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Spurts of success not enough after Suns take Lakers’ 2nd-quarter punch

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Offense won’t come easily for a Phoenix Suns team putting the heavy weight of scoring and playmaking in the hands of guard Devin Booker. Even when the offense did come easily in the second half Wednesday against the previously winless Los Angeles Lakers, it was too late.

In fact, it hardly moved the needle on the Suns’ deficit.

Phoenix shot 60 percent in the second half, recording 15 assists on 24 made shots. But the Lakers were only outscored by four points in the final 24 minutes.

So let’s get to the turning point of the Suns’ 131-113 blowout loss at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

They were outscored 44-24 in the second quarter. Ballgame.

“One thing we can’t afford is (being) a team that when (things don’t go the) right way, that we just kind of close in our world and our own shell and try to figure it out individually,” Phoenix head coach Igor Kokoskov said. “We have to stick together especially when you have those kinds of challenges and when the game is being determined. That challenge has got to put us together instead of send us in a different direction.”

That challenge was LeBron James igniting Los Angeles during a runaway second quarter.

He scored 10 of his 19 points and dished six of his 10 assists in the second quarter in what became an otherwise quiet night for the superstar.

But it was the Suns shooting themselves in the foot that spurred the run. They turned the ball over nine times for 15 Lakers points in the second period.

By the end of the night, they’d given the ball up 20 times for 28 Los Angeles points.

“Just our turnovers, not getting back in transition,” said Booker of what went wrong as the Lakers pulled away. “Miscommunications on offense that led to them getting buckets on the other end.

“I think that’s what got them going. Once they had that momentum and full head of steam, they kept rolling.”

And so Phoenix suffered its third straight blowout loss to follow its 2018-19 season-opening win over the Dallas Mavericks.

It boiled down quite simply to this: If Booker has to carry an offense and if the defense can’t make stops, odds of a win aren’t high.

Booker did have to do the heavy lifting as primary initiator before leaving in the third quarter with a strained left hamstring. He finished with 23 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and four turnovers in 29 minutes.

The 21-year-old said his injury felt like a cramp and added he will be reevaluated Thursday morning.

“Just took a bad step, felt it, that’s all I know,” Booker said. “I’m going to sleep it off and tomorrow have a better understanding of what’s going on.”

Rookie center Deandre Ayton added 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for Phoenix, but he was nearly equaled by Los Angles center JaVale McGee scoring 20 points. Beyond McGee, the Lakers had plenty of help around James, as reserve guard Lance Stephenson led the team with 23 points and added eight of the Lakers’ 34 total assists.

By the end of the night, the Suns ended up shooting just as well as Los Angeles (52 percent) but took 16 fewer shot attempts due to the turnover margin.

And while they gave up the ball, they also didn’t take it away from the Lakers, who coughed it up just eight times.

“I’m not pleased with any part of the game, defense included,” Kokoskov said. “There were some sparks, some moments. Competing is not good enough. We have to be smart and make the right play. A lot of times, again, when you don’t play smart, when you make mental breakdowns, it looks like you don’t compete.”

Added Ayton: “You just can’t show it in spurts. Hopefully it gets contagious one of these days and we can really set the tone and let teams know we’re the underdogs for real and we’re fighting back.

“This is a great team. These guys know we’re better than this. We just got to keep fighting and really address certain things in how we lose in practice.”

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