NBA Odds, Game 1 Pick, Prediction for Laker Suns: Betting Preview for Western Conference Clash in Phoenix (May 23)

NBA Odds, Game 1 Pick, Prediction for Laker Suns: Betting Preview for Western Conference Clash in Phoenix (May 23) article feature image
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Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.

  • The Suns' prize for a stellar regular season is a first-round playoff matchup with the Lakers.
  • Phoenix has thrived offensively throughout the season, while the Lakers' offense hasn't gotten into a rhythm with LeBron James and Anthony Davis suffering injuries.
  • Raheem Palmer breaks down where he sees betting value in Game 1 below.

Lakers vs. Suns Odds

Lakers Odds +2.5
Suns Odds -2.5
Moneyline +114 / -136
Over/Under 213.5
Time Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV ABC
Odds as of Saturday and via DraftKings

The Phoenix Suns exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations during the regular season.

Despite going 8-0 in the bubble and adding a future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul, the Suns had a preseason win total of just 38.5. They flew over that win total with ease (51-21), finishing one game behind the Utah Jazz atop the Western Conference. The Suns have been downright dominant this season,  going 23-8 in 10-point games and 27-11 against teams above .500.

So what was their reward for such a stellar season? A first-round matchup against LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Warriors on Wednesday to earn the No. 7 seed in the West.

Rarely does a team as good as the 2020 Phoenix Suns face such a tough first-round matchup, but injuries to James and Anthony Davis sent the Lakers’ season into a tailspin to the point that they fell into the play-in tournament.

The Lakers are -160 favorites over the Suns in the best-of-seven series, but oddsmakers have installed the hometown Suns as 3-point favorites over the Lakers with a total of 213 in Game 1.

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Lakers Hope to Regain Momentum Quickly

After winning a championship in the bubble, the Lakers didn’t skip a beat to start this season.

When Davis went down in the first half of their loss against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 14, the Lakers were 21-7 with the second-best record in the league, ranking fourth in Net Rating (7.0), 10th in Offensive Rating (112.1) and first in Defensive Rating (105.1).

James continued to steer the ship, leading the Lakers to a 7-6 record without Davis until he suffered a high ankle sprain on March 20 against the Hawks. The Lakers were able to maintain their top tier defense without Davis and James, but their offense completely fell off a cliff during that 20-game stretch without James, scoring a mere 105.9 points per 100 possessions, 28th among NBA teams.

Now full strength, the Lakers’ offense is still yet to completely find its footing. In James’ last five games, which came against the Kings, Raptors, Pacers, Pelicans and Warriors, the Lakers have put up Offensive Ratings of 106.9, 109.8, 121.4, 109.6 and 105. Their only efficient offensive performance came against a Pacers team that hasn’t stopped anyone without an injured Myles Turner.

Similar to last year, the Lakers struggle from beyond the arc, ranking 20th in 3-point shooting percentage (35.7%). Last season, the Lakers were sixth in Offensive Rebound rate (28.3%) and sixth in second chance points (14.1) so they were able to make up for their offensive deficiencies with their size. This season, the Lakers are just 14th in Offensive Rebound Rate (26.9%) and 10th in second chance points (13.3). In addition, Los Angeles is 24th in midrange shooting percentage (40.2%).

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Lakers, though, as their size advantage should loom large against Phoenix. With the Lakers making their living in the paint, they should thrive against a  Suns defense that is 24th in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (65.5%). Given Phoenix’s defensive struggles of late, you have to wonder if the Lakers’ offensive concerns aren’t that much of an issue in this matchup.

The Lakers have the league’s top defense, allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions. Of course, that depends on whether James is truly healthy and finds a rhythm.

Is playoff LeBron here, or will we see the Lakers team that struggled to score against the Warriors? In the first half of the play-in game against the Warriors, the Lakers scored an abysmal 85.7 points per 100 possessions. Their second-half comeback was fueled by a whopping 15 Warriors turnovers, which Los Angeles turned into 18 fast-break points.

Unlike the Warriors, the Suns don’t turn the ball over much. If the Lakers can’t capitalize on a favorite matchup inside, they could be in trouble.


Suns’ Efficient Offense Looks to Keep Rolling

The Suns have looked like a darkhorse championship contender for most of the season.

Along with its dominance against elite competition, Phoenix ranks in the top five in both offense and defense, as well as third in Net Rating (5.9).

However, the Suns’ offense has been the star of the show. They’re sixth in Offensive Rating with a whopping 117.7 points per 100 possessions this season in their non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Phoenix is scoring efficiently from every area of the floor. They’re shooting 67.4% from the rim (seventh), 38.3% from 3-point range (seventh) and 49.1% from midrange (first).

With Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges all above the 93rd percentile in midrange shooting accuracy, the tough shots that opposing teams want to give up are welcome for this team. The Lakers do a solid job at defending the midrange, but they are middle of the pack in terms of frequency so those shots will be available for them.

The Suns’ don’t turn the ball over much with Paul at the helm, ranking fourth in turnover rate (12.7%), which is key against a struggling Lakers offense.

We know Phoenix can score, but this team has slipped defensively during the second half the season. The Suns went from a defense that was third in defensive rating, allowing just 108.2 points per 100 possessions, to a team that’s 21st in Defensive Rating, giving up 112.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break.

The Suns’ defense particularly struggles at the rim and in transition, where they’re 24th in points added per  100 possessions (3.3).

That said, it speaks to how well the Suns’ offense is playing that they’re still a league-leading 27-10 since the break despite having the 21st-ranked defense during that period.

To beat Phoenix, you’re going to have to outscore it. Whether this current Lakers team can do that remains to be seen.

Lakers-Suns Pick

I’m holding futures on the Lakers to win the NBA title at +550, but the Suns are being disrespected here, particularly given their track record against elite teams.

Despite the Lakers’ championship pedigree, they are vulnerable. But this number has still been pounded down to 2.5. My numbers make this game Suns -2.63, so I understand it but it’s clear that this isn’t the Lakers team we’ve seen at the start of the season. Unlike the Warriors, this Suns team isn’t inept offensively — aside from Curry, of course.

The Suns’ offense is better than the Lakers’ and that’s a major issue against a team still finding its rhythm, despite Los Angeles’ elite defense. Given the Suns’ struggles to defend the paint, the Lakers should get theirs offensively, as well.

This feels like a game in which both offenses come out to play. My model makes this game 217, so I think 213.5 is priced too low. As of Saturday night, PointsBet and William Hill still had 213.

I see this as a game where the better offense will win before we see an adjustment for Game 2. I’ll back the Suns to catch the Lakers out of sorts in the first game of the playoffs in a higher scoring game before coming back on Los Angeles to win the series at a better price later.

Pick: Phoenix Suns -2.5 | Over 213.5

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