Phoenix Suns: 3 most important matchups against the Lakers

Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Phoenix Suns key matchup No. 3: Chris Paul and the Lakers’ point guards.

To say Paul was important to this year’s Suns success is a dramatic understatement. Cameron Payne, who ran point for the 8-0 bubble Suns, is capable but this team would be around the Nos. 7-9 spot in the Western Conference if not for the 36-year-old Paul.

L.A.’s Dennis Schroder contributed 15.4 points per game, 5.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds, while Paul defied age by putting up averages of 16.4 points, 8.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

Paul has the advantage in the clutch, too, with his shot selection and decision making providing a huge benefit.

His scoring average in 12 career first-round playoff series, 21.2 per game, is almost three points more than his regular-season career average, so he clearly figures to be a major part of the offense.

Last season, in a 4-3 series loss to the Houston Rockets, Paul paced his Oklahoma City Thunder team with 21.3 points per game and pulled down a playoff career-best 7.4 rebounds per game.

There is no disputing that Paul will be the best point guard on offense, but it will be his decisions on defense that could dictate the fortunes in this series.

We saw another elite basketball IQ guy, Draymond Green, fluster the Lakers in the Wednesday night play-in matchup won by L.A. It was Green who deftly sagged off his primary assignments to scuttle efforts to get Anthony Davis going, to anticipate and rotate quickly and to consistently box out on the boards.

Paul has similar DNA and he should be able to apply his next-level knowledge against Schroder and Alex Caruso. Since Paul will see time against both, it’s imperative that he wins the individual matchup.

The specific challenge for Paul will be to decide when to allow Schroder and Caruso open looks. Schroder hits only 33% of his 3s while Caruso is dangers, burying 40% of his long-range attempts.

There’s no doubt Paul is an elite coach-type leader, and he’ll have to make spur-of-the-moment decisions throughout his time on the court.

It should prove intriguing to watch how Paul uses his wealth of mental and physical skill against the Lakers.

The Suns, who became a much more complete team in the wake of their offseason acquisitions, finished among the top seven teams in both offense and defense, resulting in the NBA’s third-best rating.