And the gap is closing.
In the race to avoid finishing in the basement of the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns picked up a huge win on Wednesday.
They handled the Los Angeles Lakers, 137-101, behind Eric Bledsoe’s third career triple-double (25 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high tying 13 assists) and a second straight 20-point effort from Devin Booker, who shot 9-of-14 from the field including four 3-pointers for 23 points.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and pulled the Suns (18-39) to within a half-game of the Lakers (19-39).
In their most decisive victory of 2016-17, the Suns, in front of a sellout crowd at Talking Stick Resort Arena, record season-bests in total points (137), field goal percentage (55.7), assists (27) and fastbreak points (33).
The 36-point difference also marked the season’s largest lead and largest margin of victory.
Playing their second game in as many nights, the Lakers looked tired, or perhaps better put, disinterested in what was the final game ahead of the NBA All-Star break.
D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams each had 21 to lead the Lakers, who have now lost three of four.
For the Suns, they have now won 11 straight home games against the Lakers, the longest home winning streak for the Suns in series history.
Booker made as many field goals (five) as the Lakers and nearly matched the visitors’ first-quarter scoring (13-to-15), while Bledsoe had four more assists than the Lakers (6 to 2) at the end of the period, one in which the Suns led by as many as 22 points. Booker shot 5-of-7, and the Lakers went 5-of-19 as their 15 points set a new Suns opponent season low for points scored in the first quarter. Bledsoe, by the way, accounted for 16 of the Suns’ 32 points.
The Bledsoe-Booker show continued in the second quarter, highlighted by Bledsoe’s 41-foot 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer. That gave the Suns a 68-48 lead and him 10 points to go along with his 10 assists. His 10th dime was a mid-court alley-oop lob to Marquese Chriss, who dunked home his 11th and 12th points. Booker, meanwhile, scored a game-high eight points in the period, including a pair of 3s. He had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting through two quarters.
Welcome to the Suns’ block party. In the third quarter alone, the Suns blocked five shots, including two each by Chriss and T.J. Warren. Those two combined to block consecutive shots within minutes apart. They first got Nick Young and Julius Randle. Later, Young and Brandon Ingram were victimized. And not to be outdone, Booker recorded a block, hustling back on defense to swat away Jordan Clarkson’s layup attempt at the 2:57 mark of the period.
It happened with 6:06 to play in the game. Bledsoe grabbed his 10th rebound, tracking down Williams’ missed 3-pointer. It marked the first triple-double by a Suns player since Brandon Knight did so against the Lakers on Nov. 16, 2015. Speaking of Knight, he scored a game-high nine fourth-quarter points, shooting 4-of-8 from the field with one 3-pointer, and grabbed two rebounds. He played all 12 minutes of the period, the only bench player to lay such a claim.
It wasn’t bad, it was just plain awful. Of course, we’re talking about the Lakers, who looked liked they left their basketball-playing skills in L.A. one night after hosting Sacramento. The Lakers missed their first five shot attempts and turned the ball over four times in their first eight possessions. They made their first field goal at the 7:43 mark of the first quarter, a Russell 17-foot pull-up jump shot, and by then the Suns had already built a double-digit lead.
At the 6:24 mark of the second quarter, P.J. Tucker tumbled into a row of photographers along the baseline and landed on a camera. Initially, it appeared he had hurt his left ankle because he got up and limped back to the locker room. However, the Suns announced Tucker had suffered a lower back contusion. Listed as questionable to return, Tucker did so with 4:55 to play in the third quarter. He finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes.
Down 30, the Lakers refused to go away quietly in the third quarter. Clarkson and Williams each had five points in a 15-7 run to pull to within 96-74 at the 1:32 mark of the period. Williams finished with seven, tying him with Russell for team-high honors in the quarter. Williams’ final tally of 21 points (7-of-13 FG), by the way, marked his 25th 20-point game of the season, the most by a reserve player in the NBA this season. The next closest is Houston’s Eric Gordon with 16.
STAT OF THE GAME
1: The Suns recorded their first wire-to-wire win of the season, scoring the game’s first seven points. Their overall lead never dropped below 22 in the second half.
HE SAID IT
“The game wasn’t won tonight,” head coach Earl Watson said. “Yesterday in practice, we had a really physical and aggressive practice. The guys that came in, they always respond. This roster always responds. This group, no matter how difficult the challenge is, they come back and want to get better. They practice hard, they play aggressive, they are transparent, push each other, love each other and the benefit was actually the game from practice.”
– The Suns’ 68 first-half points established a new season high, besting the previous mark of 66 in a 137-112 loss to Milwaukee on Feb. 4.
– Bledsoe has scored in double-digits in a career-long 43 straight games, the longest Suns streak since Amar’e Stoudemire (51) in 2009-10.
– Booker is now averaging 23.9 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from beyond the arc over his last 22 games.
– The game featured four players (Booker, Chriss, Ingram and Russell) on the U.S. Team in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans.
– The game featured a matchup between the NBA’s two youngest current head coaches in Watson (37) and the Lakers’ Luke Walton (36).
The Suns are now off for the next eight days.
They don’t play again until a week from Friday, when they travel to Chicago on Feb. 24, the start of a three-game road trip. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Suns have won two straight over the Bulls, including the first meeting this season, 115-97 on Feb. 10.
In that game, Booker (27) and Bledsoe (23) combined for 50 points to outduel Chicago’s scoring tandem of Jimmy Butler (20) and Dwyane Wade (18). Alan Williams, getting minutes in place of the suspended Alex Len and Tyson Chandler, who left the game with a sprained ankle in the first half, posted his fourth career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds to go with four blocked shots.
If the Suns make it three straight victories in the series, then it would be their longest winning streak over the Bulls since five straight from 2004-07.
From Chicago, the Suns will visit Milwaukee and Memphis to close out the month.
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