the team simply move the ball well and not get too stagnant by standing and watching. Set some picks, relocate to give Bron and AD passing angles, and knock down shots. I’d make a plea to play hard here, too, but honestly, I don’t expect this team to have it in them to fight hard for 35-40 minutes in this game. I just don’t see it.
If they do, though, they’ll likely win going away. We’ll see.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.
*All stats via stats.nba.com