Phoenix Suns’ best plan: Take care of business at Lakers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images /

The Phoenix Suns visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

A few months ago, the idea that Phoenix would be a seven-point road favorite would have seemed laughable.

Without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, though, the Lakers are eminently beatable – and have been beaten regularly. L.A. is 9-15 without James on the court.

(UPDATE: Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are playing.)

The Phoenix Suns could push the Lakers deeper into the play-in tourney hole with a win, but there are several ways the playoff matchups could shake out.

The Lakers (37-30) are seventh in the Western Conference, a game and a half back of Portland with only five games left in the regular season.

The Suns (48-19), with Devin Booker and Chris Paul playing at an elite level, have a shot at catching the Utah Jazz for No. 1 in the West, but even that won’t guarantee a more palatable path in the postseason.

Still, the No. 1 seed is the better option if everything unfolds according to the most likely outcome, and the NBA industry recognizes the Suns’ standing among the elite.

(The play-in specifics: The eighth seed opens the play-in tournament on the road against the seventh seed, with the winner claiming the West’s seventh spot. The loser then hosts the survivor of the 9/10 elimination matchup, with the winner earning the West’s final, No. 8 playoff berth.)

Here are a few ways it could break.

Phoenix Suns finish No. 1: The Warriors thing

The Suns finish tied or in front of Utah (Phoenix holds the tiebreaker). The Lakers finish seventh and defeat the eighth-place Warriors in L.A., which sends the Warriors into a do-or-die meeting with Memphis or San Antonio.

The Warriors win and become the Suns’ first-round opponent.

Phoenix Suns finish No. 1; The Lakers thing

Some reward for the top spot. The Lakers lose to Golden State but beat Memphis/San Antonio. LeBron and Anthony Davis are healthier and ready to give the Suns some trouble in Round 1.

Phoenix Suns finish No. 1: The upset thing

The Suns enjoy a first-round matchup with the Grizzlies or Spurs when one of those two upsets the Warriors or Lakers.

Phoenix Suns finish No. 2: The other possibilities

The most likely scenario is that the No. 2 seed will face the Lakers, who would be hosting the Warriors at Staples Center. Doesn’t mean that’s how it will play out, especially if James and Davis are slow to recover their form.

Phoenix Suns playoff chances: The ESPN BPI

On Sunday, the updated chances to reach the West finals looked like this, according to ESPN:

  • Jazz: 60 percent
  • Clippers: 33 percent
  • Lakers: 29 percent
  • Suns: 25 percent

Put that on your bulletin board, white board or whatever. The Suns are still facing a large group of non-believers.

On Friday night against the Knicks, Phoenix showed what happens when backed into a corner.

“Offensively, we had one of those eruptions,” Suns coach — and coach of the year candidate –Monty Williams said. “That was just a desperate effort by our basketball team in the second half. When we play like that, with the competitive guys we have, we can be hard to deal with.”

At any rate, the Suns’ playoff opponents will need a full game’s worth of effort to take down the upstarts.

“You can make a case that they are as good as anyone in the West,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday. “We felt that we would have to play 48 minutes to win. For three quarters, I thought we were pretty good.”

As for Sunday night, it’s a must-win if the No. 1 seed is to remain a legitimate goal.

The Lakers injury report:

OUT: LeBron James (right ankle sprain), Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocol), Jared Dudley (MCL).

DOUBTFUL: Kyle Kuzma (lower back tightness).

QUESTIONABLE: Alex Caruso (right foot contusion) and Talen Horton-Tucker (right calf strain) are questionable.

It’s postseason time.

Next. Phoenix Suns who deserve the credit. dark