Montrezl Harrell looks to pass vs Phoenix

Lakers vs. Suns, Three Things to Know: March 2, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (24-11) carry a 2-game winning streak into their first meeting of the season against the Suns (22-11), also winners of two straight, for a 7:00 p.m. tip off on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know in advance of the matchup:

ALL-STAR BACKCOURT
L.A. is fresh off consecutive games of excellent defense against All-Star point guards Damian Lillard of Portland and Steph Curry of Golden State, in which they deployed frequent traps to force respective teammates to try and beat a fast, scrambling defense. But with the addition of Chris Paul, the Suns have a pair of All-Stars, making it more difficult to focus the attention of the defense on either CP3 or Devin Booker, who’s fresh off a 43-point effort at Minnesota.

The Lakers did execute a strong blueprint in Round 1 of last year’s postseason against Portland, who had CJ McCollum as a threat on the weak side of the floor for Lillard. Booker, however, has a few inches on McCollum, and is a harder cover on drives to the rim. They also dealt with James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Round 2, but Westbrook isn’t near the shooting threat of either of Phoenix’s guards. L.A. does at least have the benefit of Dennis Schroder’s return to the lineup; the German PG helped LAL snap their 4-game losing streak, and the Lakers have won 10 of the previous 11 games in which he’s played.

LEBRON’S DEFENSE
As much as Schroder’s return has been a boost, the biggest reason for L.A.’s last two wins was the play of LeBron James, starting with his command of the defensive end of the court. From the start of the game against Portland, he was both flying around off the basketball, standing his man up on the ball, and calling out coverages for his teammates. He had four steals and three blocks for the 7th time in his career (plus four in the postseason) in the 102-93 win against Portland, and two more of each in just 24 minutes of a 117-91 blowout of the Warriors.

Such is LeBron’s dominance on offense, and the prevalence of highlight plays from that end, that there’s always been less focus upon his defense. With that said, perhaps the most important play of his career was the chase down block of Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals, and it was his intensity on the defensive end from the start of the 2019-20 season that set the tone for L.A.’s identity that lasted through the Bubble, and into this season, as they continue to hold the league’s No. 1 DEF EFF rating. It’s also significant that L.A. were able to find a way to excel on the defensive end without Anthony Davis, perhaps the league’s most talented defensive player.

Davis went off for 35 points in just 30 minutes in the second of two preseason Lakers wins over Phoenix, hitting 11 of 16 FG’s and 6 of 7 3’s plus three blocks and two steals.

SUNS NOTES:
Via Lakers.com’s Joey Ramirez:

- Have won 14 of their last 17 games.
- 4th in defensive rating (108.5) and 8th in offensive rating (114.4). One of two teams in the top 10 for both (UTA).
- 2nd-slowest pace (97.8 possessions), next to NYK (96.8).
- 3rd in point differential (+5.9; tied LAC), behind UTA (+9.7) and MIL (+7.5).
- 2nd in FT% (83.3), behind LAC (84.0); but last in FTA (18.3) and 3rd-fewest FTM (15.3).
- Holding opponents to the 4th-fewest points (107.5), next to NYK (104.0), LAL (105.6) and UTA (106.5).
- Holding opponents to a league-low 11.0 opponent 3PM. Next is UTA (11.1).
- Holding opponents to the 2nd-lowest 3P% (34.3), next to NYK (32.5).
- Allows the 3rd-fewest points off turnovers (15.0; tied DAL).
- 3rd-fewest steals (6.5).
- 3rd in corner 3s (4.4) and 3rd in corner 3 percentage (44.0%). Mikal Bridges (37; 4th) and Cameron Johnson (36; 5th) are both among the top 5 in individual corner 3s.
- 3rd in mid-range baskets (6.9) and 5th in mid-range percentage (45.3).
- Leads NBA in percentage in the non-restricted paint (51.5%), far ahead of BKN (47.0%).
- Makes the 3rd-fewest baskets in the restricted area (14.6).

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