In the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers face the daunting task of slowing down talented shooters like Devin Booker and Chris Paul for the Phoenix Suns on Sunday afternoon in the desert, forcing them off their usual spots they like to shoot the ball from and making them uncomfortable.
The Suns averaged 115.3 points per game during the regular season, No. 7 in the NBA. The shot 49 percent from the field (No. 2 in the NBA) and 37.8 percent from the three-point line (No. 7 in the NBA).
More impressive, Phoenix shot a league-best 47.4 percent on mid-range shots, a staple of Paul and Booker’s offensive games.
The Lakers counter with one of the best defenses in the NBA during the regular season. Los Angeles finished the regular season as the league leaders in defensive rating, allowing just 106.8 points per 100 opponent possessions. The Lakers also held opponents to 106.8 points per game, second in the NBA.
“This team is a great shooting team,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “Not just from the mid-range, but they can also spray out and hit a three as well, so it puts us in a little bind. But our job is to make them all contested and make them tough shots.
“We know they’re going to make shots. They have some big-time shot makers and players. We can’t hang our head down when they make tough shots, whether it’s a two or a three. What we can do is get the ball out and run right back at them.”
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said defensively the Lakers are focused on making it tough for the Suns to score from wherever they are at on the floor.
“There’s a perception that defenses in the NBA want to give up the mid-range (shots) and take away threes and basket attacks,” Vogel said. “But we want to take away everything, especially for a team that’s good at knocking down mid-range shots like CP3 (Paul) and Book (Booker) are -- really their whole team is.
“So, we want to take away everything, and certainly that’s a part of it.”
The Suns should be well-rested, having not played since the end of the regular season last week. However, Vogel said his team could have an advantage heading into the Sunday afternoon matchup with Phoenix in Game 1, coming off a win over the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to capture the No. 7 seed.
“If you win, I think there’s benefit to it,” Vogel said about competing in the play-in tournament. “It’s just a high-risk event. If you lose, there’s big consequences. But if you’re able to be put into that environment where every possession matters and you’re able to prevail, I think there’s a benefit to your group of heightening your senses and instincts, creating that playoff environment before you hit a seven-game series.
“So, hopefully that plays as a positive for us going into the next game, but we’ll see how it plays out.”
Wednesday’s win over the Warriors also provided the Lakers with another opportunity to build chemistry, with LeBron James and Davis still working their way back from injuries during the regular season.
“Every day we’re talking things out,” Davis said. “We’re watching film together. We’re learning each other on the floor. It’s going to take time because we haven’t had much game-time together on the floor. … But once we get that chemistry and cohesiveness down pact, then we’ll be fine. And we’re refining it more and more every time we step out on the floor.”
Added James: “The playoffs are all about chess moves. It’s going to be a chess match, back and forth. We understand that. And we’ll see who makes the best moves.”