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Suns-Lakers Game Two Preview: Shoulders and scorers

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

What: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns

When: 7 p.m. MST

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM


Well this is pretty damn fun. Game One was one of the more exciting and storied matchups of the entire first weekend, and the Suns have a lot to do to maintain homecourt advantage and keep control of the series heading to LA on Thursday.

We have the Battle of the Shoulders to see whether the cells in Chris Paul or LeBron James’ upper bodies will regenerate faster, the budding Cam Payne vs. Alex Caruso feud that I personally would love to see bubble up every single night, and the Lakers’ quest to find any defensive scheme that will work against Devin Booker after he did them dirty on Sunday.

Momentum is often short-lived in the NBA playoffs, but despite being the best road team in the NBA this season, the Suns will want to take care of business tonight to keep their foot on the gas pedal in the series.

Injury report

Suns: Only Abdel Nader

Lakers: James (right ankle) and Anthony Davis (right shoulder sprain) are both probable

Updates galore

Let’s start with Payne. He didn’t mince words on Monday after practice when explaining why he went at Caruso:

“I just felt like he undercut me first, and it was a no-call. I didn’t mean to knock him all the way down to the ground, but he fell. Gotta sell it. He fell, and then he came, retaliated, then I retaliated, and that’s probably the part I shouldn’t have did.

“That was my first time getting ejected from a game in the NBA, my third tech in all my six years. So it’s not something that I do. I apologized to every single player that walked in (to the locker room), but that was all on my side. They said they had my back. I just want to win, that’s my only goal.”

As for Montrezl Harrell’s involvement, Payne said the bodyslam “came out of nowhere” and he wasn’t expecting it, but in all honesty it didn’t look like Harrell did either.

“It’s just a part of the playoffs,” Payne said, comparing this altercation and the physical nature of Game One to Fred VanVleet losing his tooth in a playoff game in the past.

As for Paul, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reported this week that Paul suffered a “stinger” and is expected to be a full-go for Game Two. Whether that’s a real diagnosis or more of the ongoing PR battle between both teams through the media, the message is clear: Paul is playing.

Still, it’s an obvious question what level he will be at, how well he will be able to dribble and shoot, and how many minutes he can play. More Payne (and a better performance than his 2-8 Game One) should help, but you best believe the Lakers will either ignore Paul completely or play him rough and dare him to beat them.

James told us he would be ready for Game Two and Davis took full ownership of the loss after a 5-16 night with only five free-throw attempts. A lot is going on!

The adjustment game

It can’t just be the Lakers who come out with a different strategy. Every playoff game is a new beast. The Suns will be ready with wrinkles that hopefully are a step ahead of what LA is going to try to do.

First off, we can expect that after Davis’ self-flagellation he will be looking to score more aggressively. For the play-in game and Sunday’s Game One, Davis has been too much of a finisher rather than a creator, and Frank Vogel has been hesitant to play ultra-aggressive defense to make us of Davis’ athleticism. The Lakers have to know they are at their best when Davis is a matchup nightmare on both ends that can’t be contained. All last week, he was contained pretty easily.

What can the Suns do there? For one, they can keep moving the ball. They assisted 24 of their 40 made baskets on Sunday and found open threes early in the clock consistently. If Davis is going to be on the perimeter more, pressuring Booker and Paul, then the guards need to be ready to read the defense, give the ball up, and get their teammates open looks.

That also means guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder need to get into the teeth of the defense and take what’s given to them in the middle of the floor. Both guys made their mid-range looks in Game One, but they likely will need to get there even more tonight.

On the other side, let’s assume we see more post-ups for both James and Davis, putting pressure on the Suns’ defense. I expect the Suns to keep strategically doubling both guys and forcing the Lakers’ shooters to beat them (they didn’t in Game One), but it seems unlikely the Suns stay out of foul trouble forever. What does the game look like if we see more of Dario Saric and Torrey Craig?

Prediction time

The Lakers don’t really look capable of stopping Booker right now with anyone in the rotation, unless James recovers miraculously and takes the matchup. Instead, look for the Lakers to throw more bodies and hands at Deandre Ayton and make life harder on him. He can’t go 10-11 again if the Lakers want to get back in the series. I expect another low-scoring slugfest, with the Suns coming out on top again.

Suns 105, Lakers 102