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Preview: Suns close out road trip with tough test against the Lakers

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LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Co. will challenge the Suns after two straight wins for Phoenix.

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (13-20) at Los Angeles Lakers (26-7)

When: 8:30 p.m. AZ

Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


The rules of pure luck dictated the Suns would finally start to win some close games. Whether it was a late Ricky Rubio turnover in Mexico City, a 50-50 call on an and-1 for Damian Lillard at home, or a hot fourth quarter by Jamal Murray, seemingly every bounce went against the Suns for the whole month of December.

Over the past two games, luck has flipped. Harrison Barnes missed a wide-open three that would have snapped Sacramento’s own losing streak but instead sent the Suns to Los Angeles with their first win in nine games. Then, the Suns put together an honest to god comeback in the fourth quarter in Portland in a win the players believe was one of their best of the year.

It had to be a huge sigh of relief, regardless. The entire roster is finally healthy (though Frank Kaminsky is questionable with a knee injury. He was a healthy DNP against Portland.

Can the Suns keep up their winning ways? It doesn’t get much harder than beating the Lakers in Los Angeles, and in many ways the Suns already took care of business on this road trip, snapping their losing streak and taking two games to stay in the playoff hunt.

Phoenix Suns

Tied for No. 9 in the Western Conference

110.3 ORtg (12th) - 111.8 DRtg (21st) = minus-1.5 netRtg (18th)

Projected starting lineup: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes

The thing I’m looking at most from the Suns’ perspective in this matchup is what happens with Dario Saric’s role after several games of limited playing time.

Coach Monty Williams liked the small lineup (with Oubre and Mikal Bridges at the forward spots) that the Suns closed with in Portland.

That lineup (in just 19 possessions, probably entirely in the Portland game) is an astounding plus-76.1. No wonder Williams wants to go back to it more often.

However, Los Angeles of course has an MVP-caliber matchup problem at the 4. Anthony Davis is going to make it difficult to take Saric off the court. Williams may even have to go back to double-big lineups featuring two of Ayton, Kaminsky and Baynes at times. The success Phoenix had going small in Portland will be useful down the line, but maybe not tonight against the Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers

No. 1 in the Western Conference

112.6 ORtg (5th) - 105.8 DRtg (5th) = plus-6.8 netRtg (4th)

Projected starting lineup: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee

The inconsistency of the Lakers’ lead ball-handlers was charted well here by Christian Rivas of Silver Screen and Roll. Basically, though the Lakers put a ton of resources into the point guard position, from Quin Cook to Rajon Rondo to Bradley to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, no one has emerged as a consistent difference-maker.

Rondo is hesitant to shoot when open. Cook is exploitable containing drives and in team defense. Bradley isn’t enough of a creator to lift the second unit, meaning Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso can’t play with the starters as much as the Lakers would probably like.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that very specific issue doesn’t hurt them against many teams. The Suns are poorly equipped to take advantage, as they struggle from the same lack of consistency from their reserve guards. They are near the bottom of the league in bench points, meaning they won’t be winning this game during those Rondo or Bradley minutes like other teams might.

Otherwise, this Lakers team is a juggernaut that already dominated the Suns on their home court earlier this year.

Prediction

It’s hard for me to imagine the Suns stopping the Lakers consistently enough to win this game. No one on this Suns roster has shown they can guard either James or Davis, both of whom have consistently killed the Suns over the past few years.

Lakers 120, Suns 105