EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns breeze by Lakers behind season-high 28 from Chris Paul

Dec 19, 2022, 10:51 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2022, 11:27 am

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns should take every version of a get-right game they can get right now as the injuries pile on in December. That’s a brief shift from the normal attitude I’ve written about in this space the last two-plus years, trying to play in as many playoff-esque matchups as possible to iron out out the edges as a contender. Usually a game like this would be relatively worthless compared to most but they just need to patch together wins right now.

The Los Angeles Lakers, to say the least, presented the opportunity for one on Monday that the Suns quickly snatched up for an easy 130-104 win.

Four of the five leading scorers for the Lakers were out on the second game of a back-to-back, a similar spot the Suns found themselves in last week against the Clippers. Russell Westbrook (left foot soreness), Anthony Davis (right foot soreness), LeBron James (left ankle soreness) and Austin Reaves (right ankle sprain) were out, in addition to Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain).

Devin Booker (groin soreness), Cam Johnson (meniscus tear), Jock Landale (concussion protocols), Cam Payne (right foot strain) and Duane Washington Jr. (left hip muscle strain) didn’t play for Phoenix but the Suns are a much deeper team and had less significant injuries, a disparity that was apparent right away. Throw in how bad Los Angeles’ energy was and it got out of hand immediately.

The Suns went on a 16-1 run that ran to the late first quarter for a 12-point edge that quickly ballooned to 21 and beyond in the following period. It continues the bizarre recent trend of Phoenix playing in games with a definitive first half, halves that are either really good for the Suns or really bad.

The Lakers decided to try much more in the third quarter, a difficult adjustment for the team in control, and they got within 13 before Phoenix quickly bumped its lead back up to 22 by the end of it. The fourth quarter was the fourth quarter.

There’s not much in terms of takeaways from games like this, when the Lakers are as uncompetitive as they were.

But it must have been good for the Suns to see Chris Paul getting to his spots as a scorer with a little more tenacity and consistency early on.

Paul scored a season-high 14 points in the first quarter, easily besting his previous high of eight, and finished the game at a season-high 28.

Paul stayed on his front foot in the fourth quarter especially, using it as some live scrimmage run of sorts to see some shots go down. There has been some clear hesitancy with him when it comes to playing as a scorer this year, so any extra shaking off the rust helps, even in a game like Monday’s.

“We all tell Chris to shoot the ball. It’s like the most unbelievable thing ever, having to tell a Hall of Fame player to shoot, which is mind-boggling,” Suns head coach Monty Williams joked.

“I guess it could be worse, they could tell you not to shoot it,” Paul joked. “I just think that’s people having confidence in me and knowing what I’m capable of.”

Deandre Ayton’s most random matchup that produces equal chips on shoulders is against Thomas Bryant, a big who has gotten the better of him in the past, and Ayton played like it from the start. He produced a double-double in the first half and ended up with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Mikal Bridges added 20 points, Torrey Craig brought 17 more on his birthday and Damion Lee fit right in with the starters in his first nod, contributing 15.

The blowout also let Williams get minutes down on the first game of a home back-to-back. Bridges ended up at just 31 while Lee topped the whole game at 38.

Josh Okogie, who has been playing really well the last two weeks, left the game in the late third quarter with a sore right hip.

Lee hit five 3s, Craig made all four of his attempts and the Suns as a team knocked down 20. They surprisingly had only 21 assists.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel (35) drives against Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Los Angeles Lakers guard Max Christie (10) shields the ball from Phoenix Suns forward Ish Wainright during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, left, talks to guard Chris Paul (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Los Angeles Lakers guard Scotty Pippen Jr., right, shoots over Phoenix Suns guard Damion Lee (10) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday Dec. 19, 2022 in Phoenix.. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) drives past Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, center, with Lakers center Damian Jones (30) setting a pick during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn (12) drives against Phoenix Suns forward Josh Okogie during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (0) fouls Los Angeles Lakers center Thomas Bryant, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Los Angeles Lakers center Damian Jones (30) shoots over Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel (35) and Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo (18) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton shoots over Los Angeles Lakers center Thomas Bryant during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton shoots over Los Angeles Lakers center Thomas Bryant (31) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives past Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right, shoots over Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Phoenix Suns guard Damion Lee drives on Los Angeles Lakers guard Max Christie during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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