Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Lakers got back on the winning track with a 123-115 victory over the host Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Tuesday.
L.A.’s offense was fantastic all night.
The Lakers shot 53.7 percent from the field and made 10 of 25 three-pointers. They also dished 39 assists to just nine turnovers.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James each added double-doubles for a Lakers team that overcome an 11-of-21 free-throw shooting performance for the win. Davis led all scorers with 24 points.
Kyle Kuzma scored 23 on 9-of-16 shooting in his best effort since coming back from a stress reaction in his left ankle on Nov. 1.
Six Suns scored in double digits, with Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker adding 21 apiece. Phoenix stayed in the game because of its three-point shooting, making 16 of 38.
Los Angeles, which had its seven-game winning streak snapped by the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, improved to a Western Conference-best 8-2. The Suns dropped to 6-4.
Lakers G/F LeBron James: 19 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds
Lakers F/C Anthony Davis: 24 points, 12 rebounds
Lakers F Kyle Kuzma: 23 points
Suns PG Ricky Rubio: 21 points, 10 assists
Suns SG Devin Booker: 21 points, 9 assists
Suns C Aron Baynes: 20 points, 6 rebounds
Kuzma Clutch Down the Stretch
The Suns had a chance to take the lead down 114-113 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining but came up empty on the offensive end.
At that point, Kuzma made sure to put this one away.
The third-year pro knocked down three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, turning a one-point edge into a comfortable seven-point advantage with 1:40 remaining. Phoenix never came closer than five down the stretch for the Lakers’ eighth win.
Kuzma had struggled from the field since returning from his left ankle injury, scoring just 10.2 points on 39.6 percent shooting (20.0 percent from deep).
But the ex-Utah Ute had shown signs of returning to form lately, notably scoring 15 on 6-of-13 shooting from the field against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. He then took the next step Tuesday, resembling the exciting late-round steal who poured in points for the Lakers over his first two seasons.
That happened Tuesday with Kuzma’s 23 points in just 25 minutes, and James congratulated his teammate immediately postgame:
He also received some deserved praise on Twitter from Jason Smith of Fox Sports Radio and Rob Perez of the Action Network, among others:
With Kuzma rounding into form and Rajon Rondo (five points, seven assists, six rebounds in 14 minutes Tuesday) working his way back from a calf injury, the Lakers offense is going to be exhausting for teams to face every night.
Suns Hang Tough with Lakers
Yes, it’s only a 10-game sample size, but the Suns’ recent streak of success appears here to stay.
Phoenix’s 19-win campaign last season is a distant memory. At 6-4 now, the Suns have nearly met one-third of its season-long win total.
On Tuesday, the Suns stayed with a clear NBA title contender for 48 minutes, with the offense firing all cylinders thanks to hot shooting (47.3 percent from the field) and taking care of the basketball (Booker did commit five turnovers, but the team as a whole only had 11). Phoenix even led with just over four minutes remaining following a pair of Aron Baynes free throws.
The defense did not fare well, however, and the Lakers outscored the Suns 14-5 in the final 3:50.
But a lot of teams will feel the wrath of Los Angeles after they face a couple of top-five NBA superstars in James and Davis and a hot-shooting Kuzma. Ultimately, the team’s defensive rating entering Tuesday was 12th, a far better effort than last season’s No. 29 mark, per NBA.com.
As for why the team has improved, head coach Monty Williams is clearly the top cause, with the leader notably forming an excellent relationship with Booker. Here’s what the shooting guard had to say to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated about the partnership.
“I’m behind him. Totally behind,” Booker said. “But I feel the same energy from him to me. So, to have somebody believe in me that much, it helps you out mentally when I am out there.”
Williams has done an excellent job of working with an influx of talent (e.g., point guard Rubio, center Baynes and forwards Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric), integrating them with last year’s team (Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., etc.) and making sure everyone is on the same page.
They have wins against a pair of 7-3 teams in the Philadelphia 76ers (albeit sans Joel Embiid) and Los Angeles Clippers on their ledger, and the Suns nearly added a third Tuesday with a win.
Tuesday didn’t end as hoped, but the future is bright in Phoenix, which could make the gigantic leap from last in the West to a playoff spot in just one year.
The Lakers will begin a four-game homestand at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors. The Suns will play the fifth game of their six-game homestand at 9 p.m. Thursday versus the Atlanta Hawks.