LeBron James, Lakers Fall to 0-2 with Loss to Devin Booker, Suns

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIOctober 23, 2021

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles past Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

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.

ESPN @espn

Things got chippy between Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis on the Lakers’ bench. <a href="https://t.co/oZBhQ0MV7q">pic.twitter.com/oZBhQ0MV7q</a>

Howard spoke about the altercation postgame:

Mike Trudell @LakersReporter

Dwight Howard on the argument with AD on the bench in the 2nd Q, which he said came from a disagreement on the court: “We already squashed it. That's my brother. We're good.” <br><br>Added: “We all understand that we have to stay humble and stay positive.”

Kyle Goon @kylegoon

Dwight Howard said that he and Anthony Davis squashed their spat on the sideline right after it happened. <a href="https://t.co/qvZDF6dgPY">pic.twitter.com/qvZDF6dgPY</a>

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.


Notable Performances:

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:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

DA all day 😤 <a href="https://t.co/NLKhBEctSJ">pic.twitter.com/NLKhBEctSJ</a>

Phoenix Suns @Suns

feed him 😈 <a href="https://t.co/gYhbNcBfXb">pic.twitter.com/gYhbNcBfXb</a>

CP3 reached a career milestone along the way, too, after knocking down a second-quarter free throw:


Chris Paul knocks down the free throw to reach 20,000 career points!<br><br>He becomes the only player in <a href="https://twitter.com/NBAHistory?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBAHistory</a> with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists. <a href="https://t.co/E2ryTafiz9">pic.twitter.com/E2ryTafiz9</a>

Phoenix Suns @Suns

The Point God makes <a href="https://twitter.com/NBA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBA</a> HISTORY.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ValleyProud?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ValleyProud</a> <a href="https://t.co/jtAYbL0V8I">pic.twitter.com/jtAYbL0V8I</a>

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:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

ball movement 💯 <a href="https://t.co/CV0POAj5vt">pic.twitter.com/CV0POAj5vt</a>

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:


CP3 has been going to this for 17 years.<br><br>📺: ESPN <a href="https://t.co/n0MIitBXk6">pic.twitter.com/n0MIitBXk6</a>

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.

StatMuse @statmuse

Lakers this season:<br><br>— 0-2 record<br>— Bottom 10 offense<br>— Bottom 10 FG%<br>— Bottom 10 rebounding<br>— Bottom 10 net rating<br>— First time ever starting 0-2 at home <a href="https://t.co/jR15Wo2fsN">pic.twitter.com/jR15Wo2fsN</a>

Even Lakers legend Magic Johnson is sounding some alarm bells, noting the Davis-Howard dust-up too:

Earvin Magic Johnson @MagicJohnson

The <a href="https://twitter.com/Lakers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Lakers</a> have a team issue and basketball issue.

Earvin Magic Johnson @MagicJohnson

Dwight Howard and AD got into a physical altercation on the bench…in my 42 years of being associated with the Lakers organization, I’ve never seen something like that smh

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.

Harrison Faigen @hmfaigen

It would be really nice if this team could stop giving us reasons to compare them to the 2012-13 version. <a href="https://t.co/8rJQZ0aiP0">https://t.co/8rJQZ0aiP0</a>

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.


What's Next?

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.


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