The Los Angeles Lakers will take on an undermanned Phoenix Suns club in an attempt to recover from their season-opening defeat on Thursday. Bradley Beal and Devin Booker, two of the Suns’ big three, are not playing in Los Angeles’ home opener.
Beal, who was acquired by the Washington Wizards in an off-season trade, was also sidelined by lower back tightness on Tuesday during Phoenix’s 108-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors. With 32 points and 8 assists in the team’s victory over the Warriors, Booker was a standout player. However, he will be out against the Lakers due to a sore left foot.
The ever-effective Kevin Durant, who is just 37 points away from surpassing Hakeem Olajuwon for the No. 12 spot on the all-time scoring list, will still start for the Suns.
“I think when KD misses, it’s more so he missed,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said at shootaround Thursday when asked about guarding the Suns star. “You can play great defense, you can get a good contest, you can compete and try to make it harder for him, but he’s 7 foot with a 7-foot-15 wingspan. So anytime he shoots it, especially for me — 8-foot-3, what is that? — but anytime he releases it [the shot is unstoppable].
“I think I saw it was in the Finals when he was in Golden State, they paused at the top of his release and he was releasing it at like 10-2 or something. So he’s releasing it over the rim. For me, that’s impossible to get to, especially as I’m trying to play good defense. But you just try to make it hard for him. He’s a world-class player for a reason.”
On opening night, L.A. fell short against the Denver Nuggets 119-107.
The two main narratives to come out of the defeat were Anthony Davis’s scoreless second-half performance and the Lakers’ lackluster performance when LeBron James was sitting.
After going 0-for-6 after the interval, Davis said, “I got to shoot it more,” as he explained that the Nuggets had double-teamed him after the half.
“It’s tough sometimes because you want to stay spaced and give him the opportunity so when teams double, regardless of who it is, Bron or AD, then they have that opening to pass it,” Reaves said when asked how the Lakers can adjust. “I feel like we need to just cause a little more confusion on the backside so teams can’t load up.”
L.A.’s supporting cast will need to factor in more than just generating offensive movement because James’ playing time will be restricted to the 28–30 range this season by the franchise.
In the 29 minutes that James played in the first game, the Lakers outscored Denver by seven, which means that in the 19 minutes that James was on the bench, they were outscored by 19.
“When he’s off the court, I’ve got to be the guy like he’s been doing offense and defensively,” Rui Hachimura, who trained with James in the offseason, said Thursday. “He’s running around on the court — he’s got the physical [presence] to do that. So I’ve got do that more, especially when he’s off the court. That’s the thing the team wanted and [why] Bron talked about [me being his] ‘understudy.'”