With the fourth seed locked up and the team coming off a back-to-back, the Suns had no incentive to play their stars as Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton all sat.
Even shorthanded, the Suns put up a fight in a game the Lakers simply couldn't afford to lose. The score was close throughout until the Lakers finally took control with a strong third quarter finish.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis performing well below their season averages it was the other players who had to shine.
D’Angelo Russell got hot in the fourth and led all scorers with 24 points. Malik Beasley caught fire from three shooting 40% from deep and contributed 21 points off the bench. And Austin Reaves continues to add more impressive film to his highlight reel with a 22 point performance on Friday.
The Lakers did themselves no favors with a lackadaisical opening half where they allowed the Suns to stay in the game and even take the lead. James settled for jumpers and only had one basket in the paint. The team allowed open shots and were out rebounded 31-23 by their smaller opposition. They trailed 62-61 heading into halftime.
The only bright spots during the opening quarters were Russell and Beasley. Russell was efficient from the field, converting on six of his first nine attempts for 15 points. And after a cold stretch of games, Beasley finally caught fire, nailing three of his chances from behind the arc in the first half.
The Lakers still couldn’t gain significant ground on the Suns at the start of the third quarter. After taking a four-point advantage after a James’ three, they gave it right back as Phoenix made a run to regain the lead at the midway point.
Fortunately, the team finished the quarter strong behind some key rebounds from Davis, Beasley hitting more jumpers and even Troy Brown Jr. getting in on the fun.
In the fourth, an 11-0 run helped extend the advantage for the purple and gold as James finally settled into a rhythm. Entering the final frame with just nine points, James scored seven in the last 12 minutes to end the night with a modest 16 points.
With the Lakers finally having the game in their hands, it was Russell’s three straight threes that helped put the bow on the win.
With only one game left in the regular season, it all comes down to Sunday as there is still much to be decided.
The Lakers can technically get to the sixth seed, but they’ll need to beat the Jazz along with the Warriors dropping their final game to the Trailblazers and the Pelicans losing to the Timberwolves. Regardless of the outcomes, we will be here to cover the final game, the play-in or the first-round matchup to come.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.