The Los Angeles Lakers battled back hard Tuesday night against Sacramento Kings, with several moments where the game seemed out of reach. Thanks to Lou Williams, the Lakers were able to mount a final comeback, but lost to Kings on a final missed shot by the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Although that loss at home surely stung, Luke Walton’s team had to bounce back and fly on over to Arizona, in a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns. Wednesday’s contest not only meant the 58th game of the season but their final one before NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
This game will be the third matchup between the two Pacific Division rivals this season, with both teams splitting a victory in the first two games at Staples Center.
The backcourt is the bread and butter for these Suns, as Earl Watson’s three stellar guards are all capable of having impact games each and every night. Eric Bledsoe is the more physical and athletic player of the three, as a driving guard who is never afraid to rise up against the trees in the paint.
Watson’s backcourt features a pair of Kentucky alumni, as a franchise player and rising star Devin Booker starts next to him. The Suns are heavily invested in Booker, as his premiere shooting and offensive game will on grow as he gains experience in the NBA.
The second-year guard is averaging 21.1 points per game while shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from beyond the arc. He and his backcourt mate combine for almost 43 points per game, with different skill sets that can cause matchup problems on the defensive end.
Six-year guard Brandon Knight was seeing some starting opportunities of late but has since returned to his bench role. Knight was acquired by the Suns from the Milwaukee Bucks two seasons ago and has since found a home in Phoenix.
While Booker and Bledsoe like to take it to the basket, the backcourt of the Lakers certainly has their fair share of shooters on the court. Point guard D’Angelo Russell hopes to rebound from an awful game last night, with a few early turnovers and lackluster effort throughout the night.
Russell and Booker have quite the friendship, which stems back to the 2011 Nike Elite 100 camp, as they formed a competitive friendship there. In fact, Booker was one of Russell’s first friends to notify him about the leaked footage involving fellow shooting guard Nick Young.
The two players vacationed together with family and friends, as Booker helped ease the ongoing process and media surveillance that occurred after the incident. Since then, it seems that Russell and Young have patched things up and have found quite the connection on the court.
Young is set to compete in the NBA’s Three-Point Contest this weekend, with a streaky shot that is capable of heating up. The veteran guard is having a resurgent season with the Lakers and never seems to lose that confidence in his shot. Although he has slumped in these past few games, he is still shooting a career-high 41.7 percent from the field.
Williams headlines the bench unit for coach Walton, as perhaps the deadliest offensive player on the court tonight. He scored 19 points in the fourth quarter last night (29 total), with an arsenal that compensates for however the defense is playing him.
Although Williams has been the subject of recent trade rumors, the 30-year-old stated he understands how this league works and is the type of person that is fully committed to whatever team he is on.
Jordan Clarkson rounds out the backcourt for the Lakers, as the speedster seems to have endless energy. His speed often does put him in conundrums on the court, as his decision-making could use some improvement. The third-year player has a knack for attacking the basket and isn’t afraid to finish in the paint just like Bledsoe.
Marquese Chriss has shown tremendous production for the Suns, as the rookie certainly hasn’t shied away from the NBA limelight. The 19-year-old is an all-around player for this team, with a block in five consecutive games. He has shown signs of scoring, with a career-high 27-point outburst earlier this month.
Tony Warren Jr. has been handling the power forward duties of late for this Suns team, posting career-highs in many categories. His 12.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals are all career highs, but his career-low 45.3 field goal percentage and 24.7 three-point percentage could certainly see some improvement.
NBA champion Tyson Chandler rounds out the usual starting five for the Suns, upon just returning from injury. He suffered an ankle injury on Feb. 10, against the Chicago Bulls and did not return to the contest. Upon sitting out one game, the 34-year-old returning to action.
P.J. Tucker is another player who has been the recent subject of trade rumors, as his veteran play and constant hustle may be just the asset a contending team needs. Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa are veteran players that round out Watson’s bench, while dunk contest contestant Derrick Jones Jr. may also see some playing time.
Rookie Brandon Ingram’s usage rate on the court has tremendously increased since he was placed into the starting lineup in place of Luol Deng. While already leading all NBA rookies in minutes per game, the North Carolina native is only getting better as he gains experience.
Julius Randle is another Kentucky alumni starting tonight, as the powerful lefty continues to produce offensively. He sat out the fourth quarter last night due to matchup problems with DeMarcus Cousins, which caused the offense to stagnate a bit.
The Lakers always seem to play better when Randle is a playmaker on the court, as an increased assist outage typically translates to the Lakers making their outside jump shots. He will attempt to take advantage of Warren down in the post tonight and should face some double-teams if he can dominate early.
Tarik Black has truly lived up to his energetic mentality since being placed into the starting lineup, as a capable big man who takes pride in stopping any opposing centers from scoring in the paint. He did a phenomenal job on Cousins last night and was the victim of a few questionable calls, which resulted in him being fouled out.
With Chandler not being much of a low-post player, Black will have to mediate between containing the driving guards and staying on Chandler for those easy lob passes. Ivica Zubac will perhaps face the best defensive center of his young career tonight, as Chandler is physical in the paint and never lets an easy basket go by him.
Zubac’s hands are a great asset for him, as his proven floater shot can result in easy buckets alongside some great ball rotations. Although Timofey Mozgov saw some minutes against Cousins yesterday, he may not see the court tonight, since his defensive abilities will likely not be tremendously needed.
Larry Nance Jr. went to Twitter to take blame for the loss against the Kings last night, but it was his hustle and determination that resulted in the Lakers comeback. His pick-and-roll scenarios with Williams created multiple consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter, as his high basketball IQ always understands the right decision to make.
Three Keys To Victory:
Fight Through The Runs: The Suns offense is a streaky one, which often relies on spurts of production to climb back into a game or to gain the lead. With the home crowd behind them, this game can turn into an up and down one, so the Lakers shouldn’t get discouraged if they fall behind.
Exploit Mismatches On Offense: Both Randle and Young are playing against defenders they can take advantage of. Randle has a weight advantage on his side and can easily get Warren tired with some buckets in the paint. Although Booker is a rising star, his defense still needs to improve to the NBA level. Young’s deadly arsenal should be able to capitalize, especially with a hot shooting start.
Strong Defensive Rotations And Helpside Defense: The Suns guards rely heavily on the picks that Chandler can set, so the Lakers need to communicate when the guards take it to the basket. An off-ball defender needs to help Black when he hedges the pick, while the Lakers need to improve their defensive rotations on loose balls.
Los Angeles Lakers (19-38) Vs. Phoenix Suns (17-39)
6:00 P.M. PST, February 15th, 2017
Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN), 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Suns Starting Lineup:
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Marquese Chriss
PF: T.J. Warren
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Tarik Black
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac, Luol Deng