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Suns’ lows cancel out highs in loss to LeBron James and Lakers

PHOENIX — There was certainly hype.

But if we can look past the Phoenix Suns’ initiation into the NBA In-Season tournament, the very purple and teal court, the fact that security cleared out all the humans in the front row of said court for warmups by LeBron James. Before fans were even allowed into the Footprint Center, the reality of basketball was this:

The Suns (4-5) were only game two with the offseason addition of Bradley Beal, and neither they nor the Los Angeles Lakers (4-5) had necessarily looked like contenders prospects over the course of eight matches each.

Neither entered nor left Friday as winning teams. Many things still need to be sorted out.

Each, however, ironed out a few kinks in a 122-119 Lakers victory, their second decisive win over the Suns to start this season.

What should not be understood are the reasons why the spotlight was on the game.

James made a left-leg adjustment in the first quarter to score 32 points on 17 shots, with his six assists and command dictating a late momentum shift in a game in which Phoenix led the majority.

“Trying to slow LeBron down without being accurate in your shooting rotation is a problem,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said. “We wanted to take the ball out of his hands more, but we didn’t cover the back well enough.”

For Phoenix to play its fourth straight game without Devin Booker, Kevin Durant withstood a tough early shooting to score 38 points, and Beal found his moments to shine with a 20-piece in the first half of his home debut as a than Sun.

Among the questions that have been somewhat answered, Beal and Durant took a step forward by facing each other.

Beal closed with 24 points, including a late clutch time bucket that followed an avalanche of offense from Durant. Jusuf Nurkic had another positive offensive night after his performance in Chicago on Wednesday, closing with 14 points and seven assists.

But Phoenix’s bouts of offensive ineptitude reappeared.

Durant scored 13 consecutive points in three minutes late in the third quarter. In a guess-a-reason-you’d-guess-correct situation, a 96-89 Suns lead early in the fourth evaporated with Durant resting to give the Lakers their first lead in six. minutes after the start of the first quarter.

A Phoenix lineup featuring Eric Gordon, Jordan Goodwin and Beal looked listless, with funky spacing torpedoing the lead. Then Lakers small forward Cam Reddish, who has been in and out of the starting lineup so far this season, started to gain momentum.

Los Angeles’ run began with Reddish’s buzzer-beating trio to end the third quarter and would end at 14-0.

Durant entered again with 7:52 left and Phoenix trailed 103-98, and the problem of Phoenix scoring two points in six minutes to start the fourth would be immediately alleviated by the Suns star.

Durant’s three pull-up jumpers in semi-transition as the Lakers bench moved and screamed for doubles that never came were followed by a full-on blitz from him on the next play. Durant got out of it and it ultimately ended with a Keita Bates-Diop and one for Phoenix.

But Reddish’s four threes made in the final quarter plus a second stood out — especially for a Lakers team that entered the night as the only team in the NBA to shoot below 30 percent from deep. ‘year.

“They didn’t do well tonight,” Beal said. “I think they made us hustle a little more and they got a lot of threes because of that. A lot of this comes from the fact that “Bron initiated”.

Vogel, too, was more concerned about these defensive failures than the offensive drought.

“I mean, I was able to watch the tape but I feel like our defensive breakdowns early in Game 4 were more of (an issue)… We didn’t guard,” he said.

What dictated the Suns’ lead early in the game was Beal, whose back injury saw him slow down against the Bulls on Wednesday. Against the Lakers, Beal scored nine quick points, from beyond the arc and via some cuts that saw him finish at the rim.

Beal scored 15 points midway through the second quarter. At this point, a 48-34 lead for Phoenix stemmed not only from the stars but also from spacing, with six Suns total at this point hitting a three-pointer.

Beal finished the first half in pretty fashion: isolating Christian Wood on a switch, crossing him, hesitating and blowing past him to slice between another Los Angeles defender, then dancing all the way to the locker room.

The guard’s night included a takedown attempt that had him lying flat on his back after being fouled. Beal admitted his back injury was still stiffening, at least when he was sitting on the bench.

“This is what we will have to face in the next matches,” he said. “It’s good, second game, to put my lungs a little more under me, my legs a little higher under me, to be aggressive.”

Yet the contrast between the Suns’ teal and purple floor in their first tournament loss of the season matched their best and worst of the evening.

Vogel reminded his players that it was still a young season. And he reminded reporters that the team is far from complete with Beal still under a vague loading restriction and Booker’s return from a calf injury seemingly imminent.

In fact, it was looking pretty tough before the match.

Wearing a beanie, Booker went through his usual pregame warmup routine in the final minutes before the pregame introductions, when many fans and many cameras caught sight of him.

It felt like a clear statement that he was about to return.

“He gets things done,” Durant said after the game. “Without him, we can’t get where we want to go.” »

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