Despite possessing the seeding disadvantage, the betting odds favor Los Angeles to overcome Phoenix, setting the stage for what should be an enthralling series.
Pacific Division rivals, both teams squared off in only three games this season because of the condensed 72-game season, instead of the usual four matches.
Phoenix won the season series, 2-1, by a +14 point differential spread out across all three games.
But there are caveats to each game that dictated the outcome, with each game providing a glimpse of what a fully healthy matchup could entail.
Let’s take a look back at each of the three regular-season outcomes:
Game 1: Suns 114, Lakers 104
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The Suns seemed destined to run away with this game any instant, with double-digit leads being prevalent. But every time the Suns attempted the dagger, Los Angeles would respond. It wasn't until late in the fourth quarter when the Lakers ran out of gas, and Phoenix won the free throw game late to seal the win. This was the only appearance LeBron James made against the Suns this season, and his 38 points (16-of-24 shooting) led all scorers. However, without his star partner Anthony Davis who was out with a calf strain, James didn't receive enough help from his supporting cast. Dennis Schroder, who scored the second-most points for L.A., struggled mightily from the field. He shot 6-of-17 overall for 17 total points. The Suns had the opposite performance. Four of their starters, except Chris Paul, scored double-digit points, and Dario Saric chipped in 21 points off the bench. Phoenix also shot 16-of-29 (55.2%) from 3-point range, compared to Los Angeles' 11-of-31 (35.5%) rate.
Game 2: Suns 111, Lakers 94
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With the Suns' injury report looking clean compared to the Lakers playing without James, who suffered an ankle sprain the day before, and Davis, the writing was already on the wall prior to tipoff. Though the Lakers' defense limited the Suns' perimeter success (9-of-32, 28%), Phoenix thrived down low. Los Angeles started Markieff Morris at center as Montrezl Harrell came off the bench and Marc Gasol wasn't in the rotation. Deandre Ayton manipulated the lack of length Los Angeles threw at him, going for 26 points on 10-13 shooting, tied with Devin Booker for the game-high. All starters for Phoenix scored in double-digits, and head coach Monty Williams emptied the bench during garbage time. Schroder bounced back to score 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting while Harrell led the way with 23 points off the bench. Talen Horton-Tucker finished with 17 points off the bench, but Los Angeles' inability to create open looks resulted in a 5-of-20 (20%) clip from 3-point range.
Game 3: Lakers 123, Suns 110
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After appearing to get acclimated for the first few games following his return from injury, Davis made a welcomed return to the outings L.A. is used to seeing. Phoenix had their key rotation available like past matchups, but L.A. didn't have James, Schroder and Kyle Kuzma available for the season-series finale. Davis led the Lakers to victory after a consistent performance in all four quarters, finishing with one of the most dominant stat lines of the season: 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. The Suns simply had no answer for him, no matter how they guarded him. Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both added 17 points to aid Davis' monstrous outing. Cameron Payne led Phoenix with 24 points off the bench on an incredible 9-of-10 shooting in just 20 minutes of action. Ayton mustered six points in a disappointing game for him on both ends. The Suns haven't faced a Lakers squad at their best with everyone healthy. With James saying his ankle is good to go, a healthy battle between the two teams will be extremely entertaining.