The Lakers absorbed a wire-to-wire beating at the hands of the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, staggering into the All-Star break with one of their worst defensive performances of the season. Here are five things we learned from their 137-101 loss to the Suns in Talking Stick Resort Arena:
1. As if his inconsistent play hasn’t been frustrating enough for Lakers fans and coaches, point guard D’Angelo Russell seemed to suffer from a case of selective amnesia Wednesday night.
Asked about his apparently heated discussions with center Ivica Zubac in the first quarter and forward Brandon Ingram in the fourth, Russell said, “I don’t remember, honestly.”
Russell was told that he appeared to chew out Zubac early in the game when Russell’s entry pass went off Zubac’s hands for a turnover that led to Devin Booker’s alley-oop dunk and a 21-6 Phoenix lead. Russell appeared to have stern words for Ingram after a late-game defensive lapse.
Ring a bell?
“I don’t remember, honestly,” Russell said.
Ingram shed some light on Russell’s message.
“Just to finish,” he said. “That’s basically what we’re talking about, trying to finish the ballgame and trying to regroup.”
2. While Russell, Ingram and Nick Young participate in All-Star Game activities in New Orleans and the rest of the players scatter for brief vacations and downtime, Coach Luke Walton will be busy over the break. On his to-do list will be face-to-face meetings with Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations, general manager Mitch Kupchak and recently hired advisor Magic Johnson.
3. After missing six of his first nine shots, Russell warmed up and scored 21 points on seven-of-20 shooting and two of six three-pointers. With his two long-range shots, Russell tied LeBron James for the second-most three-pointers made (212) by a player before his 21st birthday in NBA history.
Russell won’t get a chance to pass James because he turns 22 on Feb. 23, the day before the Lakers play their next game. Did tying James, who is recognized as one of the top players in NBA history, mean anything to Russell?
“Yes and no, to a certain extent,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue about that, but to be mentioned with him is cool.”
4. The Suns dominated the Lakers in virtually every statistical category, including field-goal percentage (55.7% to 37.6%), rebounds (59-36), assists (32-16), points in the paint (60-34), fast-break points (41-16) and blocked shots (10-3).
Two of those blocks came on the same possession early in the third quarter, when Marquese Chriss rejected Ingram’s driving attempt, and TJ Warren snuffed Nick Young’s attempt to score on a follow shot.
“It started in practice [Tuesday], we had a really intense practice,” Booker said. “We kept saying, ‘There’s no way we’re going to beat each other up in practice like this and not come to the game and do it.’ We did that. We protected the rim and defended well.”
5. When the Lakers are fatigued mentally and physically, like they were in the second game of a back-to-back and in their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday night, they can look helpless, even against one of the worst teams in the NBA, like the Suns.
“Today was very frustrating, and going into the break like this is tough,” Young said. “You have to keep a level head and clear your head. We still have 20-something games left. We have to finish things off the right way. … You have to look at yourself in the mirror and see what you can do better. Come back and finish the season strong.”