LeBron James' 22 Points Lead Lakers to Blowout Win vs. Deandre Ayton, Suns

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 2: Josh Hart #3 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers hi-five on December 2, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Phoenix Suns suffered their fifth straight defeat, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 120-96 on Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

LeBron James finished with 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists. Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram chipped in with 23 and 15 points.

Suns rookie Deandre Ayton had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season, while Devin Booker was limited to 17 minutes because of an injury, scoring six points and dishing out two assists.


Building Big Leads Crucial to Managing LeBron's Workload

There will be games when the Lakers are facing playoff contenders and need James to play 40 minutes or more in order to pull out a hard-fought victory. Los Angeles can't ask that of him every night, though, and beating up on inferior opposition is one way to lighten his workload.

James played 31 minutes Sunday and didn't step on the floor at all in the fourth quarter.

LeBron had to work hard to help the Lakers rebound after a first quarter in which the Suns built a 31-21 lead. Phoenix was up 17 points at one point in the opening frame.

Then came Los Angeles's 40-point second quarter.

Shane Young @YoungNBA

Lakers outscored Phoenix 40-15 in the second, and now lead by 15. Go home, Suns

The Lakers headed into the locker room after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a three-pointer from the corner off an assist by James.


LeBron knew KCP was hitting this halftime buzzer-beater! 🔥 #LakeShow https://t.co/l94fTCkdxJ

That comeback allowed Los Angeles to coast a bit in the third quarter before James sat for the final 12 minutes.

James is good about conserving his energy over the course of the regular season in preparation for the postseason, and his 34.8 minutes per game this year would be a career low. That the Lakers aren't pushing LeBron in the same way the Cleveland Cavaliers did over the past two seasons—when he led the NBA in minutes per game—is one of the more encouraging aspects of his start in L.A.


Devin Booker's Hamstring Injury Could Disrupt Deandre Ayton's Development

Booker didn't play at all after injuring his hamstring shortly before halftime.

The Suns announced he was questionable to return, which could allay some fears about the severity of the injury. As The Athletic's Gina Mizell noted, however, this wasn't the first time that hamstring flared up:

Gina Mizell @ginamizell

Per #Suns, Devin Booker (left hamstring) is questionable to return to this game. Same hamstring that he originally hurt the last time Phoenix faced the Lakers. Elie Okobo is starting the second half for the Suns.

Gina Mizell @ginamizell

As of last week, Booker was still getting treatment on that left hamstring basically a month after it occurred. He appeared to re-aggravate it chasing a ball out of bounds late in the second quarter. #Suns

Losing Booker for an extended stretch wouldn't change the Suns' trajectory this season since they're still one of the NBA's worst teams even when he's on the court. More important for Phoenix is what his absence would do for Ayton.

Bereft of better options, the Suns have experimented with Booker at point guard. By releasing Isaiah Canaan, the team committed further to the strategy.

Now, Phoenix could be looking at Elie Okobo as its starting point guard, which would be less than ideal with a young center who's largely dependent on getting fed inside for his offense. According to Basketball Reference, 51.9 percent of Ayton's field goals were from within three feet of the basket entering Sunday.

That concern goes back to draft night, when some feared the Suns' point guard situation would hinder Ayton on the offensive end. Head coach Igor Kokoskov found a workable solution by moving Booker around in the backcourt.

Now, Kokoskov and his staff might have to go back to the drawing board to ensure Ayton doesn't get stuck on an island in the paint.


What's Next?

The Lakers will look to notch their fourth straight win Wednesday at home against the San Antonio Spurs. Phoenix returns home for a matchup with the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.


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