LOS ANGELES, CA-Watching Lance Stephenson emulate strumming the guitar to the delight of Staples Center fans after nailing consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter of a Western Conference Pacific Division matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns was a bolt of positive energy the team has been in need of for some time.
Asked if he ever had a particular song in mind when he goes through with his celebratory ritual on the court, Stephenson said at that moment he raced with thoughts about the King of Pop in his head.
“I think tonight, it was ‘Beat It,’” Stephenson said. “I was playing Michael Jackson in my head tonight. It really got me going.”
Stephenson had a reason to be excited. With Phoenix trailing only by six points with nearly the whole quarter remaining (11:25), Stephenson took the game over for Los Angeles, scoring 10 of the Lakers next 11 points to give the home team a 13-point cushion. Stephenson finished the game with 17 points.
Those points that Stephenson produced pushed the Lakers’ shaky lead into an insurmountable one. The Lakers didn’t look back eventually recording a 116-102 win on Sunday, Jan. 27. The 26th win of the season for the Lakers (26-24) was like giving the thirsty a much-needed cold drink of water.
The Lakers were in need a glass. That’s because the month of January has been a rough patch for the Lakers. The Purple and Gold have lost eight games in this month alone, including riding the crest of a three-game losing streak before the Suns made a trip to SoCal.
So what better way to get back on the winning track than to face off against a team that has one of the worst records in the NBA. The first two times that the Los Angeles Lakers played against the Suns the results were the same: both contests turned out to be blowouts against the team that has the worst record in the NBA.
The third time the teams met up with each other was not the charm for the Suns, either. Without Lonzo Ball and LeBron James out of the lineup, the Lakers’ starting rotation of Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Brandon Ingram, and Ivica Zubiac did not come across much resistance in the first half of the ballgame. Phoenix tried to make a game of it, but the Lakers stepped up and handled their business, and got the win.
“In the paint, there was no resistance, no presence; that’s how we started the game,” Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov said. “It’s hard. [As far as] physicality, they were more aggressive; they were attacking us. They were attacking the paint. They were attacking the rim. We were passive. We were just defending ourselves. [The] more aggressive team set a tone from the beginning and were trying to catch up later on in the game.”
Phoenix (11-41), led by Devin Booker’s 21 points, kept hanging around like a bad cough. Zubiac, with his strong play inside the paint, made sure that the Suns wouldn’t be able to sneak off with a win. The young center dominated with his 24 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocked shots. It was also a pretty good feeling for Lakers coach Luke Walton to have Rondo back in the lineup after a lengthy absence because of a hand injury.
In his second game back, Rondo ran the Lakers offense as fluidly as he always does, scoring eight points and dishing off 11 assists.
“It’s really nice to have him back,” Walton said at his postgame press conference. “He knows who needs shots, who’s hot.”
Walton added that when he’s in the game, Rondo isn’t just looking to pass the ball off to fill up the stat sheet.
“He also just makes the right play,” Walton said. “Some people go out there and hunt assists or only willing to make a pass if it means an assist. That’s not him; he’s going to make the right play.”
The Lakers came out of the gate hot, shooting 52 percent from the field in the first quarter in jumping out a 31-27 lead. Shooting-wise, Phoenix had an abysmal first quarter, making only 9 of 22 shots in the period. The Suns managed to stay in the game in the first period by connecting on half of their 3-point shot attempts.