Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns
When and Where: Wednesday, Oct. 24, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Ariz., 10 p.m. EDT.
LeBron James is finding out first-hand just what makes the Western Conference so difficult after all those years in the East.
James and the Los Angeles Lakers again try for their first win Wednesday night when they face a fellow rebuilding Pacific Division rival in the Phoenix Suns.
James is putting up his usual strong averages of 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the early going, but the defensive shortcomings around him are far more lethal in the West than in the East, where his relentless offense could help his previous teams escape with victories.
Los Angeles dropped to 0-3 following a 143-142 overtime defeat to San Antonio on Monday night as the Spurs closed out the game on a 7-0 burst after James had given the Lakers a six-point lead with 56 seconds to play.
Walton rails on officiating as Lakers struggle defensively in the interior
Los Angeles is still getting accustomed to its defensive rotations — opponents have hit 41.1 percent of their 3-pointers while averaging 131.7 points — but what has coach Luke Walton agitated is the discrepancy at the foul line. The Lakers have been outscored 75-51 in free throws, with opponents making more than Walton’s team has attempted (73).
After a second straight home game in which Los Angeles had 12 fewer free throws attempted than its opponent, Walton let loose in the post-game news conference.
Most animated I’ve seen Coach Luke Walton… Rips the refs pic.twitter.com/WQ6SbFSq7P
— Allen Sliwa (@LakersTalkESPN) October 23, 2018
Interestingly, Walton is Bovada’s favorite to be the first coach to “leave their post” in the 2018-19 season, splitting hairs on the terminology as opposed to being fired.
Given the constant drama around the team between James, the brawl against the Rockets that resulted in suspensions for both Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo and the all but certain melodrama surrounding Lonzo Ball‘s father LaVar with something related to the second-year guard’s positioning in the franchise, that toteboard figures to be constantly brought up while the Lakers struggle.
Rondo and Ingram will again miss this game due to their respective suspensions. Ball responded well in his first start of the season with 14 points, six assists and six rebounds while hitting 3 of 7 from 3-point range, while Josh Hart has taken to the role of sixth man, averaging 17.0 points and making 8 of 17 from beyond the arc in the first three games.
Kyle Kuzma, who started at small forward in Ingram’s spot, may have given Walton something to mull over after finishing with 37 points, one off his career high. He often used Kuzma as an undersized five last season as a rookie, and the forward had 22 points in the paint while making 11 of 15 from inside the arc.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 23, 2018
Suns show potential with Ayton as part of new nucleus
Phoenix (1-2) knows a thing or two about firing coaches early in the season, its jettisoning of Earl Watson three games into 2017-18 was the second-fastest firing to a season in league history.
Igor Kokoskov has gotten at least this far as the Suns have seven players on their roster 22 or younger, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton and guard Devin Booker, and fellow top scoring option and sixth man T.J. Warren is only 25.
All three have gotten off to relatively fast starts, with Booker averaging 29.3 points, Warren 20.0 per game and Ayton contributing a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest. Phoenix is also shooting 36.4 percent overall from 3-point range, with Warren hitting 8 of 14 while shooting 58.5 percent overall.
“No matter what’s going on, he can play well,” Booker told the Suns’ official website about Warren. “He knows how to play the game of basketball and it shows. He’s that piece that we need.”
Open lane for Book! pic.twitter.com/nZZYOCs7BC
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 23, 2018
Like the Lakers, though, it is at the other end of the court where the extensive work needs to be done. Phoenix has given up 114.0 points per game after a 123-103 defeat to defending champion Golden State on Monday night. The 3-point shooting went south as the Suns made only 9 of 34 from deep and allowed the Warriors to score 29 points off their 21 turnovers.
“Just being engaged, competing,” Kokoskov told azcentral.com when asked after Monday’s loss what’s bothering him. “Once we compete, you play your best and you play against good teams, sometimes the better team wins. I don’t think we played our best. I don’t think we gave 100 percent.”
Phoenix has lost three straight home games to the Lakers and four of the last five to them overall.
The Suns are:
- 4-10 ATS in its last 14 home games.
- 2-7 ATS in its last nine games vs. Pacific Division teams.
- 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games after scoring over 100 points in their previous game.
- The over is 7-2 in their last nine games vs. sub-.500 teams.
- The over is 7-1-1 in their last nine home games vs. the Lakers.
- The over is 7-2 in their last nine home games vs. sub-.500 teams.
The Lakers are:
- 4-0 ATS in their last four games after scoring more than 125 points in the previous game.
- 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games vs. Pacific Division teams.
- 4-1 ATS in their last five games vs. the Suns.
- The over is 3-0-1 in their last four games.
- The over is 7-2 in their last nine games vs. the Suns.
- The over is 5-1-1 in their last seven games after a straight up loss.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
After three games against Western Conference playoff teams from last season, the caliber of opponent is finally at a comparable level for the Lakers, which means they should finally be able to dictate tempo for prolonged periods of time. Los Angeles is still in a state of flux to a degree with the suspensions to Ingram and Rondo, but there are still plenty of sources of offense beyond James, and the Lakers should be able to find success in transition versus the Suns.
Prediction: Pick: Lakers -2.5
Full-Game Total Pick
This should be a fast-paced game with approximately 70 3-pointers attempted between the teams. Though Walton is complaining about the free throw discrepancy, the Lakers also have to make them when they get them — they are averaging 69.9 percent from the line, tied for 24th in the league.
James has recorded two triple-doubles in his last three games against the Suns and had 27-9-6 in the most recent meeting while with the Cavaliers. He has average 25.0 points on 65.7 percent shooting in his last five matchups with the Phoenix, expect the offensive fireworks to continue in this up-tempo contest.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 237 points
Full-Game Prop Bet
A few statistics that back the confidence in taking the Lakers: They have averaged 70.7 points in the paint through their first three games. They are shooting 59.8 percent inside the arc — which in correlation with their scoring in the paint — is that they are attacking the basket relentlessly. Phoenix is allowing 54.7 points per game in the paint and opponents to shoot 57.1 percent from two-point range.
Prediction: Pick: Lakers OVER 121.5 points (-110)
Half-Time Side Pick
While the Lakers have yet to lead after a quarter in their first three games, they are a cumulative plus-8 in the second period and should at least be competitive enough to cover in the opening two quarters. Phoenix played demonstrably better in its lone home game than its two on the road, but the hedge is the urgency of the Lakers will kick in during this game.
Prediction: Pick: Lakers -2.5 (-110)
Half-Time Total Bet
The Lakers have played in a window between 125 and 128 in the first half of their games, and the Suns defense — which has been torched for 65 and 70 in the first half of their last two games — coupled with the pace of this game should see the over hit late in the second quarter.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 122 points (-110)
Half-Time Prop Prediction
There has yet to be a team on either side of the court with less than 60 points by halftime of the Lakers’ three games. Phoenix’s defensive struggles, coupled with James directing an efficient Lakers offense, means Los Angeles should clear that relatively high first-half total.
Prediction: Pick: Lakers OVER 62.5 points (-115)