There’s no doubt that the 2020-21 season was a struggle for the Los Angeles Lakers, consistently having players in and out of the lineup due to injuries and health and safety protocols after the shortest offseason in league history.
The result was finishing with the seventh-best record in the Western Conference and being forced to participate in the Play-In Tournament, where the Lakers squeaked out a victory over the Golden State Warriors to earn the No. 7 seed.
That sets up a first-round matchup with the Devin Booker and Chris Paul-led Phoenix Suns, who had an extremely successful regular season to earn the No. 2 seed and make the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Before the series gets underway, the Lakers Nation staff put together a roundtable with X-factors and predictions for what should be a very competitive series:
Ron Gutterman (@rongutterman24):
There’s plenty of X-factors for the Lakers given the amount of unknown between these two teams. For me, though, it’s going to come down to whether or not the Lakers can successfully disrupt the Suns’ jump shooting. Because of that, I’m going with Wesley Matthews as my biggest X-factor. He is one of the Lakers’ most versatile defenders, and I would feel comfortable playing him against smaller guys like Devin Booker or bigger players like Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges. That’s why he’s so important for L.A. in this series.
I’ve gone back and forth with my predictions, but I’m going to play it safe and say Lakers in 6. L.A. has players who are at least credibly capable of guarding Chris Paul, Booker and DeAndre Ayton. However, the Suns don’t have anyone who can stop Anthony Davis consistently. I would have said five games but I don’t believe the Lakers are playing close to their best basketball yet.
Prediction: Lakers in 6
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane):
While the Suns may have endured some measure of bad luck to draw the Lakers in Round 1 in their first playoff appearance in 11 years, they still pose a very real threat to L.A. The Lakers advancing is no sure-thing, and it’s going to take contributions from several X-factors to get the job done. More important than an individual player is the team’s overall rhythm. Based on what we saw against the Warriors, the Lakers currently aren’t close to the sharpness that the playoffs demand.
It’s understandable, given the tsunami of injuries that battered the squad this season, but the Lakers will need to find their way again quickly to extinguish Phoenix. From an individual perspective, Dennis Schroder needs to have a big series. He’s coming off of COVID protocols, but his ability to defend Chris Paul (who he knows well) and create havoc in the paint will be critical. Schroder wants a big new contract and recognition as one of the NBA’s best point guards and there is no time better than the playoffs for him to prove his worth.
Prediction: Lakers in 6
Matthew Peralta (@_MatthewPeralta):
Suns fans have to feel sick that they’re getting the Lakers in Round 1 after such a successful 2020-21 season. Phoenix deservedly earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, but Los Angeles got healthy at the right time and after a thrilling win over the Golden State Warriors it looks like they’re ready for the rigors of the postseason.
As far as X-factors, the thing to look for is how Frank Vogel utilizes his big man rotation against what is an undersized Suns team outside of Deandre Ayton. Andre Drummond will get his token start, but Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell can both do damage. In the Lakers’ win back on May 9, Harrell had 12 points in just 15 minutes as he had no issues scoring inside against Frank Kaminsky. He should eat whenever Phoenix turns to its bench. As for Gasol, he can force Ayton to defend more in space given his outside shooting, and that should really open up the L.A. offense.
At the end of the day, the Lakers have so much more size and versatility with their lineups, though the Suns will not go quietly.
Prediction: Lakers in 6
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand):
I will echo everyone else’s thoughts when it comes to feeling sorry for the Suns that they drew the defending champs in the first round as the No. 2 seed. Even though the Lakers aren’t quite fully healthy with a number of guys still working their way back from injury, they still have both the size and talent advantage in this series.
The one guy I’m looking at as the ultimate X-factor is Anthony Davis. Everyone knows what Davis is capable of when he’s healthy and engaged, and that was on display the last time the Lakers played the Suns just a couple of weeks ago when he finished with 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks in what was an absolutely dominant performance. The Suns just don’t have any size to match up with Davis, so he should be able to put up similar type of numbers this series, especially with the attention that LeBron James will draw.
As far as predictions go, if the Lakers come out with the urgency they should then I think this will be a short series. Homecourt advantage isn’t quite as important to a veteran team like the Lakers and even though they haven’t exactly played their best basketball as of late, I think they understand that it’s time to flip the switch to defend their title.
Prediction: Lakers in 5
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