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Preview: Suns head to Staples Center as LeBron’s Lakers are catching a rhythm

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It’s going to take a lot in order for the Suns to pull this one off.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns visit the Los Angeles Lakers

When: 1:30 PM AZ

Where: Staples Center

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: ESPN 620 AM


Probable Starters

Suns - Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, Trevor Ariza, Deandre Ayton

Lakers - Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, JaVale McGee

Suns

OffRtg - 102.6 (28th), DefRtg - 112.2 (27th), NetRtg - minus-9.7 (29th)

After straining his hamstring early on this season, Devin Booker is still battling back to be the 100 percent version of himself. In November, Booker averaged 23.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 36.8 minutes. However, Booker only shot 42.4 percent, 29.7 percent on three-pointers while seeing his role increase in “Point Book” situations. It’s a fair question to ask whether Booker has even been healthy since the hamstring strain, and the lingering finger injury from preseason.

Booker’s proficiency on catch-and-shoot three-pointers compared to shots from deep on pull-ups are staggering. The league average on outside shots thus far is 35 percent. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, Booker has hit on 21/56 (37.5 percent). Off pull ups, it’s a different story though as the Suns’ star guard checks in at 17/67 (25.4 percent). Pull ups tend to happen when the ball is usually in your hands bringing the ball up the floor. So, it seems like when Booker doing what he’s best at, snaking off screens to find clean looks, he’s way more efficient.

It’s something to monitor moving forward, because Booker is shooting a career-worst percentage from deep, but it could begin to rise once the Suns’ front office addressed their point guard situation.

The x-factor for today’s game in Los Angeles, at least from my point of view, actually is Jackson. Over his past five games, Jackson is averaging 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1 steal in 24.1 minutes but the shooting woes still shine through as his splits are 40.4/16.7/76.9. Outside of his Andrew Wiggins-esque offensive profile, though, Jackson is beginning to impact the game how he used to at the University of Kansas.

As Jackson continues his all-around effectiveness, it will go a long way towards helping him break out of his massive slump to open his sophomore campaign on the professional level.

Unlike Jackson recently, Mikal Bridges seems to have hit the proverbial rookie wall. During the same timeframe as Jackson has started to turn it around, Bridges has went in the opposite direction converting on only 20.8 percent of his field goal attempts, including 10 percent on three-pointers.

By the way, this development with Bridges shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most times, rookies will go through a bad month then bounce back as their legs continued to get under them with more playing time. Let’s see if Bridges is able to do that as Phoenix opens up play in December.

For the Suns to pull off the upset in Los Angeles, they not only will need Booker to have an amazing outing, somewhere around 30 plus points and 7 or 8 assists, but both of their young wings in Jackson and Bridges to help out. Jackson will need to continue rehabilitating his spot in Igor Kokoskov’s rotation, while Bridges seems destined to break out of his shooting slump very soon.

We’ll see if it’s enough to upend the Lakers.

Lakers

OffRtg - 107.8 (19th), DefRtg - 106.8 (9th), NetRtg = 0.9 (15th)

When LeBron originally left Cleveland to join Miami in 2010, I began to despise him. Why? Well, he left his hometown team to join a superteam instead. However, that feeling from me began to fade over his final few years in Miami, and especially upon his return to Cleveland during the summer of 2014.

James is this generation’s Michael Jordan. Sorry, Kobe Bryant doesn’t come close and neither do other names like Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal. LeBron is just an entirely different beast.

I’m beginning to appreciate James’ true greatness each year that passes, because it truly seems like this is a once in a lifetime player. I missed Michael Jordan’s peak, but I have been around all throughout James’ career.

And to be honest, the Lakers move really didn’t bother me one bit. Let the GOAT do as the GOAT pleases. Simple as that.

Let me throw this take out there, because I’ve been sitting on it for a few months: LeBron James is a greater basketball player than Michael Jordan. My tone might’ve changed if I saw the Bulls’ Jordan tear down rims, but I’m not alone in this argument. Would love to hear readers’ thoughts on the LeBron versus Jordan debate in the comments section below.

Anyways, LeBron, even at age 33, is still seemingly in the midst of his prime. With an entirely new roster around him, James is racking up 28.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 52/37.2/71 shooting splits. If not for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, I would have LeBron as the MVP favorite right now. Who knows, if the Lakers finish as a top three seed while James is still producing elite numbers, he might end up stealing it from either one of Antetokunmpo or Leonard.

This matchup is also intriguing from a Suns point of view due to Tyson Chandler’s addition to the Lakers’ roster. Interim general manager James Jones bought out Chandler’s contract a few months earlier than most, allowing him to join the Lakers immediately. Chandler and McGee now run Los Angeles’ big rotation.

During the month of November, Chandler chipped in 3.8 points and 7 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game. His veteran presence has helped buoy this young Lakers roster outside of LeBron and the 1-year signings, and he now comes up as one of their key x-factors during this Sunday matinee versus his former team.

Before we end this discussion from the Lakers’ side, let me touch quickly on Ball. The No. 2 pick in the 2017 Draft is still having issues shooting consistently, checking in a quarter through the season at 40.1 percent overall, but he’s still impacting the game as a secondary playmaker and on-ball defender. Stylistically, Ball and Josh Hart are the most ideal fits next to LeBron right now.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers won’t consider moving Ball if they have a chance at Anthony Davis or another star this upcoming summer. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ball put on the block to open up cap space, which should raise the eyebrows of members within the Suns’ front office.

If we were looking for the perfect partner next to Booker, Lonzo is in the top three. Outside of his jumper, Ball can do everything else while also help grow Ayton’s offensive attack with easier looks around the basket.

Here on Bright Side Of The Sun the past few weeks, we have discussed names like Frank Ntilikina and Markelle Fultz as possible point guard answers. If Ball ever becomes available, he vaults right up my priority list when it comes to finding the perfect backcourt stabilizer next to Booker.

Prediction

Even though Booker will be back in the starting lineup, I still expect a Suns loss coming up. T.J. Warren will be a huge loss if neither Jackson or Bridges can step up scoring. As I mentioned earlier, Booker will probably need to score anywhere from 30-40 points in order for Phoenix to even keep this one close.

Booker will add 32 points and 8 assists on great all-around efficiency, but it won’t be enough as LeBron has a monstrous outing of 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists himself.

This will come down to role players, in my opinion. Who will step up outside of Booker and James for both sides? The answer here is the Lakers.

Phoenix keeps it close in the first half before the Lakers blow the doors off late.

Lakers 122, Suns 107