The Los Angeles Lakers begin their championship repeat efforts from an unlikely position, the No. 7 seed. After defeating the Golden State Warriors in the Play-In Tournament, they now turn their attention to the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, the Phoenix Suns, in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
The Suns hold the NBA’s second-best record behind the Utah Jazz, and they did so behind the strength of their backcourt. Chris Paul — in his first year with the Suns — has completely changed the culture of the franchise. Despite doing all of that, they are now faced with one of the most difficult first-round matchups a No. 2 seed has ever had.
Neither the Lakers nor the Suns are missing any major pieces on Sunday, which was unclear after some controversy surrounding LeBron James. James was found to be in violation of the NBA’s health and safety protocols by attending a large event with Michael B. Jordan and Drake. However, the league opted against a suspension and he will be in action on Sunday.
Last season, the Lakers used Game 1 in the first and second round as feel-out games, taking losses in both cases before winning four straight. This season, they simply don’t have the same luxury, as they have not played many games together, and need to put their best foot forward every time they step on the court.
To stop the Suns, they must stop the onslaught of jump shooters led by Paul and Devin Booker. Defensively, there will be plenty of pressure on Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wesley Matthews to make life difficult for those two stars.
Anthony Davis and any other Lakers centers that see the floor will have their hands full with DeAndre Ayton as well, who is having a breakout season thanks to the chemistry with Paul. As for James and the Lakers’ wings, they must be effective in closing out on perimeter shooters like Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Payne.
The Suns ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive rating, meaning the Lakers’ offense will be the X-factor. To succeed in Game 1, L.A. must look to feed Davis early, potentially getting Ayton in foul trouble and opening up lanes for shooters and cutters.
Both teams will be looking to get the early edge over their opponent. For the Lakers, a win in Game 1 means that home-court advantage shifts back in their favor and a seventh consecutive victory. For the Suns, winning Game 1 means momentum and confidence for a young team.
Lakers (0-0) vs. Suns (0-0)
12:30 p.m. PT, May 23, 2021
Phoenix Suns Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
TV: ABC, Spectrum SportsNet
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: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker
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, Torrey Craig, Frank Kaminsky
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