The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the play-in two nights ago thanks to a deep LeBron James three-pointer. Despite getting poked in the eye by Draymond Green, the King was able to knock it down. That places the Los Angeles Lakers in an official playoff seeding with a showdown against the 2nd seeded Phoenix Suns.
Of course, the narrative is the showdown between two of their generation's greatest talents in LeBron and Chris Paul. But both teams are also stacked with tremendous talent on both ends of the floor, and it will be a competitive matchup that will possibly go the distance. Before the highly anticipated first-round matchup, here is the full comparison between the two title-contending teams in the West.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Chris Paul, Devin Booker, And Deandre Ayton
The superstar showdown is the most important factor in the massive Western Conference showdown. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have size and talent on both ends of the floor, while the Phoenix Suns trio is capable of exploding on offense at any given moment. But which superstars have the edge?
LeBron James is clearly still the best player in the game as evidenced by his game-winner. James averaged 25.0 PPG and 7.8 APG this season despite only playing 45 games, while Davis chipped in 21.8 PPG and 7.9 RPG in 36 games. Their raw size, skill, and athleticism give them an advantage over every frontcourt duo in the NBA and that includes the Suns.
The Phoenix superstars are extremely solid, as Paul's leadership and playmaking are arguably as good as LeBron's. Booker averaged 25.6 PPG this season while Ayton dropped 14.4 PPG and 10.5 RPG. The Suns' trio are potent on offense, but LeBron and Davis have too much size and skill and that gives the Lakers the advantage.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers: Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond
Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
The Lakers starters (besides LeBron and Davis) were decent in the play-in game against the Warriors, as Schroder chipped in 12 points while Caldwell-Pope scored 10 points. But the Lakers will need more from them in the series against the Suns and Andre Drummond will have more of a prominent role in defending Deandre Ayton.
Schroder isn't having his best season but he is quick at attacking the rim and will apply pressure on the Suns' guards. Caldwell-Pope needs to make his shots and Drummond must rediscover his form as one of the best defensive centers in the NBA against Ayton. LeBron and Davis need help and the other three starters must play at or above their level for the team to win.
For Phoenix, their lineup has pace with 4 shooters and also a go-to scorer in the post. The Suns can employ the offense they wish at any point, although their ability to run the floor with Paul and Booker at the helm is their best strategy. Paul, Booker, and Ayton are All-Star caliber players but Bridges and Crowder are also crucial pieces. The two forwards can shoot the three (42.5% and 38.9% respectively) and defend multiple positions which is critical against the Lakers talent.
LeBron and Davis have the superstar's advantage but Phoenix have two guys who fit better in the modern NBA than Schroder and Drummond do, which makes this comparison even.
Lakers Bench: Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Ben McLemore, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Devontae Cacok, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol
Suns Bench: Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter, Langston Galloway, Ty-Shon Alexander, Cameron Johnson, Torrey Craig, E'Twaun Moore, Frank Kaminsky, Jalen Smith, Tariq Owens, Dario Saric
The Lakers bench have some big names in Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, and Marc Gasol. They are very talented players although Gasol is way past his best and Kuzma can have an off night at any given point. But the best bench players going into the series have to be Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, and Horton-Tucker. The trio is very proficient on defense, can hit outside shots, and feed off LeBron and Davis. Their two-way play will be critical in helping the Lakers repeat this year.
For Phoenix, they have a ton of versatile players coming off the bench. Cam Johnson and Torrey Craig are excellent wing players who have size and ability from three, while Kaminsky and Saric can both hit the three as full-sized centers. The Phoenix bench can all shoot, defend, and play well alongside Booker and Paul. It will be a very even matchup between both teams when the role players come in, and as a result, there is no advantage.
Coach: Frank Vogel vs. Monty Williams
In terms of coaching, it is hard to argue against championship experience. Vogel was a great coach for the Indiana Pacers that featured a prime Paul George, and he helped make Indiana one of the best defensive teams in the league. Indiana went toe to toe with the Superteam Miami Heat for a few years in the postseason as well. Last year, Vogel led the Lakers to the best record in the West as they captured the NBA title in 2020. Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Wesley Matthews, and LeBron James can all be dominant defenders but it's Vogel who spearheads the defense.
Monty Williams is in the running for the Coach of the Year Award as Chris Paul and the Suns finished 2nd in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last year. Monty helped Phoenix rank 7th in scoring and 3rd in assists, and he is a bright coach with a great future ahead of him. But it's hard to argue against Vogel because the Lakers coach proved he got the job done last year.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers Strength: Size And Experience
The Los Angeles Lakers are reigning NBA champions, which is invaluable for contending teams in the playoffs. Even though Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond, and Montrezl Harrell are new to the team they have been in the playoffs before. LeBron has 4 NBA titles to his name and with expectations constantly on his shoulders, he almost always delivers with big performances in big games.
Phoenix have Chris Paul who made it to the Western Conference Finals with the Rockets and Crowder who made the Finals last year, but the rest of the roster is young and relatively inexperienced. It is a large load to handle for Paul to deliver every night even though he is a Hall of Famer, and the Lakers have a more experienced roster that knows how to win. Not to mention, the Lakers have a tremendous size with their frontcourt which could take a toll on Ayton and a smaller Phoenix frontcourt.
Suns Strength: Youth, Health, And Confidence
The Phoenix Suns have done a great job all season long in keeping healthy, consistent, and motivated all year. After all, grabbing the second seed in the West with only a game behind the Utah Jazz is a terrific achievement for a young roster and young coach. Of course, Chris Paul and his leadership ability were at the core of it.
The Suns can play fast and can score a lot of points. After all, they averaged a very impressive 115.3 PPG. They should be able to play all 48 minutes with a ton of energy and confidence knowing they were 2nd in the NBA in win percentage. Their terrific play will carry over in the postseason and with Paul leading out the young guys, it will be very difficult for the Lakers to match up with them. If LeBron and Davis can dominate with their size, it's a different story, but Phoenix is a big problem to defend against if they make their shots.
Who Will Win?
In the end, considering all factors, the Los Angeles Lakers will defeat the Phoenix Suns in 6 games. The Suns will keep it close for most of the series, but the Lakers will finish off a 3-2 lead in a terrific Game 6 performance. The Lakers have the best player in the world and LeBron's pairing with Anthony Davis usurps that of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. As great as Paul and Booker will be, LeBron and Davis have too much size and that means they can affect the game in more areas.
Losing to the Lakers in the first round won't be a disaster for Phoenix because Los Angeles aren't any ordinary 7 seed. Had LeBron and Davis remained healthy, like they are now, they would have been a top-2 seed. The Suns will need to be at an astronomical level to get the job done over the Lakers, but it is highly unlikely they will do that. LeBron and Davis are too dominant and they will progress to the second round after 6 hard-fought games.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns 4-2