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Game Preview: Suns face the Lakers in the quarterfinals of the In-Season Tournament

The Suns are 0-2 versus the Lakers this season, but both games have been played without Devin Booker.

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Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (12-8) @ Los Angeles Lakers (12-9)

When: 8:00pm AZ Time

Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California

Watch: Arizona’s Family 3TV

Listen: KMVP 98.7FM


And a way we go!

It is the In-Season Tournament’s final quarterfinal game, as all previous quarterfinal games will have been completed by the time the Suns take the court tonight against the Lakers. The winner faces the New Orleans Pelicans, who had a dominating fourth quarter last night to defeat the Sacramento Kings in their IST quarterfinal matchup.

This game still counts as a part of the regular season schedule, but anytime you play Los Angeles, there is an added level of competition and intensity to the game. The fact that it is an IST game? Competitiveness will be high.

Phoenix has struggled against the Lakers this season, having lost both prior affairs. They lost both by a combined eight points, and the team did not have Devin Booker.

That matters.

Someone who grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant — so much so that he has “Be Legendary” tattooed on his arm after receiving that hand-written message from the Black Mamba — Booker understands what it means to play in Los Angeles and where his place is in the Suns and Lakers rivalry. When the games matter, Booker steps up to the occasion. In six postseason games against L.A., Booker is averaging 29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5 rebounds against his Pacific Division rival.

Who could forget when he closed out the Lake Show in Game 6 of the First Round in 2021?

On the other side, you have greatness. There is no other way to say it. LeBron James might not be the greatest player of all time, but he will end with the greatest career. The all-time leader in points scored. Fourth all-time in assists. 33rd all-time in rebounds. His résumé speaks for itself and, even in his 21st year in the NBA, he is competing at a high level.

Add to the fact that this is an elimination game in the IST, and it doesn’t get much better than this. Especially at the beginning of December. Mission accomplished, Adam Silver. I’m engaged, I care, and so do the players. So tip the damn ball off and let’s get this baby started.

Starting Lineups

Injury Report

Phoenix:

  • Eric Gordon — QUESTIONABLE (knee)
  • Bradley Beal — OUT (back)
  • Damion Lee — OUT (knee)

Los Angeles:

  • LeBron James — QUESTIONABLE (calf)
  • Anthony Davis — PROBABLE (hip)
  • Rui Hachimura - PROBABLE (nasal fracture)
  • Jarred Vanderbilt — (heel)
  • Gabe Vincent — OUT (knee)

Uniform Matchup

Courtesy of NBA LockerVision:

What to Watch For

It always comes back to the interior for me and the matchup for Jusuf Nurkic. In this case, it’s Anthony Davis.

AD is long and athletic, two natural abilities that make him hard to be guarded by nearly anyone in the NBA. But especially Nurkic. Nurk has been on a heater as of late, scoring 14.1 points and grabbing 9.1 rebounds over the past 10 games for Phoenix. The Suns are 8-2 in those games.

But when he plays against Davis, he looks slow, lumbering, and overmatched.

The two have matched up 27 times in their careers, including both the regular season and playoffs. Davis has the slight edge on wins, up 14-13 on Nurk, but the statistics are heavily weighted in his favor. AD averaged 27.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.6 blocks when pitted against the Bosnian Beast. This includes games in which he’s scored 43, 47, and 50 points.

Nurk? He averages 12.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks against Davis. Watch for the Lakers to exploit this matchup early and often in an attempt to get Jusuf into foul trouble. From there, it will be how the Suns adjust defensively that will be most interesting.

Keys to a Suns Win

Not surprisingly, if the Suns want to win, they must control the glass, particularly by boxing out and using their hustle to deny the Lakers extra possessions. The Suns permitted the Lakers to grab 8.5 offensive rebounds in their two losses this season.

Ball security must be at a premium as well against the team with the 8th-best defensive rating in the league. The Lakers are a pesky team defensively, having forced the Suns into 18.1 turnovers in their previous two games. This lead to 22.0 points. Not. good.

If Phoenix can out-rebound — or simply limit extra possessions — as well as avoid turnovers, they have a good chance to win this one. I know. Super in-depth analysis. But very true against a Lakers team that looks to pounce in the fourth quarter.

Prediction

Devin Booker is the x-factor and he is ready for this one. “I’m excited for this one,” Booker said of the game. “It’ll be a heavyweight match in L.A. A lot on the line.”. Book steps up to the occasion, goes for 32 points and 11 assists, and Phoenix advances in the tourney.

Suns 125, Lakers 123

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