Sky Sports’ live coverage of the NBA continues on Sunday evening as the Phoenix Suns visit the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round series.
It’s been an exciting series so far, with Phoenix upsetting the odds to take Game 1, but Los Angeles has responded well.
After ensuring a split on the road by taking Game 2, the defending champions won the last meeting 109-95. Anthony Davis scored 34 points whilst LeBron James added 21 points and nine assists to help lead Los Angeles to the victory.
Several thousand masked fans watched inside Staples Center as the Lakers hosted their first playoff game in their downtown arena since April 28, 2013 and the second takes place on Sunday, with tip-off at 8.30pm UK time and you can watch live on our YouTube link at the top of the page.
Los Angeles are the top team in the Western Conference in team defense, allowing 106.8 points while holding opponents to 46 per cent shooting, but injuries – including to star man LeBron James – meant the team had to battle through a tight play-in game against the Golden State Warriors to ensure they made it to the NBA Playoffs this year.
The Suns surprised everyone by taking the second seed in the Western Conference and are 30-12 against teams from the West this season. Phoenix are also seventh in the league overall in scoring this year, notching 115.3 points per game while shooting 49 per cent.
Deandre Ayton recorded 22 points in defeat for Phoenix in Game 3 and has impressed many with his positive contribution both in terms of scoring, where he is averaging 21.7 points per game, and on the boards in his first playoff series. He’s pulling down 12.3 rebounds against the Lakers in this series, which is good enough for joint fourth in terms of all players in the postseason so far (per NBA Stats).
Los Angeles won their 17th title in the Florida bubble last October, but the Lakers’ legions of fans were confined to watching their beloved team’s rebirth on television.
If they are going to repeat the feat, then they will have to work back to clicking at their optimum level quickly before they – should they progress through this series – face the winner of a very tasty match-up between Portland and Denver.
If the Suns are hoping to make it through, then they will lean on their guard tandem of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Over the last 10 games for Phoenix, veteran point guard Paul – who was hurt in Game 1 – has shot 49.9 per cent and is averaging 16.4 points for the Suns, whilst fellow All-Star Devin Booker is averaging 23 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 37.6 per cent.
Ahead of the game, there was some good news for the Lakers as it was revealed starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only has a mildly bruised left knee after an MRI exam of Caldwell-Pope’s knee revealed no structural damage.
Caldwell-Pope was injured in the third quarter of the Lakers’ victory over the Suns on Thursday night and his availability is uncertain for Game 4.
KCP averaged 9.7 points in the regular season, but he has struggled so far in the playoffs. He scored just five points in 26 minutes in Game 3, and he went scoreless in 30 minutes in Game 2 after contributing only seven points with 1-for-7 shooting from 3-point range in the series opener.
Caldwell-Pope was the Lakers’ third-leading scorer on their championship team last year, contributing 10.7 points per game as their primary perimeter shooting threat with 37.8 per cent shooting on 3-pointers. He is another who will need to step his game up if the Lakers are to manage to win back-to-back titles.
Wesley Matthews stepped up in Caldwell-Pope’s absence late in Game 3, scoring eight points and hitting two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Matthews could get more playing time if Caldwell-Pope sits out.
Talen Horton-Tucker and Markieff Morris also would be options for coach Frank Vogel after neither player saw action in Game 3.
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