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Lakers struggle while Suns overcome Chris Paul injury to win Game 1

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, right, deflects a shot by Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the first half of Game 1.
Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, right, deflects a shot by Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the first half of Game 1 of the first-round playoff series on Sunday.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The arena echoed, chants of “Beat L.A.” bouncing between the nearly 12,000 fans watching the Phoenix Suns and Lakers open their first-round playoff series.

There was intensity. There was anger. There was tension. There was atmosphere.

“It actually felt back to normal,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said.

All of it looked pretty familiar Sunday, the Lakers in a totally different setting but somehow managing to start the playoffs exactly how they did a season ago, with a feeble offensive performance in a Game 1 loss.

Anthony Davis is supposed to be a game-changer. Against the Phoenix Suns in Game 1, he played soft and decimated the Lakers’ chance at victory.

After securing their playoff spot with a dramatic victory, the Lakers opened their title defense with a dispiriting 99-90 loss to the second-seeded Suns, an offensive output so dismal that Lakers players refused to count a meaningless late three when talking about the final score.

The team made only seven three-point shots and missed 11 free throws and nine layups, by their count. No one scored more than LeBron James’ 18 points, and Davis made only five of 16 shots.

Devin Booker led Phoenix with 34 points while center Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 16 rebounds, eight coming on the offensive glass.

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But the Lakers’ problems were mostly on the other end of the court, where they rarely made things look easy. It was eerily similar to how their last playoffs began, the team scoring 93 points in a first-round clunker against Portland.

The Lakers and Clippers open the NBA playoffs on May 22-23. Here’s a guide to the Los Angeles Times’ complete coverage.

After that game, there was a simple message that dominated the Lakers’ adjustments. Even though it’s a different team in a different circumstance, that message probably will be the same before Game 2 on Tuesday.

“The adjustment was just everyone talking and saying, ‘Make shots. Be confident in your shot-making abilities.’ And we came out in Game 2 and made shots,” Davis recalled. “That’s all it is. Guys can’t lose confidence in themselves because we missed shots.”

Making shots would make a big difference. Chris Paul’s health might make an even bigger one.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 99-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference quarterfinals on Sunday.

In the first half Sunday, Paul hit the court hard, his right arm dangling at his side after crashing into teammate Cameron Johnson. Players from both teams gathered around Paul while he was on the floor, with James helping him to his feet before Paul went to the locker room.

The crowd roared when Paul returned to the bench and re-entered the game, but it was clear he wasn’t right. The Suns called the injury a “shoulder contusion,” but Paul said he heard a “crack” on the play. He struggled to shoot comfortably the rest of the game.

Paul, though, would again be in the spotlight in the second half, sending James to the floor after a missed free throw. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said it was an “overly aggressive box out, a dangerous play where LeBron was in the air and got undercut.” While that was happening in the paint, Phoenix guard Cameron Payne and Alex Caruso had a brief skirmish, with Montrezl Harrell running in to join the shoving match.

Caruso and Harrell both received technical fouls and Payne got ejected for pushing Caruso and throwing the ball at him. James walked to the Lakers bench shaking his left arm and rubbing his shoulder.

Asked how he was feeling and whether or not he thought Paul’s play was dangerous, James flatly said, “I’ll be ready for Game 2.”

Lakers-Suns schedule for first-round playoff series.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

He usually is.

In one of the NBA’s wildest statistical anomalies, James is an expert at bouncing back after Game 1 losses. His teams have lost the series opener 20 times. His teams have advanced in 12 of them, including four of the last five times it happened.

Five times, James’ teams responded to losing a series opener by winning four straight games.

“It gives me a real advantage to be able to dissect a team; you know what we did wrong in the previous games,” James said. ”Game 1’s always been a feel-out game for me.”

The Lakers don’t need to freak out. They’ve walked this path before.

“You gotta win four before you go to the next round, right?” Caruso said. “So they’re up 1-0. … That’s part of the playoffs. And part of doing this business is not getting too high and too low.”

This business at this time of year? It’s all about feeling normal.


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