Best lead actor in a drama series LeBron James became the butt of a lot of jokes on Twitter for writhing around in pain as he tried to sell a foul on Chris Paul in Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Maybe the worst acting job of all was LBJ as the leader of the Lakers in the 99-90 loss.
LeBron had 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting as Phoenix took a 1-0 series lead. The Suns will look to defend home court once again and extend the lead to 2-0 on Tuesday night with a 10 p.m. ET tip-off in the desert. The Lakers are favored by 1.5 points with a low total of 209 at BetOnline Sportsbook in the middle game on the May 25 playoff slate.
Los Angeles Lakers
Thirty-one points. That is all that LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined to score in 75 minutes played in Game 1. LeBron had 18 of those and Davis had 13. For frame of reference, Phoenix’s Devin Booker scored 34 points on his own on Sunday afternoon.
It goes without saying that the Lakers will need more from their two stars. Six Lakers wound up in double figures, actually led by the 18 from James, who also had 10 assists. It just looked like the Lakers, who haven’t played a lot with a full roster because of injuries, were disjointed, frustrated, and out of sync throughout the entire game. They left 11 points at the free throw line going 17-of-28 at the stripe with 16 more attempts than the Suns.
The Lakers were just 7-of-26 from deep in the game and just 33-of-76 from the floor overall for a 43.4% success rate. The Lakers shot just 31.6% from the floor when LeBron rested. They shot 47.4% from the floor while he was out there. He only sat for about 12 minutes, but the Lakers were -11 when he wasn’t on the floor and +2 when he was.
That means a big ask for him as it seems like the ankle is still some sort of issue. In general this season, the Lakers shot 45.8% without him on the floor and 49.1% with him. That is the problem with having to focus so heavily on one player. His supporting cast in Los Angeles is on par with some of the bad ones that he had with the Cavs. At least he wasn’t suspended for violating the league’s COVID protocols.
Shy of LBJ playing 44+ minutes in Game 2, it is fair to wonder how the Lakers can rebound. Anthony Davis has not looked great. Andre Drummond is not enough of a scoring threat, though his defensive presence is important. Dennis Schroder has been pretty bad. What changes for the Lakers in Game 2?
The Suns can’t afford to rest on their laurels, though. They did win Game 1, largely on the strength of a really good first quarter. Deandre Ayton had a huge night with 21 points and 16 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting, but he and Booker accounted for just under 54% of the Suns’ points. Somebody else will have to assist Booker in Tuesday night’s game.
Phoenix also had a rough night shooting from distance, as the Suns were just 9-of-28 from three. For a team that shot 37.8% from three during the regular season, it was a big departure. On the plus side, it was good to get a win while not having a strong offensive performance with long jumpers. The Suns also shoot a lot of midrange twos, so any win they can get without being at their best on offense is huge.
Phoenix focuses a lot on defending the three-point line. Opponents only made 35.4% of their three-point attempts during the season. That was fifth-best in the NBA. The Suns, however, ranked in the bottom half of the league defending twos. That sort of played out in Game 1, as the Lakers were 26-of-50 on twos, but 52% was still better than how the Suns did on the regular at 53.5%.
With LeBron on the floor, the Lakers got it inside a lot and had success. They were 15-of-21 on shots within five feet. Without LeBron, they were 3-for-6 in the 12 minutes he didn’t play. The Suns may have to make that adjustment for Game 2, especially if LeBron sees some more playing time.
While there will be a lot of talk about what LeBron and AD didn’t do, how about what Chris Paul didn’t do? Paul dealt with some discomfort in Game 1, but only had seven points in 36 minutes. He’s said to be good for Game 2, but the smart money is that he’ll have a better performance as well.
Lakers vs. Suns Free Pick
The Lakers are in trouble. LeBron doesn’t look like himself. AD has had some monster games, but also some big duds since his April 22 return. The supporting cast has not been strong. The Suns have to feel like they escaped Game 1. They shot poorly, at least by their standards. They had a severe disadvantage in free throw attempts. Paul left the game twice. They still won.
Neither team was at its best in Game 1. Both teams should be better in Game 2. It’s just hard to see the Lakers putting it all together to have a good road performance. If we get LeBron’d here, so be it.
Pick: Phoenix Suns