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Lakers vs. Suns Preview: Just trying to stay afloat

The shorthanded Lakers are going to have a tough time vs. the almost fully healthy Phoenix Suns.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers return home on Tuesday night, hosting their most notable foe of 2021 in the form of the Phoenix Suns with just under two weeks left in the calendar year.

The Lakers have lost their last two games in a row during their current COVID-19 outbreak, and the full strength Suns will now look to put them in a three-game losing skid. Here are a few things we’ll be watching for as L.A. tries to pull off an upset over the team with the best record in the Western Conference.

Again we ask, who’s going to be playing?

The NBA world continues to struggle with players entering health and safety protocols due to COVID-19 testing, with the Lakers currently one of the most affected teams. They haven’t had games postponed like the Bulls, Nets, 76ers, or others, but they were on the precipice of that in their past two games.

Ongoing updates to the Lakers’ available players can be seen here, but at the time of this preview, Austin Reaves, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, and Kent Bazemore were in protocols. That doesn’t include coaches Frank Vogel and Phil Handy, who are also in isolation. That list also doesn’t include Talen Horton-Tucker and Dwight Howard, who were taken out of protocols early Tuesday morning.

While THT and Howard were in protocols, the team needed Isaiah Thomas to play heavy minutes after he was pulled off the street for a reunion with the franchise on the first 10-day, hardship exception contract they used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (they’ve since signed another familiar face in Jemerrio Jones, using the same exception).

In addition to Thomas seeing the floor often — he started and played 32 minutes against the Bulls on Sunday — Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Jordan have also played a lot after being taken out of the rotation. Because of all this, the results have not been surprising, and the Lakers would have been 0-3 since THT, Howard, and Monk were added to protocols if it weren’t for heroics from Wayne Ellington and Reaves against the Mavericks.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty inopportune time for the 24-5 Suns to come into town. It’s going to be a far tougher task to beat them than it was to top the Mavs without Luka Doncic, the Timberwolves without Anthony Edwards, and the Bulls without Zach LaVine. But still, the Lakers know they’re not the only ones in the NBA going through these hardships, and that they need to keep moving forward.

“It’s Hunger Games. You just adapt,” said assistant coach David Fizdale before the game against the Bulls while he took Frank Vogel’s place as head coach. “You just adapt and you don’t get into the complaining and moaning and groaning of it. It is what it is. This is our world right now and we just have to adapt to it and work around it.”

“It’s tough not knowing who is gonna be in and who is going to be out,” Carmelo Anthony added following the 115-110 loss to the Bulls. “Again, those are things that we can’t control. So it’s next man up and we’ve got to figure this out. But it’s not just us, it’s everybody.”

The Lakers received some protocol luck in the form of THT and Howard returning Tuesday, but even if those two players suit up tonight, this team will still be an underdog against these Suns who have showed no signs of slowing down since their run to the Finals last season.

Still, with that harsh reality taken into account, at least the Lakers have shown through their words that they know what they’re up against. With that attitude and the same fight they showed against the Bulls, maybe they can make Tuesday night a competitive game.

Notes and Updates:

  • The Lakers will have those four health and safety protocol players listed as out for Tuesday’s game. We’ll have to see about THT and Howard’s status, but you have to assume that the Lakers will welcome their help with open arms even if they’re a bit rusty.
  • For some positive news, it appears that Trevor Ariza had no setbacks in his season debut Sunday against the Bulls, as he comes into this one probable along with LeBron James.
  • Anthony Davis will remain out with his MCL sprain that will have him sidelined until he’s re-evaluated in four weeks.
  • The Suns’ injury report can be seen below. As with most games this season, the Lakers come into the game with a much longer list than their opponent.
  • Around the league, COVID-19 continues to run rampant, causing many players to be put into protocols. There have been seven games postponed now, as it was announced on Sunday that five games would be postponed this week.
  • In response, the NBA has allowed for more “replacement” players to be signed to rosters in response to the unfortunate situation.

The Lakers and Suns will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be televised exclusively on TNT.

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