The Los Angeles Lakers survived a late-game push by the Golden State Warriors, advancing to the first round of the NBA playoffs.
As the No. 7 seed, the defending NBA champs face the Phoenix Suns, led by mercurial floor general Chris Paul and MVP candidate Devin Booker, one of the best backcourt duos in the league.
The Lakers get three days off to rest and prepare before traveling to Phoenix this weekend. Good friends LeBron James and Chris Paul face off for the first time in the postseason. Here’s a closer look at the matchup:
When: Game 1, Sunday, May 23 at Phoenix, 12:30 p.m. local time
Game 2, Tuesday, May 25 at Phoenix (7 p.m.)
Game 3, Thursday, May 27 at L.A. (7 p.m.)
Game 4, Sunday, May 30 at L.A. (12:30 p.m.
Game 5, Tuesday, June 1 at Phoenix (TBD, if necessary)
Game 6, Thursday, June 3 at L.A. (TBD, if necessary)
Game 7, Saturday, June 5 at Phoenix (TBA, if necessary)
Time: Game 1 at 12:30 p.m. local time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
TV: Game 1 on ABC
Opening line: Lakers are 1-point favorites on the road for Game 1.
All-time series: Regular season -- 146-109. Playoffs -- 38-24.
March 2 – Suns 114, Lakers 104
March 21 – Suns 111, Lakers 94
May 9 – Lakers 123, Suns 110
Lakers big man Anthony Davis on matchup: “They’re a good team. CP (Paul) and Book (Booker) are the heads of the snake. Role players like Jae Crowder have played well for them. The big fella Ayton plays well for them. They’ve got a good team. All of those guys have been playing well.”
LeBron James on facing Chris Paul: “It’s going to be pretty cool just to be on the same floor and competing with one of the most fierce competitors that this game has had over his career. I look forward to the matchup.”
Projected starting lineup
Point guard: Dennis Schröder vs. Chris Paul
Regular season stats: Schroder (15.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.4 rpg.). Paul (16.4 ppg., 8.9 apg., 4.5 rpg.)
Paul received some MVP consideration around the league for helping to turn things around so quickly for the Suns. At 35 years old, Paul knows how to lead and can still make big plays in clutch moments of games. Schröder will have his hands full.
Shooting guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope vs. Devin Booker
Regular season stats: Caldwell-Pope (9.7 ppg., 2.7 rpg. 1.9 apg). Booker (25. ppg., 4.3 pg., 4.2 rpg.)
Ignore the stats, Caldwell-Pope knows how to make winning plays for the Lakers. However, he’s facing one of the best shooting guards in the game in Booker, an All-Star this season.
Small forward: LeBron James vs. Mikal Bridges
Regular season stats: James (25.0 ppg., 7.8 apg., 7.7 rpg). Bridges (13.5 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 2.1 apg.)
Bridges has improved as a perimeter shooter, finishing at 42.5 percent from behind the arc this year. However, his real work will be on the defensive end of the floor, trying to limit James, who is starting to get his legs under him and appears on the upward swing heading into this series.
Power forward: Anthony Davis vs. Jae Crowder
Regular season stats: Davis (21.8 ppg., 7.9 rpg. 3.1 apg.) Crowder (10.1 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 2.1 apg.)
Crowder can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting and brings craftiness as a veteran defender. But Davis will give him problems down low. Davis also should also spend a lot of time playing center with the Lakers go small.
Center: Andre Drummond vs. Deandre Ayton
Regular season stats: Drummond (11.9 ppg., 10.2 rpg., 1.4 apg.). Ayton (14.4 ppg., 10.4 rpg., 1.8 bpg)
Drummond played sparingly in the second half of L.A.’s win over the Warriors in the play-in tournament, as the Lakers decided to go small. And they might choose to do that again in this series with the Suns. Ayton is an agile rim protector with the ability to run the floor and consistently score inside.
The Lakers have the most versatile bench in the playoffs, with centers Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, forwards Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris, along with guards Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wes Matthews and Ben McLemore at their disposal. Swingman Cam Payne lit the Lakers up for 24 points in a loss to the Lakers in the regular-season matchup at Los Angeles. Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson average about nine points a contest off the bench for the Suns.
Coaching: Frank Vogel vs. Monty Williams
Williams was deservedly named Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches for his work in engineering Phoenix’s rebirth this season. Williams knows how to get his team ready and is skilled at making in-game adjustments. But I’ll take Vogel and his experienced, veteran assistants here.
Prediction: Lakers in six