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Stephen’s Study: Game ‘to watch for’s,’ zooming in on Suns vs. Lakers tonight

Match-up’s, schemes, plus x’s and o’s ahead of tip-off in round one.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers are set up for a heavyweight match up in the inaugural In-Season Tournament Quarter Finals. The regular season series currently bodes in favor of the Lakers 2-0, though it’s relevant to mention that Bradley Beal (who’s out as he tends to his low back) appeared in the second of the two, while Booker missed both but is clear to play tonight after returning from a single game absence with an ankle injury.

Game one, a 100-95 Lakers win, saw Durant with a dominant, game-high, 39 points on 28 shots — but the Suns simply couldn’t close against a fourth-quarter lineup that featured James-Davis-Vincent-Wood for all 12 minutes.

Both Booker and Beal out, that was simply an onslaught to keep up, and was exacerbated by the Suns eight turnovers in the closing quarter, ultimately seeing them -17 in the final period after outplaying the purple and gold for three quarters.

Game two also saw a Lakers win, 122-119, this time in Phoenix for an In-Season Tournament match-up, with the Suns operating sans Booker but plus Beal. His presence in movement shooting, spacing, and driving abilities gave the Suns ample advantage to play out of.

Ultimately, it would be their defense that did them in in the fourth, and netted them -10 for the closing period.

Given the context of a single-game elimination, coaches will be much less likely to keep cards close to their chest, as both teams are committed to winning the inaugural NBA Cup.

The Suns and Lakers are both at different points in their respective ingratiation periods now, than they were in the two early season match-ups that came before tonight. In both, the Suns had a lead going into the fourth quarter, even while being undermanned in terms of — especially — not having Devin Booker to deploy.

They should find great solace in that, in addition to the fact that they have the league's best offense when he’s on the floor, scoring 125 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor (that drops all the way down to 113.0 when he's not on the floor).

His presence is a major difference, impacting others but also showcasing his growths.

That plus his many growths in manipulation of defenses that I have noted, should un-muddy plenty of what became a treacherous process for the Suns late in games against this rough and active Lakers defense.

I’ve documented a large portion of their issues in closing earlier, let’s see what that looks like against this team, with Booker in the fold.

Let’s dive into the preview on the court a bit more.

In the Weeds of the Match-Ups, X’s and O’s + X-Factor

Additionally, the Okogie and Goodwin supplementary efforts, and impacting the game in the manner's they most comfortably do so will be ultra-important

The point of attack defender, deflections, offensive rebounding, and general activity are a non-negotiable base they have to provide tonight — especially matched up with the Lakers reserve units which have to be minutes won

Prediction

Suns win with Booker proving to have been the missing piece in this star-studded affair, controlling tempo through the chaos that the Lakers defense can cause, netting the Suns a two-possession win — 116-110.

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