Los Angeles Lakers do Phoenix Suns big favor with recent statement win

The Los Angeles Lakers recently did the Phoenix Suns a big favor with a statement win on national television over a conference rival of them both.
Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers / Harry How/GettyImages

The Phoenix Suns have had an up-and-down season so far, that has left them in fifth position in the Western Conference. Not a bad place to be, but unfortunately with games beginning to run out to move up the standings, they are going to have to start relying on results elsewhere to improve their position.

Which was why they surely watched Wednesday night's nationally televised game between the Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers with a lot of interest. The Lakers had the Suns' number earlier in the season - but after two straight victories against LeBron James and company - the Suns have turned the tied on that matchup.

The Clippers present a more pressing and worrying problem to solve, which made the Lakers' comeback win over them exactly the outcome the Suns needed.

In what was a throwback game for James - the largest fourth-quarter comeback of his career as he outscored the Clippers 19-16 in that period - the final game before the Clippers leave for their own arena this summer ended with the Lakers getting the win.

You would think that would be a concern for the Suns. After all the Lakers closed the gap on their rivals in The Valley and now sit just four games behind them in the loss column after the win, but this was just the result the Suns were looking for. The Clippers have now lost two straight games, and at 37-20 the Suns are back within distance at 34-24 themselves.

The Suns won't see the Lakers again this season - but in their recent win over them - they introduced a new wrinkle that had some success and helped them get the win. At one point in the first-quarter, they had Kevin Durant, Jusuf Nurkic and Bol Bol out on the court together. The mix of length and muscle inside from Nurkic giving the Lakers problems they hadn't seen from the Suns before.

Durant was able to hold his own sometimes against James, Nurkic took Davis and this left the defensively poor Bol to freestyle and smother the likes of Austin Reaves and D'Angelo Russell on the perimeter. The Suns can't beat the Lakers in a series using just this tactic alone, but head coach Frank Vogel will have felt awfully good about the results when those three played together.

Right now it is much more likely the Suns will face the Clippers in the opening round of the playoffs though, and they also have two games remaining against them in the regular season. A home and home back-to-back in their fourth and third last games of the campaign. Critical matchups that could decide which of the two teams gets homecourt advantage between them when the playoffs start.

The Clippers looked like a runaway train earlier in the season. Certainly a better and more consistently cohesive group than the Suns, with the trade for James Harden paying off in a big way. But Paul George missed the loss to the Lakers and like Bradley Beal - who has been limited to 30 games played so far this season - is prone to being missing when really needed.

In the last five games the Clippers also have the fifth worst defensive rating in the league at 119.3. A tiny sample size to be sure, but proof that they can be gotten at over the course of a seven game series. Certainly if Paul is missing, both Durant and Devin Booker would take turns abusing Harden on that end of the court.

For what it is worth the Suns also have the 13th best rating over the same span (112.3), as coach Vogel continues to figure out the best way to use the likes of Nurkic and even Bol. The Suns do have the hardest remaining schedule left in the league, but the Clippers sit in 11th themselves and have dropped four of their last six.

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They'll see the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks twice each by March 13th, and by that point the Suns could have edged even closer to them again. The Lakers have had their problems this season, yet a heroic James performance saw them beat the better team.

The Suns know they have two guys in Durant and Booker who can do the same thing to the Clippers on any given night, and shooters like Grayson Allen and Royce O'Neale who can make life difficult as well. Throw in the jumbo trio that had such success in a small sample size, and the Lakers not only did the Suns a favor in beating the Clippers, they may have shown them the blueprint to win in future.