Lakers can't match the Suns at the finish in loss on the road

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

PHOENIX — The road through the Western Conference is a narrowing path and, ultimately, there will be room for the Lakers or the Suns. Not both.

Maybe because of the familiarity — Kevin Durant and LeBron James battling for parts of three decades, a Suns coaching staff that owns championship rings with the Lakers or an unconventional fifth meeting this season between the teams — Sunday's game felt like it had extra heft.

Success or failure for these Pacific Division rivals won't be judged in late February, particularly as both teams struggled to get (and stay) healthy for any meaningful stretch this season.

For 48 minutes Sunday, the Lakers and the Suns played a regular-season game that felt like it had actual stakes, both teams shortening their benches and letting their best players stay on the court to fight.

The swings in the 123-113 Lakers loss were wild. The Lakers trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter as the Suns scored 45 points in the opening 12 minutes. No team this year had punished the Lakers' defense like that in the first all season.

Only four teams have scored more than 45 points in the first quarter this season.

"You never want to start the game off like that, obviously," Austin Reaves said. "But it puts you in a tough situation where you almost have to play perfect the rest of the game."

Thanks to LeBron James, D'Angelo Russell and a slow-to-find-rhythm Anthony Davis, the Lakers got to within two points in the third quarter and five in the fourth, but the reservoir of big shots just ran dry while the Suns continued to make theirs.

With a chance to cut the lead back to two early in the fourth, Russell ran to the corner in front of the Suns bench and got a wide-open look.


He missed.

Phoenix ran after collecting the rebound and Grayson Allen hit a corner three to cool things off.

Then, later in the fourth with the Lakers down six, James drove into traffic and saw his shot rim in and out. The Suns, on their next possession, converted another Allen three. The Lakers and Reaves had a chance to answer, but he missed a shot and Royce O'Neale, a player some in the Lakers' front office coveted at the trade deadline, hit his sixth three of the game.

O'Neale and Allen combined to make 12 of 22 from three, more than making up for the slow-ish games from Devin Booker and Durant.

James scored 28 to go with 12 assists. Davis had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Russell added 20 points and seven assists.

All five Suns starters had at least 18 points.

The Lakers have now lost twice since winning six out of seven heading into the All-Star break. They play the Clippers on Wednesday.

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