DAN BICKLEY

First-round matchup with Lakers could be a nightmare for Suns

May 11, 2021, 5:32 PM | Updated: 5:47 pm
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Markieff Morris #88 of the Los Angeles Lakers jump for th...
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Markieff Morris #88 of the Los Angeles Lakers jump for the opening tip during the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on March 21, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 111-94. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Nightmares are not rewards. They don’t belong at the end of dream seasons.

Welcome to life on Planet Orange.

The other side of hard? That would be a path to the NBA Finals that includes a first-round matchup against the dreaded Los Angeles Lakers.

This is more than matchup problems, although many of those exist. The Lakers have seven players who are 6-foot-9 or taller. The Suns have four. The Lakers have exquisite frontcourt depth, featuring Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Andre Drummond.

Meanwhile, the Suns have a glaring weakness at interior depth. Deandre Ayton has made giant strides in 2021, but he remains raw and unpredictable, and he might be a foul magnet against the superstar talents of Davis. Ayton’s backups (Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky) would represent an easy feast for the Lakers, and asking the 6-foot-6 Jae Crowder to fill a defensive void in the paint is a bit much, even for a player with real gravitas.

We already know what those games might look like. Tons of offensive rebounds and second-chance points for the Lakers. Lots of free throws for the Lakers. Many one-shot possessions for the Suns, who will be forced to shoot the lights out against the NBA’s best defensive team.

In the end, a No. 2 seed would have to pull off an upset to advance. That’s not poetic justice. That’s just wrong.

This is also about our tender psyche.

Drawing the Lakers in the opening round of playoffs would feel like awful confirmation that we are eternally cursed as a sports market. The Suns have authored one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NBA history, ending an 11-year playoff drought with a team of grinders who scoff at load management, a team that has built the second-best record in the NBA.

In any given year, a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference should expect an inferior opponent in the first round of the playoffs. They do not deserve a towering opponent stung by injuries and indifference, a Lakers team that still possesses the best collection of talent in the NBA.

Suns general manager James Jones is also in a precarious position. He executed a string of brilliant maneuvers that have changed the game in Phoenix. He has stitched together one of the finer GM performances in Arizona history. He has earned the trust of the team’s volatile majority owner. He compelled Monty Williams to choose the Suns over the Lakers. He acquired Chris Paul, signed Jae Crowder and stole Torrey Craig.

Jones is creating an architectural masterpiece. But what if the one move he didn’t make spells our doom?

Jones chose not to bolster his frontcourt near the NBA trade deadline, even though the Lakers added Drummond to an already stacked lineup, even though the Lakers were perfectly equipped to expose the flaws in his basketball team.

In a perfect world, Jones doesn’t deserve any form of second-guessing, not after his collection of bold strokes. But a looming first-round matchup against a nemesis like the Lakers is high-risk, high-reward, and it comes with heavy consequences. Can you imagine the trolling we’d endure at the hands of bandwagon Lakers fans if the matchup backfires?

It might bring out the worst in us. Lose to the Lakers in the first round, and the homers/cheerleaders will be stretched into pretzels attempting to paint a pretty picture. Others will surely be convinced that NBA officials were conspiring against us all the way, per usual, because the league would never let the Lakers get eliminated by the mid-market Suns.

Bottom line: The only way the Suns can justify a postseason that ends before the NBA Finals is by accumulating precious and extensive playoff experience along the way. Something that helps propel them to a championship trophy next season.

That doesn’t happen with a first-round ouster to the Lakers. Nothing good comes from that, which is why our playoff opponent is serious business. It will be the ultimate test of our revamped fortunes, and whether Lady Luck has finally bought a ticket on the Phoenix bandwagon.

Penguin Air

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) flips the ball in the air as Cardinals quarterback T...
Dan Bickley

Kyler Murray can begin carrying Cardinals, but they must ante up

We need Murray to carry the Cardinals, through their flaws and their weaknesses on defense, past DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension.
12 days ago
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in the first qua...
Dan Bickley

Can the Suns win a championship without Deandre Ayton next season?

The potential departure of restricted free agent Deandre Ayton begs the question of if the Phoenix Suns can still be elite without him.
19 days ago
Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray (1) participates during the team's NFL football practice, Wednesday...
Dan Bickley

Kyler Murray’s arrival at Cardinals OTAs gives Valley much-needed jolt

Some might say he showed up late to OTAs. But somehow, he arrived at exactly the right time, giving the Valley a much-needed jolt of energy.
25 days ago
Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Chris Paul #3 during the second half of th...
Dan Bickley

Focus should be on Chris Paul after Suns’ unexplained collapse

Monty Williams, according to multiple sources, had something of a fallout with Suns point guard Chris Paul.
1 month ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the first half in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Play...
Dan Bickley

Suns’ humiliating Game 7 loss is 1 of the greatest collapses in NBA history

The Valley is not devastated. We are disgusted. We are humiliated. We just witnessed one of the greatest collapses in the history of the NBA.
1 month ago
DALLAS, TEXAS - MAY 12: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after hitting his hand while takin...
Dan Bickley

Suns facing new crossroads ahead of Game 7 against Mavs

The Suns are at a new crossroads. They are at the dangerous intersection of survival and scorn. Lose Game 7 to the Mavs, what do they become?
1 month ago
First-round matchup with Lakers could be a nightmare for Suns