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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Lakers Outshine Suns, Will Face Pelicans in NBA Cup Semifinals

Kevin Durant owns a 9-5 head to head advantage over LeBron James in their NBA Finals matchups while  winning two of those three series, but James extended his head to head advantage in their regular season encounters to 18-6 with a 106-103 L.A. Lakers win over Durant's Phoenix Suns. The victory lifted the Lakers into the NBA Cup Semifinals, where they will face the New Orleans Pelicans, who beat the Sacramento Kings 127-117 on Monday night

Father Time may be undefeated, but LeBron James has not lost to him yet and he had another sterling performance with a game-high 31 points, a game-high 11 assists, eight rebounds, and five steals. He is the first Laker to post at least 30-10-8-5 in a game since Magic Johnson in his prime, but James' performance is notable because he is a soon to be 39 year old in his 21st NBA season. 

James leads the Lakers by attempting nearly six three point field goals per game, but in this contest he shot the trey judiciously (2-4) and made a concerted effort to attack the paint. The Lakers are at their best when James and Anthony Davis attack the paint instead of settling for jump shots or just drifting around the perimeter. Davis finished with 27 points, a game-high 15 rebounds, and the Lakers' only two blocked shots. Davis shot just 10-26 from the field but he had a strong first half (20 points on 8-16 field goal shooting) as the Lakers built a double digit lead. Even though Davis had just seven points on 2-10 field goal shooting in the second half, he had nine rebounds as the Lakers did just enough to hold on and win. He also dominated his head to head matchup with Jusuf Nurkic, who finished with three points, eight rebounds, and no blocked shots.

The Lakers outscored the Suns in the paint 54-44. It would be interesting to know what the Lakers' record is when they win points in the paint by at least 10 points with James and Davis combining for at least 58 points and at least 23 rebounds. We have been subjected to so much nonsense about "lasers" and Russell Westbrook and roster construction, but the simple reality is that when James and Davis are both healthy and both attack the paint the Lakers are very difficult to beat; the Lakers shot 38-102 (.373) from the field--including 9-30 (.300) from three point range--and still defeated a Phoenix team featuring future Hall of Famers Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

Durant tied James for game-high honors with 31 points while shooting 12-17 from the field. He also had seven rebounds and four assists. Booker scored 21 points while leading the Suns with 11 rebounds and six assists. Grayson Allen also scored 21 points.

The Lakers jumped out to a 33-23 lead by the end of the first quarter, and they enjoyed a 59-47 halftime advantage. They took control by outscoring the Suns in the paint 36-22 in the first 24 minutes. The Suns won the second half 56-47 and outscored the Lakers in the paint 22-18 but--like a race car that takes the checkered flag while running on fumes--the Lakers did just enough to reach the finish line. Austin Reaves drilled a three pointer to put the Lakers up 105-101 with 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Durant answered with a reverse layup, and then Davis closed out the scoring by splitting a pair of free throws. Durant had a chance to tie the score with a long three pointer from the left wing, but he missed wide right and the Lakers punched their ticket to Las Vegas for the NBA Cup Semifinals. 

During the TNT telecast, we saw highlights of the first time that James and Durant faced each other in the NBA (January 8, 2008). I covered that game in person as a credentialed journalist, and I not only wrote a recap of the 95-79 win for James' Cavaliers over Durant's Sonics but I interviewed Paul Westhead--who was then an assistant coach with the Sonics--and I later wrote a profile of the "guru of go," the only coach to win an NBA title (1980 Lakers) and a WNBA title (2007 Mercury). Interviewing coaches and scouts to talk about basketball strategy and basketball history was one of my favorite things about being a credentialed journalist. 

Speaking of basketball history, it should be noted that Durant recently passed Moses Malone to move into 10th place on the NBA's regular season career scoring list. Of course, as I have frequently insisted, it is historically inaccurate to talk about an NBA-only list while ignoring ABA statistics; the NFL provides full and equal recognition to AFL statistics, and the NBA should do likewise with ABA statistics. Durant currently ranks 13th on the ABA/NBA regular season scoring list, and he is still more than 2000 points behind Moses Malone, who ranks ninth all-time in career regular season scoring. Amin Elhassan's historical analysis often falls short of basic competency--most notably during his repeated, shameful mocking of Bob Cousy--but he was right on target recently during a segment of the Sirius XM NBA show that he co-hosts with Jason Jackson: Elhassan declared that the NBA should immediately grant full recognition to ABA statistics, and he pledged to work with the Players Association and other league contacts that he has in order to make this happen. Hopefully, those are not empty words, because making ABA statistics official is long overdue and--as Elhassan mentioned--it would be great for this to happen while ABA legends such as Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, and Dan Issel are still alive to appreciate it.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:12 AM



At Thursday, December 07, 2023 10:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"During the TNT telecast, we saw highlights of the first time that James and Davis faced each other in the NBA (January 8, 2008)." --> James and Durant

At Thursday, December 07, 2023 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, that is a silly typo, and I have corrected it.


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