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Suns Strokes: Suns come up short against Lakers in high-scoring thriller

Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, left, loses the ball as Phoenix Suns guard Mike James, center, and forward TJ Warren defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Coming off their worst loss in franchise history, and the worst-ever loss on opening night in NBA history, the Phoenix Suns’ response in game No. 2 was going to be closely watched.

Would they man-up and play better or would the season opener be a sign of things to come in 2017-18?

It would be the former, though the end result may be the latter.

Despite three 20-point scorers, the Suns (0-2) lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, 132-130, in front of a soldout crowd of 18,055 at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday.

The fans got their money’s worth.

Lonzo Ball and the Lakers (1-1) held off a furious Suns rally that saw T.J. Warren at the foul line with 1.2 seconds left with a chance to tie the game and perhaps force overtime. Warren, though, missed both free throws.

Ball fell one assist shy of a triple-double, scoring a game-high 29 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Brandon Ingram added 25, while Brook Lopez recorded a double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds).

For the Suns, they were led by Eric Bledsoe (28 points, 16 in the fourth quarter), Devin Booker (25) and Warren (24). Booker set a career high with 11 rebounds.

THE GOOD

It took the Suns one quarter to surpass their two-quarter output from opening night. When Bledsoe hit a three-pointer with 29 seconds remaining in the period, it gave the Suns 36 points or one more than they had at halftime against Portland. Bledsoe’s three was the team’s seventh (on 12 attempts), matching their game total from two nights earlier. Bledsoe and Jackson each made a pair of three-pointers.

Scoreless in the first, Warren exploded for 17 points in the second quarter. He shot 6-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. In addition, he had two rebounds, two assists and a steal playing all 12 minutes of the period. Warren and Booker combined for 34 (on 12-of-20 shooting) of the Suns’ 73 first-half points, which by the way was just three fewer than what they finished with on Wednesday.

It was Mike James, not Tyler Ulis who was the first point guard off the bench and James delivered in the third quarter. He made 2-of-4 field goals, including a three-pointer, and 4-of-4 free throws for nine points. In addition, he had an assist and blocked a Ball shot attempt; all done while playing only six minutes. Ulis, by the way, was considered questionable to play because of a left quad contusion.

THE BAD

Off the bench for the Lakers, Jordan Clarkson scored seven straight points, hitting a pair of threes including the rare four-point play after being fouled by Troy Daniels. The 7-0 run put the Lakers up 38-31 — representing their largest lead — with 52 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Clarkson finished the period with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting. It was Ingram, however, who was the team’s and game’s leading scorer with 10.

It was the Kyle Kuzma show in the second quarter. For a three-minute stretch midway through the period, the Lakers first-round draft pick, 27th overall, accounted for all his team’s scoring. He dunked once and hit three layups, two assisted by Lopez. Kuzma finished with a team-best nine points, on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, with one assist while playing 10 of the 12 minutes in the quarter

Things got heated in the third quarter. At the 6:02 mark, Booker pushed Larry Nance Jr. in the back after Nance bumped him while going to check on Corey Brewer, who had been fouled by Booker on the fastbreak. After officials reviewed the play, Booker was assessed a flagrant foul-1 plus he and Nance received technical fouls. All this happened in the midst of a 9-0 Lakers run that put L.A. up, 91-83.

STAT OF THE GAME, part 1

52: After the Lakers made 12-of-26 threes, the Suns have now allowed their first two opponents to shoot a combined 52 percent from beyond the arc.

STAT OF THE GAME, part 2

26-of-36: The Suns missed 10 free throw attempts but none bigger than the two foul shots missed by Warren with the chance to tie the game with 1.2 seconds left.

NOTED

Booker put a scare into all Suns fans when he landed hard on his lower back after a foul by Lopez late in the second quarter.

Bledsoe had two assists, giving him 1,341 for his Suns career, tying Connie Hawkins for 14th place on the team’s all-time list.

James became the first Suns player to score 10-plus points in each of his first two career games since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2002.

Better ball movement had the Suns assisting on 12 of their 25 first-half made field goals; they had 10 assists on opening night.

Of those 25 first-half made field goals by the Suns, 10 were 3-pointers (on 17 attempts), three more than had on opening night.

Jared Dudley (left foot), Brandon Knight (left ACL), Davon Reed (left knee) and Alan Williams (right knee) were listed inactive.

Watson, 38 (UCLA), and Luke Walton, 37 (UA), are the NBA’s youngest current head coaches; the two were also Pac-12 rivals.

The Suns and Lakers are the NBA’s youngest (tied with the Bulls) and third-youngest (tied with the Sixers) teams, respectively.

UP NEXT

Immediately after the game, the Suns headed to the airport.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Suns face Blake Griffin, Milos Teodosic and DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers for the club’s first road game and back-to-back of the season.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Suns lost all four meetings last season and look to snap a seven-game losing streak in L.A.

Overall, the Suns lead the all-time series 130-82.

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