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Preview: Suns (27-13) host depleted Lakers (28-14) looking for season series win

The Suns could take the tiebreaker over LA with a win tonight.

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Los Angeles Lakers (28-14) at Phoenix Suns (27-13)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona, NBATV

Listen: 98.7 FM


As we make our way through the season, it’s becoming clear the Suns are definitively one of the best-responding teams in the NBA. They haven’t lost more than two straight games all season, and haven’t even dropped back to back games since Jan. 23-27. After an ugly one against Minnesota on Thursday, the Suns bounced back big time with a double-digit win on Friday.

They also got a huge dose of luck last night when LeBron James went down with a high ankle sprain, leaving tonight’s opponent without its two best players.


Injury report

Phoenix Suns: Cameron Johnson has cleared the health and safety protocol!

Los Angeles Lakers: James is out; Anthony Davis (right calf) and Jared Dudley (torn MCL) remain out as well; Marc Gasol (health & safety) is working his way back and was inactive last night


Projected starting lineups

Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

LA Lakers: Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, Damian Jones


Phoenix Suns

27-13; No. 2 in the Western Conference

116.5 ORtg (8th) - 109.5 DRtg (5th) = plus-6.9 netRtg

Allow me for a moment to rant. I stand by the praise I heaped on the Suns in the intro up above, but one thing these Suns have not been able to get in check is their badgering of the referees. A glance at Devin Booker’s stat line last night make you think that Josh Okogie just locked him down defensively (not entirely untrue), or that Booker just hit a cold spell (maybe!).

But the more accurate telling is that Booker was completely in his head about the officiating, a continuation of his war with them in Thursday’s loss. Most of us have seen the way Booker has to work harder than most superstars to get calls, and how the Suns generally have gotten short shrift from referees all year. As much as that may be true, it can’t affect every game the Suns play the way it has lately.

It’s up to players to set the tone early to establish a blueprint for the referees. It’s up to a team to maintain a cordial back-and-forth with the zebras so that it doesn’t come back to bite them late in a game. Booker and every other Sun needs to take that seriously, not let it get in their head, and clean up this obvious weakness in the next few weeks before the playoffs.

Los Angeles Lakers

28-14; No. 3 in the Western Conference

113.1 ORtg (15th) - 106.9 DRtg (1st) = plus-6.3 netRtg

This report from Bill Oram at The Athletic is the go-to for your James news, with all the sights and sounds from Staples Center last night.

Take this quote from Kuzma: “I haven’t necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever.”

Eek.

Personally, I don’t agree with James’ Laker teammates that the play was in any way dirty, and having rooted for Solomon Hill in Tucson and interviewed him for several minutes one on one last year, he seems like the last guy who’d ever try to hurt someone. After a bad injury like that, I get why a player’s teammates would come to his defense, but my attention is more fully on what led to that moment than whose fault it was.

More than Hill jumping into James, where my mind went as I saw the news of James’ high-ankle sprain was how short James’ break was after winning the 2020 title. Training camp began just over two months after the Lakers and Heat left the Bubble, and we know that injuries like ankle sprains are more likely when players are not rested.

When even sport’s pre-eminent iron man, James, succumbs to injury, the timing of the season seems like an even worse decision in retrospect.

Prediction

The Lakers’ No. 1 option in this game is Schroder, their No. 2 option is Kuzma, and their No. 3 option is Montrezl Harrell. Get it done, Suns.

Suns 110, Lakers 98