The Phoenix Suns played the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday evening at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. While victory doesn’t truly matter in the preseason, growth, and development do. The final score? 119-115, with the win going to the Suns.
Did we see more cohesion with the bench unit? How did the minutes vacated by Cameron Johnson get filled? Did we get some Dario in our lives?!
All of the above were answered.
15 prior to the game tipping off, news came down that wouldn’t see the (potentially) new and improved Anthony Davis is this game as he would sit out the game with lower back tightness.
The Lakers first team unit came out aggressive, attacking the rim on multiple occasions. Russell Westbrook and LeBron James put pressure on the Phoenix Suns front line, utilizing the physicality as an advantage. LeBron hit his first basket of the preseason – he was 0-7 in their last game against the Sacramento Kings – and did so by shooting a long 22-footer.
What happens when you attack the rim? You find yourself on the free throw line. And if you’re Russell Westbrook, you find yourself air following those free throw attempts.
Russell Westbrook with the airball free throw pic.twitter.com/tcoX5tG4Mc— ’ (@_Talkin_NBA) October 6, 2022
Devin Booker came out crisp, dropping a couple of early three pointers on the Lakers and scoring 8 of the Suns’ first 17 points.
Patrick Beverley is a newly acquired asset for the Los Angeles Lakers, and if you thought he was annoying on the Los Angeles Clippers, get ready. In true Beverley fashion, he was pushing and prodding, pulling and scraping, doing anything that he could to try to get under the skin of the opposition. He flopped on the screen by Chris Paul, emphatically celebrated on defense after a miss by Booker. He pushed players as they ran by.
In short, Pat Bev is in midseason form. Can’t wait to see this guy four times this season.
LeBron was engaged on defense, blocking two shots by Mikal Bridges early on. It’s hard to believe that this guy is entering his 20th season as a professional.
First off the bench for Phoenix replacing Cameron Johnson was newly acquired Damion Lee. Cam Johnson appeared to have injured his hand on the play. Unfortunately, it was a sprained right thumb and we would not see him for the remainder of the night.
Cam Johnson sprained his right thumb tonight and will not return, per Suns.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 6, 2022
Cam Payne sprained his right finger tonight and will also not return, per Suns.
It will be interesting to see if moving forward throughout the season if the Suns continue to go with Lee as that option off the bench. Essentially it moves Mikal Bridges into the power forward position next to Deandre Ayton as substitution patterns begin.
We saw DA take his first 3PA of the preseason, which is of note as Monty Williams stated that he expected the fifth-year center would add this to his game. Let’s just say it wasn’t a thing of beauty.
Put some arc on those three-point attempts, DA.— The Bright Side (@BrightSideSun) October 6, 2022
Westbrook hit two three-pointers in the first quarter. So the Suns perimeter defense is that bad. Westbrook had 11 points in the first, LeBron added 11 as well, and the Lakers out shot the Suns 56.5% to 33.3%.
Suns down 7 after the first, 35-28.
Jock Landale looked impressive during his first stint off the bench for Phoenix. He was engaged on the boards, both offensive and defensive, and was effective in setting screens against the Lakers. It’ll be fun to watch him throughout the season as he isn’t a passive screener. He’s not afraid to put a shoulder into somebody and move them off their spot. Chris Paul will fall in love with this aspect of his game as he gets used to playing with the young Australian.
Those Landale screens are Jock Solid!— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) October 6, 2022
Fans will love Jock, too.
Dario Saric entered the game in the second quarter, playing with a unit that included Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, Torrey, Craig, and Jock Landale. It’s been a long road for Dario and this is the first time that we’ve seen him play active basketball for the Phoenix Suns since game one of the 2021 NBA Finals. His flexibility and connectivity is going to be vital for the second team unit this season.
LeBron James was feeling it in the first half. He started 8-of-9 from the floor and hit a 30-foot three-pointer from the ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ logo midway through the second. He had 19 points his first 11 minutes of play.
The injury news did not improve as Cameron Payne would also not return with a hand injury. He played 1:17 in the game and sprained his right finger. So both of the Cam’s for the Suns had sprained fingers on their shooting hands. Let the season begin, right?
The experimentation with lineups forced Monty‘s hand into things that I’m not quite sure we were ready to see. Without Jae Crowder playing for Phoenix, and with Cameron Johnson sidelined with an injury, Dario Saric had a run with the ones to end the second quarter.
You miss Jae yet?
The Suns shot better in the second quarter and cut the lead to five points on numerous occasions. Credit must be given to the Lakers for the level of intensity they had entering the first half of this game. Both teams scored 34 points in Q2 and the Lakers head to the locker room with a 7 point lead.
Suns down 7 at halftime. Devin Booker with 15 points on 4-13 FG, Chris Paul with 13 points and 8 assists. Another ugly half, but that pales in comparison to the Cams’ injuries. Hopefully those aren’t too serious— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) October 6, 2022
Phoenix started the second half with Torrey Craig at the power forward position. This might be a good role for Craig. He disappeared a lot last season. There were long stretches in which his presence wasn’t felt on either end of the floor. If he is a member of the starting unit, perhaps those disappearances aren’t as loud.
He’s surrounded by the top tier talent and can focus on one aspect of his game, the defense. He doesn’t really have the size of a power forward, but who really does on the Suns?
We didn’t see much from Deandre Ayton in the terms of increased physicality or offensive improvement. Wenyen Gabriel, the starting center for the Lakers, played well enough defense against DA that it forced him to take shots away from the basket rather than going towards it.
Has Deandre Ayton leveled up? Has earning that bag equated to an increase in offensive production? On Wednesday night, the answer to those questions was no.
DA not getting to the rim against Wenyen Gabriel, rather, he's taking fadeaways and awkward shots.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) October 6, 2022
The majority of the starters exited the game halfway through the third quarter, and although LeBron James didn’t play a minute in the second half, the first team unit for the Lakers looked better than that of the Suns.
Landry Shamet finally showed some promise, and it was nice to see his effectiveness from beyond the arc. This is his primary role for this team and we need to have his confidence as high as possible if the team is to continue to have an offensive presence while the starters sit on the bench.
Shamet shot 5-of-9 and 4-of-6 from from deep through the first three quarters. The Suns closed the gap to 4 points at the end of three, 95-91.
Phoenix opened the fourth on a 5-0 run, and on a three-pointer by Damion Lee, took their first lead since the early moments of the game. The team posted an 11-2 run through the first five minutes of the quarter.
Jock Landale spent his final minutes of playing hustling, fighting, and earning a place in our hearts. He ended the evening 5-of-8 from the field, scoring 14 points, grabbing 7 boards, and hitting 2 of his 4 three-point attempts.
The Suns outscored the Lakers by a score of 28-20 in the 4th quarter, with their bench scoring 13 more points (73-60) throughout the duration of the game. Saric played to the bitter end, hitting some clutch free throws, ending with 12 points in 9 minutes played.
LeBron was the high scorer on the night, with all of his 23 points coming in the first half. Booker dropped 22 on 7-of-20 shooting in 25 minutes played.
The Suns continue their preseason against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, October 10. Obviously we will continue to monitor the Cam/Cam situation and give updates here on Bright Side.
Feels good to write about a game again, even if it is the preseason.