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Preview: Suns take on the defending champs in battle of Western Conference luminaries

Lights, camera action! Time to go Hollywood folks, will these Suns shine bright on the game’s biggest stage?

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

What: Phoenix Suns (22-11) at Los Angeles Lakers (24-11)

When: 8:00 P.M. MST

Where: Staples Center

Watch: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet

Listen: 98.7 FM


Believe me: this is a game that the Phoenix Suns have had circled on their calendar for a tremendously long time.

The team’s already made efficient work of several preeminent Eastern Conference foes, and as their upcoming schedule begins to shift Westward, their imminent face-off with Los Angeles may carry greater implications for them than any matchup they’ve taken part in thus far.

There’s just a different aura that wafts about the arena of a defending NBA Champion, and when you combine that with the glitz, glam and tradition of the Staples Center (albeit absent of fans), it makes for one especially arousing basketball occasion.

And the Suns are about to be front and center as they try to conquer Lebron James’ Lakers in La-La-Land.


Projected Starting Lineups:

Suns:

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton

Lakers:

Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lebron James, Markieff Morris, Marc Gasol


Injury Report:

Jared Dudley: Right calf – Day-to-day

Kyle Kuzma: Heel – Probable

Lebron James: Left ankle – Probable

Damian Jones: Lower back – Day-to-Day

Anthony Davis: Achilles – Out

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

Keys to the Game:

LBJ:

Public enemy numero uno for the Valley Boyz is undoubtedly Lebron Raymone James. The guy’s been absolutely unstoppable (his most potent defender may be his gaudy minutes total) as of recent, and despite his team’s fledgling expositions with Anthony Davis sidelined, it’s not due to a lack of production from the King.

Lebron leads his team in four of the five major statistical categories (Marc Gasol is the team’s blocks chief), and he’s sporting a top-10 league-wide mark in assists per game (7.8). His primary ball handling duties will be lessened with Dennis Schroder’s reemergence in the lineup, but still, Lebron James remains the central focal point of any squad who dares challenge LA. He’s averaging 23.2 ppg through the team’s last five, and his showing vs. Golden State was all the evidence needed to prove that there’s little to worry about as long as his presence dwells in the lineup.

Paul vs. Schroder

Pay very close attention to the battle between former teammates in Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Paul will tell you himself: Schroder was by far one of his favorite compatriots to wage war with, and Dennis the Menace’s rugged disposition and infallible continuous spirit make him a doozy to play with – but a nightmare to match up against.

Paul knows Schroder’s tendencies very well, and was a huge contributor to his Sixth Man of the Year-contending campaign in 2020 as part of the Thunder. Paul, as he’s done so effortlessly in Phoenix, took the young guard under his wing immediately upon arrival in OKC, and Schroder will be eager to unload a few items from his increasingly-deepened bag of tricks against his former mentor. Schroder’s importance to the Lakers shone brilliantly in his absence, and they looked like an entirely different machine with him back in his established role. His 14.4 ppg to complement 4.3 assists is irreplaceable, but his winning mentality alone drives his value through the roof. Chris Paul knows that all too well.

The Bench

Ah yes, last but certainly not least: this is a game that shall be won by those who are NOT apart of pre-game lineup introductions.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker are going to show up. And you can bet on the King’s consistency. But it will be the scuffle between secondary forces that will ultimately decide this game’s outcome. Kyle Kuzma is developing into a comfortable scoring role, and is trending upwards after 23 points vs. Miami, plus a 12 point, 11 rebound double-double in their last outing vs. the Warriors. Meanwhile, Talen Horton-Tucker will be called upon to do what he does best: put the ball in the basket.

As for Phoenix, Cam Johnson, Dario Saric, Jae Crowder and Abdel Nader will need to knock down 3’s, procure points in the paint, and shut down Laker scoring savants like Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and of course, Sir Lebron.

The Verdict

Phoenix should win the 3-point skirmish, and they’ll task Ayton with playing a gargantuan role in triumphing on the blocks. The latter conflict will be much harder to prevail in, however. Phoenix has been clicking on all cylinders as of recent, and with Devin Booker fresh off of a 43-point masterpiece vs. Minnesota, they’ll be pushing their offensive buttons promptly and definitively.

Booker scores at least 30, Chris Paul notches another double-double (so does Ayton), and don’t be surprised if a role player erupts for 20. Phoenix avenges their pre-season losses vs. the struggling LakeShow, and takes them down 113-107.