Anthony Davis and Karl Deandre Ayton

Lakers vs. Suns, Three Things to Know: May 9, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (37-30) face the Suns (48-19) in Los Angeles on Sunday evening. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE HEALTH MAKES
In the 2020-21 season, here are the games missed to starters:

Lakers: 83
Suns: 11

That should go pretty far to explaining the respective team’s difference in the standings, particularly as its been L.A.’s two best players that have missed the most time. Anthony Davis has played in 32 of L.A.’s 67 games, and LeBron 43. On the flip side, Chris Paul has started 66 of 67 games, and Devin Booker 63, while Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges have each played all 67.

DOMINANT DAVIS
Davis is back, however, and he’s coming off perhaps his best game of the season, a 36-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist effort on an efficient 12 of 23 field goals and 10 of 15 free throw attempts. The 15 free throw attempts – a season high – alone were quite telling, as they showed a specific level of aggression. His previous high in attempts was 10. Though he played just nine minutes against the Clippers due to back spasms, AD’s previous game against Denver was also quite strong, as he went for 25 points with seven boards and three blocks, and made some of his patented great defensive plays at the rim, which carried over to Portland as well.

Getting Davis back to that level is one of two musts for the Lakers moving towards the playoffs. The other, of course, is getting LeBron back. He’s listed as out for Sunday’s game, though we’ll likely get an update from Frank Vogel in his media session.

POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND MATCHUP?
As things currently sit in the standings, the Suns would play the Lakers in Round 1 of the playoffs. Of course, that comes with a bunch of ifs: IF PHX stays in the No. 2 spot, IF the Lakers stay at No. 7 and IF the Lakers were to win the first play-in game between the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.

Like I said, that’s a lot of ifs.

To dig a bit deeper, at the top of the conference, the Suns trail Utah by 1.5 games, but they do have the tiebreaker due to a 3-0 sweep of the season series. PHX closes the season with LAL, at GSW, POR, and at SAS twice. The Jazz, meanwhile, play at GSW, POR, at OKC and at SAC. So if Utah goes 4-0, they’re the 1. If they go 3-1, PHX would have to go 5-0 to get the No. 1 seed. If Utah goes 2-2, PHX could go 4-1. Considering the opposition and their current lead, the Jazz have an edge.

Meanwhile, current 5th seed Dallas – holders of the tiebreaker over the Lakers – could go 5-0, 4-1 or 3-2 and lock themselves ahead of LAL, and if they went 2-3, LAL would need to go 5-0. If they improbably went 1-4, LAL could catch them by going 4-1.

Now, based on opponent win percentage, Portland has the 4th-toughest remaining schedule, and LAL the 17th, but the Blazers obviously have the edge after their narrow win over shorthanded LAL on Friday. Damian Lillard and Co. play HOU, at UTA, at PHX and DEN.

If POR goes 4-0 or 3-1, they’ll stay in the 6 seed regardless of what LAL do. If they go 2-2, LAL can overtake them by going 5-0. If the Blazers go 1-3, LAL could go 4-1 and take sixth, while in the unlikelihood that POR goes 0-4, LAL could go 3-2.

And so, after all that, the most likely scenario at this moment would be the Suns staying at No. 2 and the Lakes No. 7 with a play-in date with the No. 8 seed … but we’ll see. That’s why they play the games!

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