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Preseason Game Preview: Lakers visit Suns in matinee

The Suns play the Lakers early, then Mercury play for the WNBA Finals after that

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns (Preseason Game 2)

When: 3:00 PM **EARLY START**

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Watch: NBATVYes, it’s on TV!

Listen: 98.7 FM


When we last saw the Lakers, they were losing badly to the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 Playoffs. The Suns were advancing to the next round, Jae Crowder was salsa-dancing, and Chris Paul was faking a post-up move on the wing right in front of the Lakers bench.

Let’s just say there were hard feelings as that series ended.

Now the new season is kicking off, and the league was kind enough to schedule a two-game home and home preseason series against those (not so) same Lakers. These games don’t count at all, but you’ve got to wonder how important either team will see these games in terms of setting the right tone for the season.

But then again, IT’S PRESEASON. None of this counts. The best that can happen is a meaningless win. The worst that can happen is some kind of injury.

Let’s update ourselves on the current state of the Lakers and Suns.


Lakers Update

OUT for the game: LeBron James (rest), Russell Westbrook (rest) and Trevor Ariza (ankle)

Resting LeBron AND Russell Westbrook? Already, you can tell the Lakers don’t want any of this smoke. And I’m not talking the Suns players here. I’m talking the Suns FANS. The Lakers players complained last May that the Suns were spoiled with a full and crazy-raucous arena in Round 1 while there own Staples Center was relatively quiet due to COVID restrictions on attendance. Now, with LBJ marked out for ‘rest’, we see he doesn’t want to experience that again.

Anthony Davis is back healthy, but might not play much either for fear that he will pull his groin again.

Who will play? In the preseason game the other day, no Laker played more than 26 minutes (Talen Horton-Tucker) or scored more than 15 points (Malik Monk) in a 20-point blowout loss to the Nets’ deep bench.

Malik Monk? What’s he doing in Laker colors? These Lakers won’t look much like last year’s Lakers, by the way. Anthony Davis, LeBron and THT are back, but almost no one else returns in what is now a staple in LeBron’s career — turn over all the players around him if he falls short of a ring.

Gone are 8 of the 10 players from last year’s first-round playoff rotation: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Wizards), Kyle Kuzma (Wizards), Montrezl Harrell (Wizards), Dennis Schroder (Celtics), Alex Caruso (Bulls), Andre Drummond (76ers), Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol.

In are Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and a bunch of randos (one of whom will almost certainly score 20 points in today’s game, of course).

For the purposes of today’s game, you won’t see the primary reason the Lakers are picked to win the West because Anthony Davis will barely play and LBJ and Westbrook won’t play at all.

What you should watch for is whether these other guys who DO play are going to be a better supporting cast than last year’s 7th seed and first round playoff loser.


Suns Update

Welp, there was that leak yesterday — certainly from Ayton’s camp — that the Suns are indeed not excited about promising up to 30% of their salary cap to young center Deandre Ayton. The Suns and Ayton are negotiating a rookie contract extension that almost certainly baselines at 25% of the cap (the designated rookie mini-max) and could escalate higher if he wins any big awards this year, like making an All-NBA team. Ayton’s camp wants easy escalators, while the Suns would like to just agree to the 25% number. Standoff ensues.

For his part, Suns head coach Monty Williams just wishes he could give all the players all the money.

Monty had more comments on the whole ‘leaking’ issue of the contract negotiations, shared after practice on Tuesday.

“I just heard about it not too long ago and I can’t say much unless I’ve seen it,” he said. “I’ve heard about it. It’s unfortunate. We typically, as you guys have seen, our stuff rarely gets out. So, when it does get out like that or somebody writes about what’s going on here, probably not true when you didn’t hear me, (general manager) James (Jones) or (owner) Robert (Sarver) say anything about it...

“When I hear about stuff like that, that’s not how we do business. We haven’t operated that way since I’ve been here and so, it’s not disappointing, it’s just a new world. We got to navigate that.”

On the question of whether Deandre Ayton deserves the max or not, yes he does. Not because he’s even the best player on his team let alone in the NBA, but the ‘max’ we are talking about is not as high as you might think it is. Ayton’s ‘max’ would still only make him the 3rd highest earning player on the Suns roster next season, behind Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Right where he belongs.

For more of my thoughts rant on this, take a listen to yesterday’s emergipod on this.

Later on that episode I talk with Noah, a Spurs podcaster, about the possibility of Thad Young coming to the Suns. He shares how the Spurs are talking about Young, how Young is fitting into the team (he did not even play in preseason game one), what the Spurs would want back for Young, and — more than anything — what complications are probably holding up any deal right now.

I hope you take a listen!

Now, back to the here and now. What will the Suns do in preseason game two?

Out: Devin Booker

Suns head coach Monty Williams said yesterday that they are still a few days away from considering when Devin Booker will make his preseason debut. Booker just had COVID the last two weeks, despite being vaccinated, and is still rounding back into shape for the season. The Suns have no interest in rushing him along in the preseason. They only want him ready on October 20, when the games begin to matter.

Otherwise, we might actually see the rest of the roster play. On Monday in the preseason opener, we only got 24 minutes TOTAL from the Suns starting lineup. In the interest of winding guys up for the regular season, I’d expect that number to increase today.

But like the Lakers, your focus on today’s game should be on everyone else, and not the stars. The game is on ESPN, so you should finally be able to see the new guys. Landry Shamet will show off his combo guard role. JaVale McGee will likely have at least two blunks (blocks + dunks). Will anyone else stand out?

You’ll also see Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton working more on their ball handling skills and that’s the development that could unlock the Suns potential to be even better this coming season.

More than anything, this is yet another Jalen Smith showcase game. He will lead the team in minutes played, and notch yet another double-double. Just check those boxes right off. The question I have is will he still look like a baby giraffe doing it?


Prediction

It’s the preseason. There’s no predictions here for Suns win or loss. They went 0-4 in last year’s preseason before posting the league’s 2nd-best record. Preseason W-L doesn’t matter.

Why the 3pm start?

Because the Phoenix Mercury get top billing tonight. They are playing at 7:00pm in the same arena for the right to play in the WNBA Finals and wouldn’t it be nice to see both Phoenix teams make their league Finals in the same year? Yes, yes it would.

I’ll be on hand for both games today and I can’t wait to get there!