Both the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns find themselves a game behind where they want to be with only five games remaining in the regular season for each.
The Lakers (37-30) are No. 7 in the Western Conference, in position to participate in the NBA’s play-in tournament to reach the playoffs. They are one game behind the automatic qualifying spot of sixth, held by the Portland Trail Blazers (38-29).
The Suns (48-19) are a game behind the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz.
The Suns will try to sweep the Lakers in three regular-season games when they meet Sunday at Los Angeles.
The Lakers have lost eight of their last 10 games while Phoenix has won six of its last seven.
Phoenix is coming off Friday’s 128-105 victory over the visiting New York Knicks, closing strong with a 72-42 advantage in the second half.
Deandre Ayton had a game-high 26 points and 15 rebounds, and Chris Paul, provoked by a Flagrant 1 foul on him by Taj Gibson, had 12 of his 17 points, and seven of his 11 assists, in the second half.
“That was just a desperate effort by our basketball team in the second half,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “When we play like that, with the competitive guys that we have, we can be hard to deal with.”
Los Angeles dropped below the Trail Blazers following Friday’s 106-101 loss in Portland.
LeBron James (ankle) did not make the trip after not attending Thursday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. After being out six weeks because, James has missed the last three games and is not expected to play against Phoenix.
Point guard Dennis Schroder will also be out for at least another week due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Anthony Davis, playing in his ninth game back after almost 10 weeks out because of a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis in his right leg, had 36 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot against Portland.
“This is his best game since his return, for sure,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel sad. “He’s getting a little bit stronger each game. It’s a very encouraging sign.”
Davis was critical of Kyle Kuzma, who finished the game going 2-for-11 overall and 0-for-6 on 3-pointers, pulling up for a 25-foot 3-pointer with 42.9 seconds left and missing the shot with the Lakers trailing by three points.
“Maybe Kuz could have gotten a 2 (and we would be) down one,” Davis said. “Especially because he was struggling. … A guy who shoots the s– out of the ball, he didn’t shoot it well tonight. A wide-open look, it’s a good shot. A layup is probably the right play, but we’re living with him shooting the ball.”
Kuzma alluded to Davis’ absence in Thursday’s loss to the Clippers, when the All-Star played only nine minutes because of back spasms.
“I think we did a good job of competing tonight,” Kuzma said. “I think that was the No. 1 thing that we did that wasn’t available in the Clippers game.”
–Field Level Media