Win-Win: Lakers and Suns Play for Ping-Pong Balls

By: John Lu


The Lakers and Suns square off in the final matchup of their season series – with Phoenix holding a 2-1 lead. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have lost six games in a row (in addition to two other losses right before the break) while the Suns have won three out of seven games. This game will likely have important draft lottery implications, as both teams are among the worst in the league. The Lakers are currently second to last in the standings with a 55.8% chance of securing a top-3 draft pick.


In the last meeting between the two teams, the Suns blew out the Lakers by 36 points in a 137-101 affair, shooting an absurd 55.7% from the field while doubling up the Lakers’ assists total (32 to 16). The Lakers have struggled to stop the Suns starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker during the previous three matchups. We have previously written a preview article highlighting them – check it out here. In addition to focusing on stopping those two, the Lakers also need to be watching out for the other emerging players on the Suns team.


Beware of Marquese


Why it Worked: In this play, Devin Booker attacks immediately off of the catch at the three-point line. He drives into the paint and attracts three Pelican defenders onto himself. As the defense collapses, Chriss catches his defender off guard and cuts from the three-point line to right in front of the basket. He does a great job of catching the Booker hook pass and keeping the ball high to avoid the steal attempt from Holiday. Then he finishes with a two-handed slam.


How to Adjust: Chriss has dramatically improved his offensive level of play since the All-Star break. In the seven games post-break, he has averaged 11.3 points on 63.2% true shooting. He has a knack for cutting to the rim, as 19.3% of his field goal makes are dunks (64.6% are assisted). Despite his offensive prowess around the rim, he has shot a pedestrian 46.2% from the free-throw line in the past seven games. As a result, it may be beneficial for the defense to foul him and send him to the free-throw line instead of allowing uncontested attempts at the rim.


The Suns Bench Mob


Why it Worked: In this play, Tyler Ulis catches his defender anticipating the screen to the left and drives in the other direction to move past him. Then he uses a hesitation dribble to penetrate further into the paint and passes around Felicio to the rolling Alan Williams for an easy layup. Since the All Star break, the Suns bench dual of Ulis and Williams are averaging a combined 23.7 points per game while both shooting above 50% from the field.


How to Adjust: The Lakers bench rotation has changed significantly with the departure of Lou Williams and the arrival of Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis. As a result, the new bench unit will need to focus on communication to minimize the offensive effectiveness of Ulis and Williams. The Lakers players must focus on tagging Williams on the roll as 93.8% of his field goal attempts come from within 10 feet of the rim. At the same time, Ulis is converting just 42.9% of his attempts from less than three feet from the rim; hence his perimeter defender should rely on the defense behind him to protect the rim.


Notes: The Suns are 13-19 at home while the Lakers are 7-27 on the road this season. The Suns (3rd) and Lakers (6th) are among the fastest pace teams in the league while both having bottom-tier defensive efficacies (Suns 26th and Lakers 29th). In the 6 games since the All-Star break, D’Angelo Russell is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds on 55.1% true shooting in 32.8 minutes per game. In the same span, Brandon Ingram is averaging 11.7 points, 2.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds on 51.4% true shooting in 36.0 minutes per game.