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Lakers vs. Suns Preview: Some real competition

After facing teams that are right alongside them around the bottom of the standings, the Lakers will face one of the tougher tests they can find in the NBA, going into Phoenix to take on the Suns.

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Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Six

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the middle of a winning streak!

Sure, it’s only a one-game winning streak, but whatever. With the team’s record now at 29-37, you have to really pump up these positives when you can get them.

Friday’s win against the Wizards wasn’t just any ordinary victory either. Just as he did in the Lakers’ only other win since the All-Star break, LeBron James energized the home crowd with another 50-point performance, this time modestly stopping right at that number.

But while those two games were extremely fun in the moment, once that excitement wore off, the scary reality of the Lakers needing these types of games from a 37-year-old to even win set in. So as we slowly leave Friday’s game in the rearview, that scary reality becomes even more terrifying with a much better opponent than the Wizards coming up.

That opponent is a very familiar one in the Phoenix Suns, who the Lakers will travel to play on Sunday night.

Here’s our preview of that matchup.

On a collision course towards another playoff matchup?

It’s possible that the purple and gold will be playing the Suns in a seven-game playoff series. The 9th-seeded Lakers have 2.5 games separating themselves from the 10th-seeded Pelicans (and 3.5 between them and both of the Spurs and Trail Blazers), meaning it’s seeming more and more likely each day that this is where the team will enter the play-in tournament.

Does the idea of having to win two single-elimination games just to get “rewarded” with a series against the Suns sound terrible? If you’re a fan of the purple-and-gold and you’ve been watching the two teams this season, it probably should.

Will Sunday’s matchup be a somewhat accurate representation of what one of those first round playoff games will look like? Sadly, probably not. Both teams are missing one of their two superstars (sorry, Russ), as Chris Paul (right thumb fracture) and Anthony Davis (mid-foot sprain) will continue to miss time.

So what do we have to learn about the Lakers in this one? Well, even without Paul, the Suns are almost certainly better than the Lakers. You could also safely say they’re still better than the Rockets and Wizards, the former of whom beat the Lakers in overtime on Wednesday with the latter needing a monster second half from The King to be dispatched.

The Paul-less Suns may even be better than the Warriors without Draymond Green, the other team that was on the opposing side of the other LeBron 50-piece.

On Sunday, we stand to learn if the Lakers can beat a good team on the road without one of those historic performances from LeBron. Or, alternatively, if they can even do so with one, if he even plays in this game (the last time he dropped 50-plus, he had to sit out the next game with knee soreness).

If he does suit up, it’s probably foolish of me to rule out another of those types of spectacular games from him, but it feels unreasonable to expect. On the plus side, at least Frank Vogel isn’t keeping everything with the team the same in hopes of getting those games every night. The 50-point game caused the story of Vogel-favorite Avery Bradley being held out of the contest to not be discussed as much as it may have with a “measly” and more common 25-30 point game from LeBron. The recently-signed Wenyen Gabriel was the beneficiary of Bradley’s time on bench, and he validated Vogel’s decision with 12-minutes of high-energy effort, a 3-pointer and four rebounds.

But let’s be real. That type of rotation decision isn’t going to be the one that catapults the Lakers up to the Suns’ level of talent. The team will need a performance from LeBron that at least comes close to what we saw on Friday if they want to have any chance against a Suns team this good, even if they’re not fully healthy.

If that happens, and the Lakers notch a TWO-GAME winning streak for the first time since Jan. 7th, then maybe us fans can look towards the possible first round playoff matchup with a little more optimism with Anthony Davis (hopefully) set to be back by then.

Notes and Updates

  • DraftKings has the Suns favored to win by -8.5 points at the time of this article, with the game’s over/under set at 227.
  • The Suns will be without Cam Johnson (right quad contusion) in addition to Chris Paul. Frank Kaminsky (out since early January after knee surgery) and Dario Saric (torn ACL in 2021 NBA Playoffs) will remain out.
  • For the Lakers, nothing has changed on the injury report front. Anthony Davis (right mid-foot sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) are still out.
  • Talen Horton-Tucker (left ankle sprain) and LeBron James (left knee sorenesss/effusion) are still questionable
  • Malik Monk (right shoulder soreness) is once again probable, and Mason Jones (two-way contract) is still in South Bay.
  • Around the league, sadly, our enemies in Boston continue to find late-season success after many early-season failures, as they’re now the 5th-seed in the Eastern Conference with the Cavaliers right behind them. They’ve done so with an absurd 16-2 record in their last 18 games, as well as a recent 5-game winning streak that has featured some impressive performances from (future Laker) Jayson Tatum.

The Lakers and Suns will tip-off at 6 p.m. PT, with the game nationally televised on ESPN, and locally broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation. And 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.