The Los Angeles Lakers sit just two games away from a nine-day break. However, their schedule won’t ease up just yet as they face the No. 4-seeded Phoenix Suns on the first night of a back-to-back on Tuesday.
The Suns made one of the biggest moves of the offseason by trading several players and draft picks in exchange for point guard Chris Paul. The team had been desperately missing a true point guard to pair with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but they appear to have found their perfect fit in Paul.
Not only do the Suns have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, they currently hold the fourth-best record in the entire NBA and would be the No. 1 seed in the East.
Beyond just the trio of Booker, Paul, and Ayton, the Suns have created a good supporting cast to help fill the gaps of their stars. This includes the likes of Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Frank Kaminsky. Against the Lakers, they should be at full strength, as Dario Saric is the only player on their injury report. He is listed as questionable with a right ankle sprain.
The Lakers continue to be without Anthony Davis. However, that hasn’t mattered much since the return of Dennis Schroder from a four-game, health and safety protocol-related absence. L.A. holds a two-game winning streak, winning convincingly against two Western Conference playoff teams in the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.
Unfortunately, the Lakers will be without starting center Marc Gasol after he was ruled out due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
Gasol has been playing well since Davis went down, averaging 8.1 points while shooting 43.3% from deep on 4.6 attempts per game.
Without a key floor spacer in Gasol, the Lakers must take advantage of some of their mismatches, namely LeBron James. Outside of Crowder, the Suns have almost no one capable of slowing James down. If he is free to get to the paint at will, L.A.’s recent offensive woes may not matter.
On defense, the Lakers can rely on Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker to take care of Booker and Paul. The Lakers’ bigs will have their hands full with the young and athletic Ayton, but perhaps strong enough perimeter defense could make his life easier.
Damian Jones is listed as questionable due to a back injury, although if the recently-signed center is available to play then he should get significant minutes against his former team.
If the Lakers can secure a victory, they’ll have defeated three Western Conference playoff teams in a row and would only have a game against the lowly Sacramento Kings remaining before the All-Star break begins.
Lakers (24-11) vs. Suns (22-11)
7:00 p.m. PT, Mar. 2, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Montrezl Harrell
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews, Damian Jones
Projected Suns Starting Lineup:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Mikal Bridges
PF: Frank Kaminsky
C: Deandre Ayton
Key Reserves: Jae Crowder, E’twaun Moore, Dario Saric, Abdel Nader
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