Talen Horton-Tucker layup vs Phoenix

LAL at PHX, Preseason Game No. 2, Three Things to Know

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers face the Suns in their second preseason game of the 2021-22 season, with tipoff scheduled for 3 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
OUT: LeBron James (rest), Russell Westbrook (rest) and Trevor Ariza (ankle)
IN: Everybody else

Frank Vogel told us after Tuesday’s practice that LeBron and Westbrook wouldn’t yet make their debut this preseason at Phoenix, though he didn’t rule them out for Friday’s contest at Golden State. However, Anthony Davis will play, and Carmelo Anthony will make his Lakers preseason debut after resting in the opener on Sunday against Brooklyn.

LAST YEAR’S PLAYOFF MATCHUP
It was less than four months ago that the 7th-seeded Lakers faced the 2nd-seeded Suns in Round 1 of the 2021 playoffs, and L.A. had built a 2-1 advantage after a Game 3 win at Phoenix, stealing home court to reset the seeding after their injury-plagued regular season. But then in Game 4, Davis went down with a groin injury, and Phoenix won three straight games to take the series.

The Suns will of course feel great about their victory regardless, but L.A. can certainly be forgiven for feeling like they’d have won the series had they merely stayed healthy. Of course, their health in general was an issue all season after being the lone Western Conference team to play through Oct. 11, the date L.A. won Game 6 of the NBA Finals, which as a result allowed them just two months off before the start of the next regular season.

I’ve called it the Bubble Tax. Miami (0-4 to MIL) and Boston (1-4 to BKN), the two Eastern Conference finalists in the Bubble, both lost in Round 1 in 2021, while LAL’s 2020 WCF opponent, Denver, managed to beat a banged up Portland team in Round 1 before being swept by Phoenix in Round 2.

This season, it’s Phoenix that had the shortest offseason in the West, coming off a year in which they were the conference’s healthiest team. We’ll see if that has any impact on the coming campaign.

LINEUP CONSISTENCY?
Throughout training camp, Vogel has used all kinds of different combinations of players surrounding the three stars. When they go big, it may have been DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore alongside LeBron, AD and Westbrook. On Tuesday, they went small, with AD at the five, ‘Melo at the four and Malik Monk in the backcourt next to Westbrook.

The experimentation will continue in the two weeks to follow, but Vogel doesn’t want to keep doing that once the regular season starts, when he hopes to settle upon a base group.

“I don’t want to really get into a situation where we’re changing lineups on a regular basis,” he said. “Hopefully when we start the season we can settle into our base look, and then audible from time to time if needed, but I don’t want to be changing every other game.”

What that base group is remains an open question, but whether Vogel decides to start big or small, we know he’s most likely to end games with Davis at the 5, which has been their most effective closing group. His quote does tell us that he’s likely to look at the opponent on a give night and match up with them, in favor of getting a regular rotation as established as possible.

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