The Lakers Have a Golden Chance to Make a Major Statement With a Primetime Win Over the Suns

It’s been a frustrating season for the Los Angeles Lakers, to say the least. Constant injuries and mediocre play have led to a 16-15 record just days before Christmas. Now, LA will have to try to turn the corner against the 24-5 Phoenix Suns, a red-hot bunch that has dominated against just about everyone, the Lakers included.

The Lakers are understandably underdogs for Tuesday night’s battle, with a loss sending them back to .500. Though should they manage to pull off an upset, it would make a massive statement to the rest of the league that the Purple and Gold aren’t dead yet.

The Phoenix Suns have owned the Los Angeles Lakers as of late

Considering LA has 17 championships to Phoenix’s zero, it’s hardly surprising to say the Lakers have largely controlled this Pacific Division rivalry. Though the last 12 months have seen a changing of the guard, with the Suns sticking it to their foes over in La La Land.

The 2020-21 campaign was fruitful for the Suns, who followed up six losing seasons with a 51-21 record and NBA Finals appearance. Two of those regular-season victories came against LA; a 114-104 win back in early March and a 111-94 thrashing just 19 days later. Phoenix and LA would go on to meet in the first round of the postseason, but the Suns took advantage of a series-altering groin injury to Anthony Davis to win in six games.

Even with new acquisition Russell Westbrook joining LeBron James and AD, the Lakers were no match for the Suns back on October 22. Phoenix led by as many as 31 points in a dominant 115-105 win at Staples Center.

With that early-season loss, LA has now dropped four straight games and seven of its last 10 against Phoenix.

The Lakers can make a significant statement with a win over the Suns

Given how their last few games against the Suns have gone, it’s hard to be optimistic for a Lakers victory on Tuesday night. Especially with the latest news concerning Davis’ MCL sprain. Though it’s not unreasonable to think the Lakers can shock the world by vanquishing the Suns in their own building.

Even if their record says otherwise, the Lakers have more to work with than they did at the beginning of their season, even without Davis. Westbrook is finally carving out his role on the team after a shaky go of things early on. LeBron has put multiple injuries and a stint on health and safety protocols behind him and turned in several elite performances as of late. Veteran journeyman Isaiah Thomas has provided a nice spark on the offensive end since coming to LA. And a defense that once ranked near the bottom of the league is now seventh in defensive rating.

By beating a team like the Suns, the Lakers have an opportunity to prove a few things. First, they can show how they’re capable of winning games without Davis, who’s scheduled to miss the next four weeks at minimum. Next, James can prove he is still capable of carrying a team, even days before his 37th birthday. Finally, LA could confirm there is a lot more season to go, and how a slow start can be overcome at any moment.

LA is receiving some much-needed reinforcements

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The Lakers are one of the many teams dealing with players in health and safety protocols. Even head coach Frank Vogel has been required to remain quarantined in Chicago, where LA played its last game Sunday against the Bulls. But two key players are set to make their return tonight.

As reported by ESPN, Talen Horton-Tucker and Dwight Howard have cleared protocols and are available to play. Horton-Tucker, who missed LA’s first 13 games while recovering from thumb surgery, reached double-digit points in four consecutive outings before being forced to miss each of the past three contests. Howard has also missed the past three games, which came soon after the 18-year veteran found some success as a new member of the starting five.

LA will still go into the game with role players Austin Reaves, Malik Monk, and Kent Bazemore still in protocols. But the addition of THT and Howard will help a Lakers team that has had to fill a roster with the likes of Chaundee Brown and Jay Huff.

With some good news on the roster front, the Lakers will feel extra motivated to go out Tuesday night and pull off a big-time upset.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.