The Los Angeles Lakers are on their first winning streak since February, and they have an opportunity to extend their streak to three wins against the Phoenix Suns tonight. The Suns were in contention for a playoff seed last year, but have underachieved to this point of the season and things do not look better for them with their starting point guard, Eric Bledsoe, missing the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn meniscus.
The Lakers lost in a blowout to the Suns earlier this season in Phoenix, but tonight they will be in Los Angeles looking to extend their first winning streak of the season. Phoenix has lost its last eight games, so the Lakers have a great opportunity to earn another victory.
Frontcourt: Alex Len is the big man down low for the Suns, but he has not had much of an impact in his second season in the NBA. Len is averaging seven points and six rebounds and is backed up by veteran, Tyson Chandler. Even with his seasoned experience, Chandler is not having a much more productive season for the Suns than Len. Chandler is only averaging five points with eight rebounds, but he has made a career for himself by clogging the paint.
The Suns are conflicted at the power forward position and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is splitting the minutes between Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic, and Markieff Morris. Morris comes off of the bench, but he plays the most minutes out of the three forwards. The 6’10” big man is averaging 11 points and five rebounds this season and has not been happy in Phoenix since they traded his twin brother, Marcus, away.
Backcourt: Brandon Knight has a huge void to fill for the Suns with Bledsoe out for the season, so he will likely be the starting point guard from this point forward. Knight is the Suns leading scorer this season, averaging 19 points with five assists. The fourth year veteran has become the leader and their best player now, so his performance will be key to the team’s success for the rest of the year.
Bledsoe’s starting spot is now occupied by the rookie out of Kentucky, Devin Booker. The Suns are not likely to make a playoff push without their starting point guard, so they will shift their focus to developing Booker into a serviceable starting shooting guard. Booker is an excellent three-point shooter and is shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc in his rookie season. The Lakers need to close out hard on him on the perimeter and run him off of the three-point line.
Keys to Victory:
Ball Movement: The Lakers play their best basketball when they move the ball on offense. When the Lakers get the ball to Lou Williams, the ball tends to stick as he goes into isolation against his defender while the other four Lakers stand around. Coach Byron Scott should allow Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell to initiate the offense and encourage quick ball movement to get the best shot available.
Limit Brandon Knight: Brandon Knight destroyed the Lakers in their last meeting, earning a triple double with 30 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds. That is an incredible stat line for an average player, so the Lakers defense needs to bring Knight back to reality and limit his productivity. Russell and Clarkson need to hound Knight all night, because the Suns offense starts and ends with him.
Rebounding: In their last matchup, the Suns outrebounded the Lakers 50-37, and the Lakers allowed the Suns to grab 18 offensive rebounds. Julius Randle has been the only consistent rebounder and Larry Nance Jr. has recently done a good job on the boards, but as a team, the Lakers need to step up their efforts in the rebounding column. The Lakers need to limit the Suns second chance opportunities if they are going to extend their winning streak.
Los Angeles Lakers (7-27) vs. Phoenix Suns (12-24)
6:30 P.M. PST, January 3, 2016
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 (Spanish)
Suns Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: Devin Booker
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Lon Leuer
C: Alex Len
Key Reserves: PF: Markieff Morris, PF: Mirza Teletovic, PG: Ronnie Price
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Anthony Brown
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: PF: Julius Randle, PG: D’Angelo Russell, PF: Brandon Bass