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NBA: Suns aim to seize opportunity vs. vulnerable Lakers

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With leading scorer Devin Booker back from a nearly three-week absence because of a hamstring injury, the Phoenix Suns celebrated Sunday as only they know how.

One of the NBA’s highest scoring teams put up a season-best 137 points in Booker’s return against the Charlotte Hornets and now will take the league’s best record at 24-5 into Los Angeles on Tuesday to face the depleted Lakers.

Booker missed seven games in total, with the Suns still going 5-2 in that stretch. But their 18-game winning streak ended while he was away, with their Dec. 3 streak-busting defeat to the Golden State Warriors marking their first loss in more than a month.

Booker has scored 22.9 points per game on a Suns team that delivers 111.9 per contest, and his 16 points in 26 minutes of his return shows that he still has some rust to consider. He did go 4-of-8 from 3-point range as Phoenix hit a season best 20 3-pointers, went 48.8 percent from distance and was 56.8 percent overall.

“I feel good, man. I’m playing basketball again,” Booker said. “It’s not easy sitting on that sideline for a substantial amount of time but we have a really good team, and I learned some things and saw some things from the sideline that I tried to implement (Sunday) and I will use moving forward.”

Perhaps the Suns can become more of an all-around team as they move past the opening two months of the season. Nine different players scored in double figures against the Hornets, with JaVale McGee leading the way off the bench with 19.

McGee is scoring 10.9 points per game, the fourth-highest average of his 14-year career, and he has averaged 12.9 points since Booker first went to the sideline on Dec. 2. He has at least 13 points in five of his last six games.

“The machine keeps moving,” Booker said. “Even in the games we’ve had people out, somebody steps up and jumps right into that (scoring) role.”

The Lakers know all too well how the machine keeps moving no matter the player-personnel status. Los Angeles been ravaged by COVID-19-related absences and also are without star Anthony Davis for four weeks because of a knee injury.

The Lakers were even without head coach Frank Vogel in Sunday’s 115-110 road loss to the Chicago Bulls. COVID-19 absences on Sunday also included Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker.

In order to get through the shorthanded stretch, the Lakers signed veteran guard Isaiah Thomas on Friday. By Sunday, he was in the starting lineup and has averaged 16.0 points in his two games in a Lakers uniform.

“We were getting into it and now something else happened,” Davis said. “It’s our entire team, though. Like, we started playing well, start getting a rhythm with each other and then all the COVID stuff happened and then more injuries.”

After two consecutive defeats, the Lakers are just 16-15 with the new year fast approaching.

“So it’s not where we want to be, but we’re not in a terrible spot,” Davis said.

–Field Level Media

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