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. 1: Mikal Bridges and Co. against LeBron James

Every Suns fan knows the most underrated player on the team — maybe in the entire league, considering the Suns’ consistently high power rankings status — is Mikal Bridges.

The has improved in just about every area over his three seasons and could be in line for a serious payday via contract extension.

He will have to be at his versatile best, though, for the Suns to succeed against the Lakers. He’ll be the first up to test LeBron James (25.0 ppg., 7.8 apg., 7.7 rpg), who began the season looking every bit an MVP favorite before a high ankle sprain caused him to miss a big chunk of the season.

Now, he’s looking healthy and eager for any challenge, and Bridges (13.5 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 2.1 apg.) must step up and force James to work on both ends of the floor.

Bridges can run James off screens en route to 3-point opportunities, having finished this season at 42.5 percent from behind the arc, which pulls James away from providing any help on Devin Booker as the Suns move the ball around the perimeter.

The stats in Lakers-Suns matchups are skewed because of the A.D./LeBron absences, but Bridges averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals in the teams’ three meetings. He’ll need to be engaged early and stay engaged — and be ready to play heavy minutes.

James is going to make his plays, create mismatches by himself and with his court vision, and basically be a big problem. But with the teamwork the Suns employ, the various strategies Monty Williams will attempt should result in enough double teams on James that he’ll need to defer occasionally.

That fits nicely into the Suns’ likely plan of being OK with “other” Lakers being allowed to fire up open 3-point attempts — mainly because Williams knows the Lakers finished 21st in overall 3-point shooting this season.

It’s a winnable series, even as a No. 2 seed that’s an underdog against the No. 7 seed.

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