The Phoenix Suns (18-36) have started yet another losing streak to begin February. They’ve lost their first two games of the month, both at home, to the Utah Jazz (129-97) and the Charlotte Hornets (115-110), as they've dropped to an abysmal 2-10 over their last dozen games. The young Suns conspired to surrender an eight-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter against Charlotte as they were outscored 29-16 in the period. On the bright side, though, rookie Josh Jackson had a team-high 23 points as he continued his impressive play of late. Meanwhile, second-year forward Dragan Bender added 18 points and had four 3-pointers for the second-straight game.
They will now go up against the Los Angeles Lakers (21-31), who have started another winning streak following back-to-back road wins over the Brooklyn Nets (102-99) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (108-104). The Lakers have now gone an impressive 10-4 over their last 14 games. Brook Lopez has returned with a vengeance following his benching against the Magic last week. He’s racked up 19 and 20 points while shooting 51 percent from the field in his first two games this month. Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle have also been playing stellar basketball of late, while Jordan Clarkson has been providing a massive offensive spark off the bench.
Three keys to the game
Suns playmaking - The Suns have been dealt a big blow with the absence of Devin Booker due to a hip injury. Booker had been playing point guard for the team over the last few weeks, and his absence now means Tyler Ulis is the team’s lone point guard. It’ll be up to him and rookie Josh Jackson to provide the Suns with any sort of playmaking in Booker’s absence.
Lakers frontcourt - The Lakers’ frontcourt trio of Lopez, Ingram, and Randle has been sensational of late. Lopez, in particular, has started the month in promising form following a dour January. He and his other frontcourt mates will look to keep their impressive run going against a Suns team which they’ve had a lot of success against through their first three meetings this year.
Bench production - The Suns were finally able to get one over on the Lakers in their most recent meeting because they got some unusually strong performances off the bench. Alex Len, in particular, had a monster game with 17 points and 18 rebounds, while four other reserves combined for 36 points. They’ll need some similar production to help alleviate Booker’s absence. As for the Lakers, Clarkson has been impressive in carrying the Lakers second unit as he’s been averaging over 18 points per game scorer over the last few weeks.
Matchup to watch
Josh Jackson vs Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - With Booker out, the Staples Center spotlight will be shining brightly on Josh Jackson. The Suns rookie has been stepping up to the plate remarkably well over the last couple of weeks, but he’ll have to contend with the pesky defense of Caldwell-Pope against the Lakers.
Suns projected starting lineup
PG - Tyler Ulis | SG - Josh Jackson | SF - T.J. Warren | PF - Marquese Chriss | C - Tyson Chandler
Lakers projected starting lineup
PG - Josh Hart | SG - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | SF - Brandon Ingram | PF - Julius Randle | C - Brook Lopez
Jackson has looked the part of a No. 4 overall pick in recent games. He’s scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games and has hit at least 18 points in six of his last seven. He and Ulis figure to have the ball in their hands a lot against the Lakers and should have every opportunity to rack up a lot of fantasy stats.
As for the Lakers, it’s hard to overlook Lopez. The veteran big man has rediscovered his scoring groove recently and should be favored to put more monster numbers against Phoenix. He’s averaging an impressive 17.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in three games against them this season.
The Lakers should have this game pretty comfortably in the bag. They've been playing much better basketball of late than the Suns, and the absence of Booker will make a Phoenix road win all the more improbable. Take the Lakers on the moneyline to extend their win streak at home.
The Lakers comfortably handle the shorthanded Suns as they run out 117-104 winners.
This game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports Net and Fox Sports Arizona. Tip-off is at 10:30 pm Eastern.