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Lakers vs. Suns Preview: L.A. looks to start 2020 undefeated, keep momentum in dog days of season

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The Lakers will try to keep their two-game winning streak going while hosting the Suns at Staples Center on New Year’s Day.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A bad shot thrown up out of a lack of desire to seek a better option. A missed defensive rotation followed by hands thrown up in exasperation, yelling or finger-pointing. These, among many other things, are usually signs that the NBA season has officially reached its doldrums.

Los Angeles Lakers fans are likely intimately familiar with such signals after the last few years, but the team itself is trying to avoid any of those types of lapses as they enter 2020. 33 games into the season, the Lakers (26-7) have the second-best record in the NBA, the best record in the Western Conference, are undefeated on back-to-backs and against sub .500 teams. They’re also looking to avoid any slippage from those marks, even as the schedule starts to become a slog.

“I think we begin to enter the dog days of the NBA season (now), which is kind of now until the All-Star break where it just gets a little monotonous and becomes a little bit of a grind,” said Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel at practice on Tuesday. “Hopefully we can get through that stretch and once the All-Star break hits, now you’re in the home stretch after that.”

The Lakers will get their first crack at doing so — and at keeping their record against sub .500 teams alive — on the first day of 2020 while hosting the struggling Phoenix Suns. Winners of their last two games, the Suns also lost their prior eight, and therefore should offer an immediate test of the Lakers’ pseudo resolution to keep things rolling even when all the games start to blend together and feel less significant on a day-to-day basis now that so many are under their belts.

L.A. maintaining its habits will start on the defensive end against Phoenix, who comes to L.A. for these two teams’ second matchup of the season with the ninth-best offense in the NBA, scoring 110.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. The Suns’ defense is less strong, ranked 19th in the league while allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions, and a big reason why they’ve fallen to 13-20 after a surprisingly fun and successful start.

Still, the Lakers are entering a stretch that will see them play their next four games against sub .500 teams before another matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, and at this point in the season are less playing against their opponent than they are fighting against monotony, something they’ll have to do for their next 21 games until the All-Star Break offers one last respite before the final push to the postseason.

But how do they make sure they don’t lose sight of the effort and energy that made them successful as fatigue starts to set in, or start to overlook opponents that — at least record-wise — aren’t at their level?

“It’s just having a respect for the game,” said Lakers guard Alex Caruso. “You start to get to that point where the games add up, you start to look at All-Star almost, and it’s good to have a present mindset and take each day one day at a time.”

Staying in the moment like that is why Caruso said he was entirely unaware of the Lakers’ flawless record in back-to-backs and against sub. 500 opponents. He admitted he’s gone so far as to not even really look at the standings this season.

“I couldn’t tell you our record right now,” Caruso said.

The Lakers have a chance to bring it to 27-7 overall and undefeated in 2020 with a win tonight. They just have to make sure that rather than doing what most do and changing who they are in the new year, they stick to what made them so good in the prior one.

Notes and Updates

  • I hope you enjoyed this game preview, because due to some changes most of you have probably heard about, in 2020 I will probably be writing a lot more of them (along with many other things for this site). We’ll probably have more to say on that as the new year continues.
  • The Lakers have not announced any injuries or status changes heading into this game yet — we will keep this bullet point updated if they do — but for right now it’s probably safe to assume that they’ll have pretty close to a healthy roster tonight against Phoenix.
  • Even with a healthy roster, though, the Lakers have one last major flaw. Christian Rivas broke it down, and why fixing it may not be simple.
  • On the more positive side of things, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been balling lately, and I wrote about why he’s been able to keep rolling even amidst role changes, while Anthony Irwin penned an apology letter to the previously polarizing guard.
  • The Lakers liked playing zone defense against the Mavericks, so expect to potentially see that a bit more this year (even if it made Vogel uncomfortable).

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.