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What it will take for the Suns to beat the Lakers in their first-round series

The Suns make their first playoff appearance in 10 years and face the defending champion Lakers in the first round.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against the Portland Trail Blazers on May 13, 2021 at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

After a 10-year playoff drought, the Phoenix Suns roared to the No. 2 seed in 2021 behind Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. As a reward for their success, the Suns will meet the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers as a No. 7 seed. In order for Phoenix to pull off the upset, the team’s young core will have to grow up fast against LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Suns keys to victory

Phoenix ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency this season, typically the hallmark of a balanced team capable of winning a championship. However, this feels like a rare situation where the No. 2 seed is actually a heavy underdog. Given the star power on the opposite side of the court, the Suns will have to hope the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is true.

The Lakers don’t have a great center rotation, especially when Davis is off the floor. Ayton will have to take advantage of this situation for Phoenix to have a chance. The Suns also have the ninth-best assist percentage in the league and will need to keep moving the ball well to make the Lakers work defensively. James is an institution in ramping up activity for the postseason, but even he tends to take possessions off on that side of the ball. This means openings for shooters like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. They have to take advantage.

The Suns are also playing with house money. Nobody expected this team to race to 51 wins and nobody expects them to beat the Lakers in the series. Booker and Ayton have no pressure to perform and should benefit as a result.

Suns vs. Lakers series odds

Suns: +140
Lakers: -180

The Suns are underdogs despite having home-court advantage and the No. 2 seed, but it’s solely because James is standing on the other side with a roster looking to defend a championship. Phoenix is potentially being undervalued here, but there’s a low chance they can pull off the upset in this series unless Los Angeles’ injury concerns return.

NBA Championship odds

Suns: +1500
Lakers: +450

From a pure value perspective, the Suns are a decent bet. They would’ve likely had to beat the Lakers anyway to reach the Finals and seeing them in the first round when they’re still trying to find their groove and re-integrate their stars is better than late in the playoffs. Phoenix is no fluke but it’s hard to pick against James, a man who has been to nine Finals in the last 10 seasons.

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