The defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns got their first regular-season win after beating the host Los Angeles Lakers 115-105 on Friday at the Staples Center.
The 10-point margin does not reflect Phoenix's dominance, as the Lakers trailed 94-67 entering the fourth before scoring garbage-time points.
Thanks largely to the starting lineup's efforts, the Suns outscored the Lakers 71-41 over the second and third quarters and led by as many as 32.
Chris Paul had 23 points and 14 assists, and Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21) complemented that scoring effort. Paul notably hit all 10 of his free throws, and Bridges went 8-of-11 from the field. Deandre Ayton added 15 rebounds.
It was an ugly night for L.A., which shot just 39.5 percent from the field.
LeBron James' 25 points led the way, and Russell Westbrook bounced back from a tough opening night with a near triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds, nine dimes).
Anthony Davis had an off-night with 22 points on 6-of-18 shooting and also got into a shoving match with backup center Dwight Howard on the sideline.
Howard spoke about the altercation postgame:
The 1-1 Suns lost 110-98 to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday to start the campaign. The 0-2 Lakers began the 2021-22 season with a 121-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.
Suns PG Chris Paul: 23 points, 14 assists
Suns SG Devin Booker: 22 points, five assists, four rebounds
Suns C Deandre Ayton: eight points, 15 rebounds, two steals
Lakers F LeBron James: 25 points, five assists
Lakers F/C Anthony Davis: 22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks
Lakers G Russell Westbrook: 15 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists
Paul-Led Starting Lineup Bounces Back Strong After Rough Opener
Phoenix's starting lineup struggled significantly in its opener versus Denver, with four of the five starters finishing with a minus-15 or worse. Jae Crowder had the "best" effort at minus-seven, and Booker ended the evening at minus-24.
Needless to say, the Western Conference champs are capable of much better, and they showed that on Friday evening.
This time around, everyone in the starting five finished with a positive plus-minus, and Bridges led the way at plus-13.
The Suns more or less put on a basketball clinic in L.A., with the Paul-Ayton combination doing work as usual:
CP3 reached a career milestone along the way, too, after knocking down a second-quarter free throw:
The rest of the team followed Paul's lead when it came to ball movement, as evidenced by this great teamwork leading to a Bridges corner three:
Sometimes, though, Paul just took care of things himself. He was in his bag on Friday, pulling out his usual tricks to stymie opposing defenses:
Paul ended up with 11 points and 10 assists at halftime alone, and the Suns more or less cruised from there. This team is certainly capable of making back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, especially if the ageless Paul continues to carve up opposing defenses in what's now his 17th NBA season.
Disastrous Night for the Lakers
Here's the good news for the Lakers: This season is only two games old, it's still October and there are 80 games left.
Here's the bad news for the Lakers: Absolutely nothing has gone right for this team so far.
Even Lakers legend Magic Johnson is sounding some alarm bells, noting the Davis-Howard dust-up too:
It's been an ugly start for a Lakers team that has allowed 118 points per game to start the 2021-22 campaign. The Warriors' attack carved up L.A.'s defense for 121 points in Game 1 as Westbrook struggled to find his footing in the Lakers' offense.
Westbrook fared better in Game 2, but the defense didn't follow suit as L.A. had no answers for anything Paul did on the court. He was a maestro on Friday with the Lakers defense bending to his will.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are offering up memories to the 2012-13 version of the team, a star-studded crew that featured Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta Sandiford-Artest and Dwight Howard.
That team did not work out, going 45-37 and getting swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
We certainly don't know this team's fate, but we do know that the schedule is going to lighten up a bit. Six of L.A.'s next seven games are against teams that did not post winning records last year.
A strong run through that group can wash away some criticism for now, but stumbles along the way could sound even more alarm bells as a mid-November Eastern Conference road trip featuring the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and the 2-0 New York Knicks looms large.
L.A. will close out a three-game homestand by welcoming the Memphis Grizzlies into town on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Phoenix will end their two-game road trip on Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers at 10 p.m.