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Game Preview/Open Thread: Phoenix Suns visit LaLa Land to face Lakers in a battle of rebuilds

The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers are both mired in rebuilds, hoping their next All-Star is already on the roster.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers

When: 7:00PM Pacific/AZ Time

Where: Staples Center, LA

TV: None (try to find streaming somewhere)

Radio: 98.7 FM

In a battle of the rebuilds, the young Phoenix Suns face off tonight against the young Los Angeles Lakers in the Suns final tuneup before the 2016-17 regular season begins.

The Suns are 3-2 so far this preseason while the Lakers are 2-5.

The injury report

Per Coro, the Suns will have everyone available to play except rehabbing P.J. Tucker. So, Tyson Chandler (hammy), Devin Booker (ankle) and others are all recouped since sitting out last Friday’s game.

Even P.J. Tucker now says he’d like to be ready for the season opener. Kellan and I delved into why I’m so underwhelmed by the prospect of a Tucker/Dudley/Chandler front line on a clear rebuilding team.

Tonight, my guess is the Suns will play something that looks like a regular season rotation (sans Tucker) for the first 2.5 or 3 quarters, then regardless of the score will call off the hunt and usher in the bottom of the roster’s last chance to earn the right to wear a suit (inactive list) on game nights.

The rebuilds

The Lake Show boasts a pair of #2 overall picks from the last 2 drafts, while the Suns (maybe) best prospects have been drafted much lower in those same years, at #13 and #8 respectively. D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram potentially have higher ceilings than Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss, but I can’t wait to see how many of these four players will approach that lofty potential.

In those same years, the Lake Show has hit it big(ish) later in the draft, with Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac already developing a rabid following (trust me, I heard it loud and clear at Vegas Summer League), while the Suns have a couple of additional draft picks this year in Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis they are high on.

The Lake Show also has a young designated scorer in Jordan Clarkson to supplement the others, while the Suns have T.J. Warren filling same role in the valley.

Prior to 2015, the Lake Show began their rebuild with an underwhelming high pick from 2014 while the Suns have their own underwhelming pick from the 2013 draft. Julius Randle and Alex Len have both proven to be serviceable NBA rotation players, but neither has approached their potential and both might be wearing different uniforms before these rebuilds develop into playoff teams.

And just like the Suns, the Lakers have several veterans on hand to take minutes so the kids don’t get toooo many touches. Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Lou Williams, Nick Young, and even Jose Calderon figure into the regular Laker rotation and most of the starting lineup. I’m not even counting recent signee Metta World Peace (36) and Marcelo Huertas (33) and Yi Jianlian.

On the bench, the Lakers and Suns boast the league’s two youngest head coaches in Luke Walton and Earl Watson. Walton’s team will likely look prettier than Watson’s, while Watson seems intent on making the Suns a bully.

Listen to today’s Locked On Suns (coming out late afternoon) for more in-depth talk about each team’s rebuilding efforts.

The Lakers, so far this preseason

I absolutely loved Russell coming out of last year’s draft, advocating hard for the Suns to trade whatever they had to jump up to the top to take him. He’s flashy and ultra-talented, though he might have a maturity problem that could hold him back.

After a disappointing rookie year where got himself in trouble and was derided by his coach and the retiring Kobe Bryant (who said late in the year the Lakers had no one to replace him in Laker lore), Russell has been a much improved player this preseason on a much longer leash.

Russell leads the Lakers with about 18 points (46% FG, 39% 3P) and 5 assists per game (in 29 minutes), plus 2 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He’s already posted TWO 30/10 games this preseason (33/13 and 31/10) plus a 21/7 game. He just needs to become more consistent. Under Luke Walton, Russell will have all the room he needs to sink or swim while he and Ingram develop.

Speaking of Ingram, he’s had a rough start to his NBA career, averaging 8 points, 2 rebounds and just under 2 assists in 24 minutes per game. But he’s got lots of talent that just needs time for his skills to grow while he fills out that stick-thin body.

Ingram has been improving, posting his best game game this week against the Warriors: 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in 28 minutes. He’s overall been a “plus” on the +/- scoreboard all preseason as well.

The Lakers are 2-5 overall this preseason as they have played 13 players at least 10 minutes per game.

The Suns, so far this preseason

You might wonder why I referenced Marquese Chriss as the Suns second best prospect when comparing the Suns top two talents to the Lakers’ Russell and Ingram. Part of that was convenience with the 2015/16 draft narrative and part of that was because Chriss has been so fun to watch so far.

Devin Booker, still 19 years old, leads all NBA scorers in preseason (21.5 points) and adds 3 assists and almost 2 steals in only 25 minutes per game, while Marquese Chriss, also 19, leads all rookies in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (6.2) and is second in blocks per game (1.2).

Russell and Ingram might have been projected with higher NBA ceilings, but Booker and Chriss have looked better so far this preseason.

BTW: Dragan Bender has been a statistical disappointment for many Suns fans so far, but among rookies he is tied with Chriss for 2nd in blocks (1.2 per game) and is 7th in rebounding (4.4). He just can’t hit a shot.

Also BTW, Eric “old man” Bledsoe has been putting up a wide range of numbers this preseason: 10 points (53% 3P), 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1.8 steals in only 22 minutes per game. He’s still just 26 years old, but now is the 5th oldest guy on the team and has watched 11 younger players get minutes this preseason.

I wrote a few weeks ago that with Booker taking the scoring load off Bledsoe, the bulldog would be able to fill up the rest of the stat sheet as a do-it-all backcourt parter. So far, so good.

Watching the game

Doesn’t appear this game is anywhere you could legally watch it in the Phoenix area, but it IS the Lakers so I’m sure there’s a full game production involved that might be found somewhere online.

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