The Los Angeles Lakers travelled to Phoenix to take on a young, up-and-coming Suns team, winning by a score of 123-114. They will now look to start another win streak after seeing the Raptors end their previous run.
The Return of Rondo
Rajón Rondo made his season debut tonight. Coach Vogel said he would be on a minutes restriction for his first action of the season. Overall, he had a mixed bag kind of night, but there were some signs he can be an impact player this season, but time will tell as his minutes restriction withers away. There were encouraging signs, like LeBron leading the team in assists on the night. The ball was never going to run through Rondo anyways when James was on the court, but it was encouraging to see that LeBron is still the unquestioned facilitator of the team, allowing Rondo to play in his preferred role when James goes to the bench and the Lakers stagger AD into the game. Rondo finished with 7 assists in 14 minutes, something that will hopefully help the ball move more in their two-man offense. If he can facilitate with the bench unit and even play alongside James effectively, we will be an extremely useful piece for Vogel to use in this championship puzzle. There weren’t as many Rondo-Davis alley oops as you’d like to see, but it’s encouraging to see a solid-if not-unspectacular game from Rondo in his return.
Kuzma Looks Back to his Best
Speaking of players being re-integrated, how about Kuz? He seems to be rounding into form a bit–as he showed early on, torching the Suns for 13 first quarter points. His usage plummeted in the second half, not shocking considering he’s still on the mend. He scored two huge fourth quarter threes with under 2:30 left in the game to swing the game from 114-113 to 120-113. It was over in a flash. Games like this remind you just why the Lakers didn’t want to include him in the AD trade, and why he’s still in Purple and Gold to the day.
So…how did the Lakers win this game?
The Lakers got some very good performances from their non-Big Two. Danny Green and Alex Caruso took their turns marking Devin Booker on the perimeter, taking shot after shot running through picks trying to limit him. He wound up with 21 points on 9/18, and missed both of his three point attempts. The fact that he only took two three pointers is a testament to the attention they gave him. Kyle Kuzma’s 13 first quarter points kept the Lakers in it early, with both Davis and James starting the game so poorly. It took a little bit of a full team effort to pull this one in, on a night where Davis and James were very good, just not great.
Semantics aside, this was a complete performance where the Suns set the tempo by running and getting quick shots. That’s not one of the Lakers’ strengths and the Suns knew it, so they attacked. Ricky Rubio was doing that thing where he turns into Ray Allen when he plays the Lakers, and he finished the night with 21 PTS and 10 AST, despite the Lakers’ best efforts. The Lakers hung around and eventually got a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Lakers even shot 40% from three! They out rebounded the Suns and did a great job of limiting Phoenix in transition, where Toronto had shredded them in the Lakers’ last action. Kuzma started the game hot, then came in at the end and closed the door on Phoenix with those threes–something that was missing from the Lakers first handful of games (outside of Danny Green). Say what you want about all the noise from the outside, but this Lakers team is damn good and Rob Pelinka adding players like Howard and Green and keeping Kuz in trade negotiations was shrewd management.
The Lakers will look to win their second straight when they take on the hobbled Warriors at Staples on Wednesday, November 13 at 7:00 PST on ESPN. The game is the second half of a back-to-back, the first for LA this season.