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Lakers vs. Suns Preview: The in-season tournament knockout round

The Lakers will take on a completely different Suns team this time compared to the one they’ve defeated twice this season.

In-Season Tournament - Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers, who remain undefeated in the in-season tournament, will have the chance to go to Las Vegas if they defeat the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Since Los Angeles swept group play, they will have home-court advantage for the first game of the knockout phase.

Start time and TV schedule

Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns

When: 7 p.m. PT, Dec. 5

Where: Arena

Watch: TNT and Spectrum Sportsnet

The Lakers are among the eight teams left in the knockout stage of the In-Season Tournament (IST), which from now on will operate on a single-elimination basis. That means if L.A. wants to win the NBA Cup title and the $500,000 cash reward per player that comes with it, they can’t lose a game moving forward.

The Lakers will take on a completely different Suns team compared to the one they’ve already faced and defeated twice this season. Phoenix will have Devin Booker in their lineup this time while the purple and gold finally have most of their role players back, specifically Jared Vanderbilt, Cam Reddish and Rui Hachimura.

As Booker recently said, this game is expected to be a heavyweight match with a lot on the line.

In fairness to the Lakers and Suns, they’ve both approached the IST as seriously as possible. Both superstars from each team have only said good things about the tournament and even marveled at how it has impacted the competitiveness of these games early in the season.

While the Lakers channeled that by dominating three of their four opponents in the group phase round, the Suns managed to claim the wildcard spot thanks to a Booker three during garbage time that swung the point differential race for them.

So here are Pacific Division rivals about to go up against each other for the third straight time in two months, making that a total of five times the two sides will play this season. No one is happier about this than Adam Silver who will once again get the chance to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant share the court after not being able to do so for five straight years.

If both teams don’t cross paths in the playoffs, this is the closest to a high-stakes game they will partake in against each other. Thankfully, this is the healthiest the Lakers have been all season.

How will a relatively healthy Lakers team match up against a contender?

The Lakers couldn’t ask for a better time to be at their healthiest this season as the IST plays out until Dec.9. They showed a glimpse of the type of defensive powerhouse they can be in their previous win against the Houston Rockets. Now, their upcoming game will test how their defense performs against the league’s eighth-best offense led by Durant and Booker.

Their previous two games ended up boiling down to who performed better in the clutch, which went the Lakers way thanks to masterful performances by LeBron James.

That’s why, if Phoenix wants to win this game, they’ll have to do so with their offense while making sure L.A’s role players don’t beat them like how they did in their most previous matchup when the Lakers’ supporting cast combined for 72 points. That was the same game Cam Reddish shot 62.5% (5-8) from the three-point line including the game-sealing shot.

For the Lakers, the biggest X-factor in this one will be their offense and whether or not they can keep up with Phoenix. The Suns, who are ranked 18th in the league in defense, are quite mediocre on this end — which is surprising for a Frank Vogel-coached team — so it’ll be ideal if the Lakers have one of those balanced scoring games from everyone playing high minutes.

It’s also safe to say that Anthony Davis will most likely play better in this one as his hip injury doesn’t seem as bad as it was in their previous game. The front-court matchup between AD and Jusuf Nurkić, who has been playing better as of late, will also dictate the game. Given their history against each other, Davis should be able to dominate this matchup.

Ultimately though, the Lakers’ chances of going to Las Vegas will depend on how they contain KD and Booker. Let’s see if Los Angeles can do that as they aim to remain undefeated in the IST on Tuesday.

Notes and Updates:

  • If the Lakers don’t end up beating the Suns, they will face the loser between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings on Thursday. And since they’ll be eliminated from the IST by then, the NBA will release a schedule for them which will count as regular season games as well.
  • For the Lakers injury report, Gabe Vincent (left knee effusion) is listed as out. Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip spasm), Rui Hachimura (nasal fracture), Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel bursitis) are probable.
  • LeBron James (left calf contusion) is questionable as has been the case over the past two weeks.
  • As for the Suns, Eric Gordon (knee) is listed as day-to-day while Bradley Beal (low back strain) and Damion Lee (knee) won’t be active.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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