Lakers' Complete Guide to 1st-Round Playoff Series vs. Suns

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 20, 2021

Lakers' Complete Guide to 1st-Round Playoff Series vs. Suns

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Bring on the Phoenix Suns.

    It took a ferocious comeback and a miracle make by LeBron James, but the Los Angeles Lakers have officially entered the 2021 NBA playoffs. Behind a 22-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double by James and 25 points and 12 rebounds from Anthony Davis, the Lakers survived to scratch out a 103-100 win over the Golden State Warriors despite 37 points and six three-pointers from Stephen Curry.

    With the win, the Lakers locked up the West's No. 7 seed and secured a first-round matchup against the Suns and James' close friend, Chris Paul.

    While Phoenix had the better season, L.A. holds a massive advantage in playoff experience. This should be fun.

    Let's break it down.

Series Schedule

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Game 1: Sunday, May 23 at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC

    Game 2: Tuesday, May 25 at 7 p.m. ET on TNT

    Game 3: Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. ET on TNT

    Game 4: Sunday, May 30 at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC

    Game 5*: Tuesday, June 1 at TBD on TBD

    Game 6*: Thursday, June 3 at TBD on TBD

    Game 7*: Saturday, June 5 at TBD on TBD

    *If necessary.

Key Matchups

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    While the Suns will have reasons to feel confident about this series, it's nevertheless a brutally unfortunate draw.

    Congrats on your first .700-plus winning percentage since 2007, Phoenix! Your reward is a first-round date with the defending champs.

    Phoenix has firepower, especially in the backcourt. Paul remains one of basketball's best floor generals. Devin Booker is a walking bucket who can shred nets from anywhere and punish smaller defenders in the post. Containing them will be a tricky puzzle for coach Frank Vogel and guards Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to solve.

    But what will the Suns try to throw at James and Davis? Mikal Bridges is a brilliant defender. He's also giving up three inches, 41 pounds and nearly 11,000 playoff minutes in this matchup. James played the Suns once this season. He burned them for 38 points on 67 percent shooting.

    Deandre Ayton has grown as a defender in each of the past two seasons. But he might still be powerless to stop Davis, who had 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks in his only game against Phoenix this season.


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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Throw a dart at the Lakers' roster, and as long as it lands on someone not named James or Davis, you have probably just hit on an X-factor.

    Saying that, Schroder has perhaps the biggest influence of any support player because of his roles. He simultaneously balances the labels of second playmaker, third scorer and defensive head of the snake.

    While he has done decently in all three roles, L.A. perhaps expected more production when it traded for him in November (and didn't trade for Kyle Lowry at the deadline). Schroder's move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Lakers was always bound to cost him some volume, but he ideally would have compensated with a rise in efficiency. Instead, he has shot worse from the field (46.9 to 43.7) and from three (38.5 to 33.5) than last year.

    On Wednesday night, he managed just 12 points on 14 shots and posted a game-worst minus-20 over his 30 minutes.

    Depending on how much Vogel utilizes his traditional centers, they could emerge as X-factors, too. While Davis at the 5 feels like the Lakers' trump card, they might want bigger bodies in the paint from time to time. It's up to Vogel, then, to figure out whether and when Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol should see the floor.

    The Suns' entire young nucleus could hold X-factor status given its collective lack of big-game experience. But Ayton might be the best choice for a few reasons.

    The better he is on the interior, the more it could force the Lakers to play big, which isn't their best lineup. Ayton could also see heavy minutes defending Davis, and if he loses the matchup by a wide margin, the Suns could do the same in this series.


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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    This is tough.

    The Suns are good. No, like, really stinkin' good. One team had a better winning percentage. Two had better net ratings (plus-5.9).

    But how do you not pick the Lakers here?

    Experience is on their side. James is on their side. Davis is on their side. The most recent matchup went their way by a 123-110 count even though James and Kyle Kuzma missed the contest.

    We don't want to short-change Phoenix, but L.A. just built a championship formula around this foundation last season. Don't blame us for liking the Lakers in this series; blame the basketball gods for not finding a better way to reward Phoenix's effort.

    Prediction: Lakers in six.