The Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers' winning streak was short-lived.
The Phoenix Suns defeated Los Angeles 114-104 in Tuesday's potential Western Conference playoff preview at Staples Center. Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges led the way for the victors, who improved to 23-11 overall and 6-1 in their last seven with their third straight win.
Devin Booker also played well before he was ejected in the third quarter.
An impressive showing by LeBron James was not enough for the Lakers, whose two-game winning streak ended. They fell to 24-12 overall and 2-5 in their last seven.
Notable Player Stats
- Dario Saric, F, PHO: 21 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST
- Devin Booker, G, PHO: 17 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB, 3 STL
- Mikal Bridges, F, PHO: 19 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST
- Deandre Ayton, C, PHO: 17 PTS, 5 REB
- LeBron James, F, LAL: 38 PTS, 6 AST, 5 REB, 2 STL
- Dennis Schroder, G, LAL: 17 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB
Balanced Effort Helps Suns Survive Booker Ejection
The Suns haven't made the playoffs since the 2009-10 season, but they're poised to snap that streak this year. Heading into Tuesday, they had already proved themselves against some of the league's best in victories over the Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
Tuesday was their first of three shots at the defending champions, and they seized the opportunity to send a message and further establish themselves as legitimate contenders.
Booker started sending that message out of the gates. The All-Star guard poured in 15 points in the first half by getting out in transition and creating looks for both himself and others in the lane. He and Chris Paul kept the ball moving with a combined 10 assists by intermission, which kept the supporting cast involved.
Bridges, Saric, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson all found their stroke from outside, and Ayton battled against a depleted Lakers frontcourt to help the Suns quickly seize momentum.
A lead did not prevent frustration with the officials from becoming an issue, though. Booker was ejected in the third quarter when he was questionably issued two quick technical fouls.
Booker led the way for the Suns before he was tossed, which put more of the onus on Paul and his teammates to hold the lead down the stretch.
That wasn't a problem, in large part because the Suns drained 16 three-pointers and had five players with at least 15 points. Saric also led a strong bench effort, which allowed them to remain ahead even though Paul made only one field goal and Booker was missing for most of the second half.
The supporting cast leading the way on the road against the defending champions is a welcome sign that Phoenix is deep enough to compete with the league's best teams during the stretch run.
Shorthanded Lakers Outmatched in Latest Loss
This was not the same version of the Lakers that the Suns and the rest of the Western Conference will have to worry about come playoff time.
Not only was Davis out, but Marc Gasol and Kyle Kuzma were also sidelined. That moved Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris into the starting lineup, which weakened the bench unit.
It's safe to say fans won't see Jared Dudley playing in the first quarter once the playoffs begin.
Despite being shorthanded, the Lakers battled all night. Talen Horton-Tucker provided a spark off the bench, Dennis Schroder hit multiple threes and darted through the defense, and James did what he always does while filling up the stat sheet.
Phoenix had no answer when LeBron steamrolled his way through the lane and backed down smaller defenders, which helped keep the Lakers within striking distance.
While Morris also asserted himself as a secondary scorer alongside Horton-Tucker and Schroder, the Purple and Gold once again relied on James to carry the offense like he has all season. He did everything he could while remaining aggressive to keep his team close so he could potentially take over in crunch time.
Not even the King could will the Lakers into that position by the end, though, as they remained behind for essentially the entire game and didn't have the firepower to keep pace with Phoenix's balanced attack.
The Lakers will visit the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, while the Suns will host the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.