The Los Angeles Lakers are looking to capitalize on their homecourt advantage when they host the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 for the first playoff game at the Staples Center since 2013.
The last time fans got to witness a playoff game in person was when the Purple and Gold were still led by Kobe Bryant following their championship run. The Lakers would then go on to miss the postseason for a franchise-record six consecutive seasons until storming back last year for their 17th title led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Although winning in a bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was a special feat in franchise history, the excitement would have paled in comparison to being able to do it in front of their own fans. Fortunately, the Lakers have a chance to alleviate this by defending their title at home this time around.
L.A. managed to recapture the momentum by tying up the series at 1-1 with their 109-102 victory on the road in Game 2. It is safe to say that fans are chomping at the bit to watch this team take the driver’s seat with a win in Game 3.
James admits that the prospect of playing at Staples Center in the playoffs was part of the allure of him coming in free agency.
“I’m going to be completely honest, I think our Laker faithful in that [Golden State] Warriors game that Play-In Game, they made it feel like it was a playoff game. We treated it like it was a playoff game. Obviously, both sides did that. Obviously, this is a different situation, but it felt like it. It felt like a playoff game.
“Us just coming home 1-1 evening it up the series and actually playing a real playoff game is, obviously, because it’s the first round, for the first time in eight years, is going to be pretty special for our fans and just have our fans in the building to make them proud. That’s what I came here for to be able to play a playoff game in front of the Laker faithful.”
There is expected to be around 7,500 fans in Staples Center, which is an increase from the end of the regular season. Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss also expressed excitement but also cautioned fans to be respectful to the opponent after the recent incidents involving Russell Westbrook and Trae Young:
2,952…..Repeated a few times to let it sink in.
That is the number of DAYS since our last playoff game at STAPLES Center-way too long.
Tonight let’s get LOUD!!! Whether it’s @STAPLESCenter or at home. We will be respectful of our opponent and each other 💜💛
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) May 27, 2021
Two of the series’ biggest stars in James and Chris Paul are each dealing with a shoulder issue they suffered in Game 1. Although Paul was clearly limited in Game 2, the Lakers’ star was able to finish with 23 points, nine assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes.
While James managed to play through injury, it was Davis and Dennis Schroder that formed quite the 1-2 punch by combining for 58 points and 10 assists. The former’s efforts on the defensive end even proved to be the deciding factor down the stretch as he finished with three blocks and a steal.
The frontcourt received a much-needed boost thanks to a big game from Andre Drummond, who made his presence felt on both ends with 15 and 12 rebounds to go along with two steals and a block. Marc Gasol also returned to the rotation and saw 20 minutes of action after not playing at all in Game 1.
Even if this game helped a number of key players find their rhythm, L.A. is going to need Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to bounce back from the scoreless outing in Game 2 that saw him take a backseat after missing all four of his shot attempts. It will also be interesting to see if head coach Frank Vogel has finally started to narrow down what this rotation will look like as the series progresses.
After all, the Lakers cannot afford to suffer another setback against this talented Suns team. It may have been a down night by his standards but Devin Booker remains as dangerous as ever coming off a 31-point outing that saw him make all 17 of his free throws.
Deandre Ayton chipped in with 22 points on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting from the field while working the pick-and-roll. However, the biggest reason L.A. failed to take advantage of Paul’s absence was due to Cameron Payne dicing up the league’s best defense for 19 points and a team-high seven assists in relief of the veteran.
Now that the Lakers have seemingly regained their sense of urgency, they will have an opportunity to end the playoff drought at Staples Center in style.
Lakers (1-1) vs. Suns (1-1)
7:00 p.m. PT, May 27, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Marc Gasol, Markieff Morris
Projected Suns Starting Lineup:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Mikal Bridges
PF: Jae Crowder
C: DeAndre Ayton
Key Reserves: Dario Saric, Cameron Payne, Cam Johnson, Torrey Craig
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