Phoenix vs Los Angeles: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Pheonix Suns vs Los Angeles Lakers - 2021 NBA Playoffs Round 1
Phoenix vs. Los Angeles, Western Conference Quarterfinals, May 23, Phoenix Suns Arena

The Phoenix Suns reminded everyone why they were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a comfortable win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of their first-round series. Many of the Suns may have been postseason rookies, but that didn’t stop them from putting the clamps on the Lakers’ two stars and made the game difficult on the defending champions. Devin Booker outscored the combined efforts of Anthony Davis and LeBron James to propel Phoenix to a win, and the Suns are now looking to extend that lead Tuesday in Game 2.

Game 2 (Phoenix Suns lead 1-0)

May 25, 10 p.m., Phoenix Suns Arena

The Phoenix Suns could not have written the script any better for their Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns smothered the Lakers with aggressive defense on the perimeter and made life challenging inside for Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Devin Booker made a splash in his NBA playoffs debut with 34 points – three more than Davis and James combined to score in the game – and Booker also added eight assists and seven rebounds to help the effort. The real star, though, might have been Denadre Ayton, who scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, to completely dominate his matchup with Davis on the interior.

Los Angeles’ success has always been tied up in the performance of its two stars, and neither of them had a great day Sunday in Game 1. James scored just 18 points and dished out 10 assists, but failed to really put his stamp on the game. Meanwhile, Davis was outworked by Ayton and did not show much pushback against the young big man, finishing with just 13 points and seven rebounds in the loss while shooting just 5 of 16 from the floor. Davis’ struggles were the most obvious sign of Phoenix’s dominance inside, which could also be seen by the Suns’ 21-10 advantage in second-chance points. The Lakers had four other players finish in double figures, but it was clear that without an inside presence nothing else about Los Angeles’ offense was working. The Lakers shot just 7 of 26 from 3-point range with three of those makes coming from James, and had no one to turn to for a bucket when they needed it the most.

Ayton and Booker clearly deserve a lot of credit for how they both played in their playoffs debuts, but Chris Paul played through a shoulder injury he suffered early in the game to deliver eight assists. Paul’s veteran presence is going to be vital all series long, and his leadership is a big reason the Suns are where they are right now. In the short-term the trio of Ayton, Booker and Paul can win the Suns a game or two, but Phoenix needs better contributions from across the bench to be able to withstand when Davis and James have their games clicking. Ayton and Booker combined to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in Game 1 while the rest of the team shot 34.7 percent. That isn’t a terrible discrepancy, but it isn’t nearly good enough for the Suns to win once the Lakers figure it out and start playing like the defending champions.

The real question for Game 2 is whether or not Game 1 was a wake-up call for the Lakers or if there are still growing pains to go through. Last year, Los Angeles lost the opening game in both the first and second round before ripping off four straight wins, but I doubt that is what is going to happen this season. The Lakers also have to deal with playing on the road this year and the fact Los Angeles isn’t objectively the better team in this series. Remarkably the Lakers were underdogs in Game 1 then lost that game yet are still favored at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey in Game 2. Perhaps it’s bettors figuring that Davis and James are going to respond with monster efforts, but I am not convinced that is going to be the case. Davis and James were out of the lineup together for quite a bit and James is obviously not fully healthy yet. Los Angeles has looked shaky in both of its games in the last week and I think the Suns are brimming with confidence. While I understand the faith the New Jersey basketball betting sites have placed in the Lakers, I don’t share that optimism. I’m betting on the Suns laying 2.5 points for +125 odds from the top NBA betting sites in New Jersey and also betting on the Suns to win by single digits for +200 odds.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO WIN

Game 3

May 27, 10 p.m., Staples Center

 

 

Game 4

May 30, 3:30 p.m., Staples Center

 

 

Game 5

June 1, TBD, Phoenix Suns Arena

 

Game 6

June 3, TBD, Staples Center

 

 

Game 7

June 5, TBD, Phoenix Suns Arena

 

 

Game 1

May 23, 3:30 p.m., Phoenix Suns Arena

The Los Angeles Lakers might have won the NBA title last season, but the story of the bubble was arguably the Phoenix Suns, who went unbeaten in Orlando. The Suns simply kept that momentum into this season and was in a race with Utah for the top seed in the Western Conference for most of the year. They had their best season in more than a decade to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, and they get matched up with the Lakers in the first round. Los Angeles survived plenty of injuries to qualify for the playoffs, and now it’s a race to see just how quickly the Lakers can gel again now that the NBA playoffs are upon us.

It is difficult to judge the Lakers this season because it’s unfair to critique this squad based on their performances without Anthony Davis or LeBron James in the lineup. When the two of them play together, the potential is through the roof, and the Lakers had stretches of success with just one of them in the lineup. But Los Angeles played a good chunk of the season without either superstar and the results were extremely mixed. Now it becomes a question of how the Lakers adjust to having both Davis and James in the lineup, and what limitations they both have due to their injuries. The real concern for the Lakers is that Phoenix is able to execute the same gameplan Golden State had defensively in the play-in game, but the Suns are just able to sustain it longer. Los Angeles was out of whack the entire first half against the Warriors on Wednesday, and Davis and James still weren’t great in the second half, either, despite making some clutch plays. For the Lakers to have success, it will require Denis Schroder and the other key players around Davis and James to be consistent and dependable in supporting roles behind the two stars. That isn’t what happened against the Warriors and it nearly cost the Lakers an extra few days of rest.

There were a lot of meaningful transactions before the season and into the early part of the season, but the Suns signing Chris Paul might have been the best. Paul has looked like the missing piece of the puzzle for the Suns all season long, bringing a veteran presence and some cohesion to Phoenix’s two young stars – Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker. Those two were beginning to blossom on their own, but Paul’s presence has sped up the maturation level for both players and made Phoenix a strong contender in the Western Conference. Paul is the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, but his major contribution is the nine assists per contest as he runs the offense. Booker averaged 25.6 points per game and had a stretch earlier this month in which he scored 30-plus point five times in six games. His production dipped a bit in the final five games of the season, but Phoenix still won nine of its last 12 games. While Paul and Booker dominate the backcourt, Ayton has been more efficient in the interior for the Suns. The third-year center averaged 14.4 points per game – a career low – and only grabbed 10.5 rebounds per game, but he shot 62.6 percent from the floor, which is easily his career best.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Lakers are favored to win this series by the top sports betting sites in New Jersey because the defending champions are finally healthy again. However just because Davis and James are back in action doesn’t mean Los Angeles is just going to roll past the Suns. I think there are some serious deficiencies in the Lakers’ game right now that the Warriors nearly capitalized upon in the play-in game that Phoenix certainly can exploit in this series. The Suns might not have someone who can shut down James – and honestly who does – but the fact James’ ankle is not at 100 percent is going to have an impact. I actually believe in the Suns enough that I’m just going to pick them to take down the defending champions at +144 odds. I’ll get more specific as well, betting on the Suns to win the series in six games for +700 odds at the basketball betting sites in New Jersey.

Despite believing in the Lakers to win the series as a whole, the top NBA betting sites in New Jersey made the Suns 2.5-point favorites for Game 1. I am sure the sportsbooks watched how the Lakers played in the play-in game and were skeptical about the quick turnaround. What would concern me more is how the Lakers are going to defend Booker, who has the potential to explode for 40 points on any given night, after watching Steph Curry torch them earlier this week. Booker obviously is not nearly as good as a shotmaker as Curry, but the Suns also have more talent around him than the Warriors have around Curry. I expect Phoenix to feed into the role of underdog and come out motivated to make a statement at home, where they were 27-9 this season. I’m betting on the Suns to win by single digits at +175 odds then doubling down on the Suns to win by 1-5 points at +390 odds and Phoenix to win by 6-10 points at +480 odds in order to reap more of a payout. For those interested in betting on the Suns to win both Game 1 and the series, the sportsbooks are offering +185 odds.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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