Lance Stephenson helps Lakers pull away in sloppy game against Suns
Ask Lance Stephenson and he’ll tell you there is never a night when he doesn’t feel capable of hot shooting. On the nights when that belief comes to fruition, he can change the energy of a game.
It happened in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 116-102 victory Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns.
Until then, the building had gotten quiet. The Lakers were in a sloppy contest against the Western Conference’s worst team, turning the ball over too much and letting the Suns cut their once-sizable deficit to single digits.
Within the span of 45 seconds, the Lakers guard hit two three-pointers and a 20-footer, putting together his own personal 8-0 run. At the break afterward, the Lakers played their sponsored “Air Band Cam” on the video board, where fans could imitate Stephenson’s favorite air guitar celebration.
Even some ushers around the arena got in on the fun to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
From then on, there was no doubt who would win the battle of banged up teams.
The Lakers prevailed. With the win the Lakers improved to 26-24 while the Suns fell to 11-41.
“The goal tonight was to get a win, get some positivity,” Stephenson said. “We still got some tough games coming up, so I’m just happy we got this win and we got it together.”
Stephenson finished with 17 points on seven-for-10 shooting. Brandon Ingram scored 22 points, 17 of them in the first half, on nine-for-11 shooting. He fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
Ivica Zubac notched a double-double with 24 points and 16 rebounds. He fouled out in the closing minute of the game and left to a standing ovation, which was started by Tyson Chandler and LeBron James.
Throughout the game, James, Chandler and Kyle Kuzma sat in a row at the end of the bench, James and Kuzma decked out in black blazers and white shirts and Chandler sporting Lakers warmups.
James is still recovering from a groin injury he suffered Dec. 25.
Kuzma is recovering from a hip injury he suffered in Houston on Jan. 19. Sunday’s game was the first Kuzma has sat out because of the injury.
Lakers coach Luke Walton rested Chandler, whose minutes he felt were affecting his play. Josh Hart played only one minute in the second half, as knee tendinitis he has had since his college days has been flaring up for the last few weeks.
“Hopefully those guys continue to get healthy,” Rajon Rondo said.
“That’s part of it. That’s part of the season. It’s a long season, guys are going to get banged up, but for the most part, guys stepped up. [Michael Beasley] stepped up to the line tonight, [Zubac] played unbelievable and [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] did as well. [Ingram] carried us in the first half. So it was a team effort and regardless of what happened, we got the W.”
With so many injuries, the Lakers started Beasley for the first time this season. He finished with eight points, six assists and three blocked shots.
The Lakers opened the game on a 10-2 run, and while the Suns ultimately tied the score at times in the first quarter, they never took the lead.
Without 7-footer Deandre Ayton available, the Suns struggled to protect the paint, where the Lakers had a 70-46 advantage.
“We knew they didn’t have Ayton so we knew they didn’t have any rim protection,” Zubac said. “So our game plan was get in the paint. Stop shooting threes, get in the paint and they don’t have any rim protection. We started doing that. They started collapsing into the paint and we hit open threes.
“Finally we made some.”
The Lakers were coming off a three-game losing streak, even more short-handed than they were in their Thursday loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I thought they were locked in to what our goals were, and we didn’t play the cleanest of games, but we found a way to win,” Walton said. “And we needed a win.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
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