angels –The game was shortened. The current game does not. That’s the nature of the Lakers vs. Lakers game. For the Suns, two stars were out with injuries — Devin Booker and Bradley Beal — but the two guys everyone was watching were not injured.
That’s LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Everyone had their moments, and they all made intense plays in the fourth quarter and built suspense until the end. That’s what basketball was robbed of for five years. That’s how long LeBron and Durant were on the court together until Thursday, when both were sidelined with injuries.
But it’s worth the wait.
“We don’t have many games left,” James said. “Two of the greatest players of all time.”
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 100-95 win, why the score was closer than expected, and the early-season questions facing the team and its stars:
1. LeBron’s playing time limit is scheduled to last for 1 game
The Lakers need a player in his 21st season who can burn calories throughout the fourth quarter against a team missing two of its stars. That says something about the Lakers, and it says a lot about James. Not only did he survive, he thrived.
This is the tightrope the Lakers must walk to keep James fresh and healthy throughout the season while trying to win. Can they do both? James played 29 minutes in the season-opening loss to the Denver Nuggets. I wonder if it’s wise to sit for long periods of time in a potentially winnable game.
LeBron signals this trade 😤
View inside the arena 📹 https://t.co/5h8wf0WlWL pic.twitter.com/VBCXmjypwF
—NBA (@NBA) October 27, 2023
When Anthony Davis failed to take control in the fourth quarter of that game — he was held scoreless — James and the Lakers apparently changed their plans against the Suns. No doubt there’s ego involved – losing to the shorthanded Suns and Durant is unacceptable for James.
James scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, driving through two defenders for a layup that put the Lakers in the lead for good, and then added another field goal. He also has a pursuit blocker. This is a man who turned 39 in December and played 35 minutes on one mission.
Look, the Lakers were in trouble for most of the game, trailing by 12 points after one quarter, four points at halftime, and once Durant broke out, trailed by 12 points after three quarters. Something or someone has to happen.
“Tonight required me to step out of the box,” James said.
Lakers head coach Davin Hamm said the playing time limit has not been lifted, just lifted in this situation. Going forward, a lot will depend on the supporting cast.
“Once we got more comfortable with each other, he wasn’t going to play 35 minutes,” Ham said. “Once our guys get up to speed, he’ll get back to his best in playing time.”
2. Durant looks troubled at times
Obviously, he’s a great player. Clearly, he can still lead a team. But one more thing is clear: Phoenix is basing its championship hopes on Durant, Booker and Beal staying healthy and working together.
If someone is out, the Suns can survive for a while. If it’s two people, they’re in trouble. They are top-heavy.
Their depth is average at best. As expected, the burden Durant had to shoulder ultimately took its toll against the Lakers.
They changed guards, double-teamed him, and beat him all night long. Regardless, he scored 15 points in the third quarter, took control, and once again proved why he is an all-time great. But the fourth pitch left him toasting, forcing him to throw too many tough shots.
“It’s hard to control when everyone is watching me all the time,” he said. “When I caught the ball, they almost hit a zone.”
When the Suns get back into shape, Durant will be feeding two proven scorers in this situation. Until then, he’ll get the ball to Grayson Allen and Josh Okogie.
3. Phoenix is vertically challenged
The Suns essentially swapped their starting center, replacing Deandre Ayton with Jusuf Nurkic, and they performed reasonably well. Nurkic seems like a better fit because he’s strong defensively and rebounding and won’t complain about shooting on a team with three scorers.
Outside of him, however, Phoenix is vulnerable in the paint, as was shown against the Lakers. Nurkic is in foul trouble, and when he’s off the floor, the Suns’ most efficient center is… Durant. So if the man’s job wasn’t enough on Thursday, he had to defend Davis multiple times.
When Nurkic is benched, a proven big man won’t be available to back up Phoenix, which could be a factor against teams like the Nuggets and Nikola Jokic. That could change between now and the trade deadline. Until then? Durant, Booker and Beal better get enough points, and if they do, it doesn’t matter.
4. Anthony Davis Awakens
It didn’t take long for Davis to be criticized on social media for his performance in the season opener. That’s what happens when you miss all six of your second-half shots and the Lakers lose. In a sense, Hamm doesn’t have a big problem with that.
“What I want him to do is be aggressive,” the coach said. “He did that, and then I could live with the consequences, good or bad.”
Eyebrows mean business〰️ pic.twitter.com/6Tr2uGXYwv
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 27, 2023
Two days later, Davis was a different person. In the fourth quarter alone, he went to the free throw line 7 times and scored 13 points. I ended up getting 30 points. Sure, he did it against Nurkic and Drew Eubanks who were weakened by fouls, but still.
5. Suns won’t arrest players for police involvement
So…how is the policy going so far? The league, in conjunction with the players union, has developed a set of guidelines aimed at allowing players to…play basketball. Meaning, get rid of load management once and for all.
This is especially sensitive when it comes to nationally televised games. Well, that policy became even more of an issue Thursday during the Sixers’ game against the Bucks, a game in which James Harden was not injured. Not the Suns Lakers.
That’s because Booker and Beal are classified as injured players who need time to heal. Booker sprained his foot near the end of the opener against the Warriors, and Beal has been dealing with lower back tightness since the end of the preseason.
The Suns have no legitimate reason not to want both players in the lineup for the first two games of the season. There’s no benefit in load-managing them so early.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more serious … they couldn’t play tonight,” head coach Frank Vogel said.
So they don’t. Regardless, it was a fun game.
Sean Powell has been covering the NBA for more than 25 years.You can email him here , find his profile and follow him here Twitter.
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