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Lonzo Ball, Lakers carve up Suns as defense again flops

Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball (2) and forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) high-five during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — It wasn’t a 48-point defeat, but the optics remain unchanged for the Phoenix Suns through the second game of the season.

Falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 132-130 on Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix did pile up just three fewer points by halftime as they scored in a 124-76 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night. But there was a lot to be concerned about, and T.J. Warren’s missed free throws with the Suns trailing by two and a second left was far from the story.

The Lakers shot 51 percent, hitting 46 percent of their threes. This, after Phoenix allowed the Blazers to hit 58 percent of their triples.

“If these two programs are the future of the NBA, there’s no defense in the future,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. “We have to change.”

For the Lakers, second overall 2017 NBA Draft pick and 19-year-old Lonzo Ball recovered from an ugly opening night with 11 rebounds, nine assists and eight of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. Twenty-year-old Brandon Ingram scored 25 points on 14 shot attempts, while Larry Nance Jr. (14), Jordan Clarkson (17) and Kyle Kuzma (15) hit double-figures.

“The last game, I shot six shots; that didn’t work out so well,” Ball said. “Figured I’d try something else.”

The Suns are young. But it wasn’t all youth that did them in as they attempted to rally late.

While 16 of point guard Eric Bledsoe’s 28 points came in the fourth quarter, he and Tyson Chandler were victimized by Ball and Brook Lopez running pick-and-rolls.

On one back-breaking layup, Ball found the lane wide open as Chandler went the wrong way on a pick-and-roll coverage, and Dragan Bender found himself on an island in the corner against Kuzma.

Later, on a would-be-assist that would have given Ball his first triple-double in just his second NBA game, Ingram missed an open three when Bledsoe and T.J. Warren miscommunicated.

“Lonzo hit big shots over Tyson,” Watson said. “Got too complicated. Guys start to second-guess it instead of staying with it.

“Lonzo’s tricky, like, if you’re over the top, he’s quick enough to make plays in the paint,” the Suns coach added. “If you go under it, today he shot well from three. Before coming in tonight he shot 20 percent, 25 percent, maybe even 23 percent from three (off the dribble). He made three-point shots off the dribble. If he masters that, he’s going to be a very difficult guard for the future, if not now.”

Five things to note

1. If we’re searching for positives, there’s this: Devin Booker and Warren, the two assumed best offensive players for the Suns, found their groove.

Booker finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting with 11 boards and eight assists. While he sniffed a triple-double, for the second game of two so far, the third-year pro didn’t play against an opponent’s starting shooting guard – the Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell Pope, like Portland’s C.J. McCollum, was suspended.

Warren scored 24 points to go with seven boards and four dimes.

Just four of the Suns’ 37 points in the second quarter were not scored or assisted by Booker or Warren – four times, they assisted one another for buckets.

Warren went scoreless in eight first-quarter minutes, missing all three of his shots, but he went 6-of-7 in the second quarter and got to the foul stripe for five more points while attacking Ingram.

2. Backup point guard Tyler Ulis didn’t appear and was listed on the injury report with a quad contusion. But either way, the Suns needed more scoring off the bench, and Mike James contributed nine points in the third, sparking a mini-run for the Suns to close the quarter trailing 106-99. He exchanged one sequence with Ball, answering the rookie’s transition trey with his own and then ripping Ball and drawing the foul.

James finished with a plus-five plus-minus, 13 points and an assist in 22 minutes.

3. Dragan Bender earned 19 minutes and played down the stretch in the fourth quarter to finish with three points, seven rebounds two blocks and a steal.

“Bender was a plus-16, he got some big rebounds in the fourth quarter,” Watson said.

4. Alex Len debuted after missing the first game with an ankle injury. He scored four points and grabbed seven boards. Add in Chriss’ five points and six rebounds, the Suns won the rebounding battle 49-42 two nights after getting overwhelmed on the glass by Portland.

5. Watson, on taking Chriss out to dinner after announcing he would come off the bench to start the year:

“‘Quese and I went to dinner yesterday. He spent a lot on my budget, so I think we’re good. I mean, he’s not supposed to be happy. We don’t want him to be happy. We want to put ‘Quese in a situation where he’s not forced to grow but he’s in a situation where he has to grow. We want ‘Quese to be this amazing guy who can play above the rim, rebound and shoot threes. And we need to get ‘Quese going and it’s up to me as a coach, myself, to make sure I always set Quese up for life and basketball, you know, as far as being a player he’s supposed to be a also the person he’s supposed to be. Sometimes you got to pull back a little bit to get more. When you pull back you have to tell them why. You teach them how to overcome back and then you give them more. He understands that. We went to dinner, told him I love him, so we’re good.

“This is funny. So we get to dinner and I go, ‘You hated me yesterday.’ He said, ‘kind of.’ We have that situation once a season, it just happened earlier (this season). I was like, ‘That’s cool, you’re supposed to hate me, but you know I still love you.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I love you too.” I said, ‘let’s have dinner. Let’s talk about this.’

“I believe in him so much, and it’s not like a punishment, it’s that I need to get his attention and I need to walk him through on how to get him back to where he needs to be and even better.”

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