The NBA Playoffs officially begin on Saturday, despite fans being able to enjoy four play-in games. Throughout the playoffs, TGH will be previewing the matchups as they are set, and predicting the winners debuting before each series’ tip-off. Here is a preview and prediction of the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns first round series.
The Suns went from winning every game in the 2020 NBA bubble and still missing the playoffs to owning the league’s second-best regular season record. In Chris Paul’s first full season in Phoenix, the team put up a 51-21 record.
Their points per game ranked seventh out of 30 teams, at 115.3. On the other side of the ball, Phoenix did not slouch, either, holding opponents to 109.5 points per game, which was also seventh in the NBA. Devin Booker continued to be one of the best scorers in the NBA, putting up 25.6 points per game, while Paul quarterbacked the offense, racking up almost nine assists per game. Other stat leaders included Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
Coach Monty Williams combined with on-court coach Chris Paul, have the Suns back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Meanwhile, Paul is receiving legitimate MVP discussion for being the key to the Suns’ return to the postseason. Despite being the second seed, though, they have an extremely difficult matchup in the first round.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were the team to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the 2020 NBA bubble. Their veteran team was able to keep their composure in unprecedented circumstances, almost cruising to a 17th NBA championship for the franchise.
Their title defense season, though, has been tumultuous. Los Angeles has been marred by injuries, especially and most importantly to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James played in 45 of 72 games, while Davis played in just 36. Their absences led to the Lakers going from NBA Champions to the play-in tournament, with a record of 42-30, which was seventh in the Western Conference.
The offense struggled, while the defense remained one of the NBA’s best. Their points per game sat at 109.5, which was 22nd of 30. However, they held opposing teams to 106.8 points per game, which was second-best in the league. Regardless, Los Angeles had to face LeBron’s old rival, the Golden State Warriors in the 2021 Play-In Tournament.
Thanks to a late three-pointer by James, the Lakers downed the Warriors, regardless of their poor first half performance. That win earned them the right to face the two-seed Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are the Suns’ big three. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder round out the core to the tune of excellent team work and ball movement. Booker is an absolute lights-out shooter who will never pass up an opportunity to fill up the bucket, Ayton comes up huge on both ends of the floor and Paul will pass the ball to the exact spot at which it needs to be.
The Lakers, though, have a player named LeBron James. And, sometimes, that is all you need. He has willed Cavaliers teams to the finals by himself at least twice, he is the ultimate teammate, as he led the league in assists last year and he can still score. Rest assured every player on that team will be coached up by LeBron to their highest potential.
Anthony Davis reportedly does not like playing at the five, but the Lakers are most efficient when he does that. He will be the only person that will be able to go point-for-point with Ayton, so expect to see him a lot at the center position. Drummond will not be a factor in this series. Meanwhile, James will probably try to stop Booker from scoring, as he can guard any position on the floor.
All-in-all, the Lakers may be beaten up and may be the lower seed, but this team is full of veterans and other players with grit who know how to win (i.e. Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol). It is hard to imagine a team full of players in their first-ever playoff series beating a LeBron-led team.
Prediction: Lakers win (4-1)
Featured Image courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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