It may have taken an unexpected all-time great performance from Austin Reaves, but the Lakers managed to successfully escape and win a crucial one against the Orlando Magic last Sunday. It wasn’t all that pretty, but as the sentiment has been for the past three weeks, the purple and gold will take any game we can get at this point. Because right now, it’s looking like the Lakers’ play-in faith will likely be determined until the last few games of the season.
The Lakers have exactly 10 games left on their schedule, and because of two avoidable losses to the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks last week, they’re currently not even in the play-in picture in the wild Western Conference standings. They carelessly let their margin of error slip away and because of that, games like Wednesday’s against the Phoenix Suns, are way way more crucial than it was supposed to be.
Luckily for the Lakers, they’re stumbling upon a Suns team without Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton. Since Durant’s ankle injury, Phoenix has only won two out of their last six games. What was previously considered a scheduled loss for the Lakers is now a winnable game. But that doesn’t mean this one’s going to be a walk in the park for Los Angeles — who like Sunday’s tilt against the Magic, have to grit this one out, especially with how they’ve been performing in the past three games.
This time, it’ll take more than an Austin Reaves 35-point performance to take down an incomplete Suns team. This is one of those games that have to be won with a formula that involves a dominant Anthony Davis plus the presence of the Lakers’ depth. With that said, here’s what will determine the outcome of Wednesday’s game against the Suns:
Battle of the guards
There’s no doubt that Devin Booker is going to get his but since Durant’s injury, he’s had to play near-perfect games in order to keep his team competitive every night. It’s up to the Lakers guards — specifically D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley (who’s only made 1-8 of his previous 3-point attempts as of late), Reaves and Dennis Schroder — to contain and keep up with Booker’s production. This shouldn't be the night where the Lakers struggle from the perimeter and let a random player like Cam Payne or even Damion Lee (who are all capable shooters) get hot from downtown.
This Suns team has struggled offensively since Durant’s absence (they’ve ranked 21st in the league in offensive rating since) so this is the perfect time for Los Angeles to utilize their depth — something this Suns team now doesn’t have. The Lakers’ bench (who had a positive net rating compared to the starters last Sunday) came up huge against Orlando, and they’ll have to do the same if they want a chance in this one.
How is Anthony Davis going to respond?
Since sitting out the Rockets game as advised by the team’s medical staff, AD hasn’t had the same rhythm he’s been playing with after James went down. In the past two games, Davis hasn’t scored 30 or more points nor has he demanded the ball as much and played with the motor he needs to.
There is no way the Lakers can win against the Suns if Davis plays like he did in the past two games, which is why the Lakers’ faith in this one is on his shoulders. With two days of rest, it’s going to be interesting to see how he responds, and whether or not he makes up for his previous subpar performances by shooting better from the field. The team desperately needs it dominant AD.
The Lakers also need to do their job by getting Davis more involved in their actions and finding him in the post early. The only thing that can stop Davis from dominating in this one is himself and it’ll be up to him to carry the team and snap their six-game losing streak (yes, it’s been two years since the Lakers defeated this team) to the Suns.
The Lakers have yet to defeat the Suns since the infamous Andre Drummond troll made its rounds on the internet. Now more than ever, they need to snap this current losing streak or otherwise, their play-in chances will be looking bleaker than it already currently does. We’ll know where the Lakers stand by the end of Wednesday’s battle as we count down to the end of the season.
Notes and updates
- For the Lakers’ injury report, Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) is listed as probable.
- And as expected, the Lakers will be without Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) and LeBron James (right foot soreness). Two-way players Scotty Pippin Jr. (G-League) and Cole Swider (G-League) are also going to be inactive due to South Bay Lakers duties.
- As for the Suns, Durant (ankle) and Ayton (hip contusion) are listed as out.
- For news around the league, it seems like the Minnesota Timberwolves will soon be getting Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards back after missing time due to injury, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. This is noteworthy since the Wolves are one of the teams the Lakers are trying to catch in the play-in race and will soon go up against in this final stretch.
The Lakers and Suns will tip off at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.