NBA Big Game Focus: Lakers reach point of no return as Suns leave them in the shade

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Back-to-back defeats have left the defending champions with no more wiggle room if they hope to have a chance of making the last four in the Western Conference.

The Lakers progressing past this point seemed highly likely when they went 2-1 up. However, since then they have slipped up at home and then suffered a blow-out loss on the road.

LeBron James did not hang around to watch the end of Tuesday’s 115-85 loss in Phoenix, heading to the locker room late during the fourth quarter.

James scored 24 points but the absence of the injured Anthony Davis left the four-time MVP fighting a lone hand, albeit the contest looked over by half-time with the Suns well clear after holding their opponents to just 10 points in the second quarter.

The final margin of victory marked the first time in NBA history that the reigning champions had lost by 30 or more points in the opening round.

The only concern for Phoenix was Chris Paul’s shoulder, the point guard aggravating the injury he suffered back in Game 1. They will hope he is fit to feature on Thursday, though the second seeds in the West have two opportunities to close the series out.

As for the Lakers, they will hope Davis’ groin issue is cleared up to a point that he can at least be involved at the Staples Center.

James, however, is focusing on the prospect of being without his team-mate once more, making sure he is ready for the worst-case scenario of knowing he will once more have to carry the majority of the offensive workload without the eight-time All-Star in the line-up.

“My mindset is that he’s not going be able to play in Game 6. That’s my mindset,” James told the media after Game 5. “And if something changes, then we go from there. But I’m preparing as if he’s not.”

Something needs to change for the Lakers, or else their 2020-21 season is over far earlier than they hoped.

TOP PERFORMERS

Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns

After two quiet games by his usual standards, Booker burst back into life with 30 points in Game 5. The shooting guard is at a lowly 28.2 per cent success rate from three-point range in the series but is still averaging 26.2 points per outing. With Paul potentially out or at best still not fully fit, Booker’s role becomes even more crucial.

Dennis Schroder – Los Angeles Lakers

James needs help or else the Lakers’ hopes of a repeat are over. Schroder went 0-for-9 shooting last time out, as well as failing to have an attempt from the free-throw line. After 58 points combined through the first three meetings with the Suns, he has managed eight points in the past two.

KEY BATTLE – A case for the defense, perhaps?

The Lakers finished the regular season with the best defense in the NBA. That honour came despite both Davis and James missing considerable time, while several members of the supporting cast also sat out games due to injuries and the NBA’s health and safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the recent lack of offense is obviously a concern for Vogel and his staff, so too will be the manner in which Phoenix were allowed to score with ease to pull clear in the first half on Tuesday.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers hold a 40-27 lead in playoffs in meetings with the Suns. Still, the only number that concerns Phoenix is one, as that is how many wins they now require to seal a place in round two.

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