A New Rivalry is Born

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Updated: October 23, 2021
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As temperatures continue to rise in Southern California, tensions were tight inside of Staples Center for the rematch of the first-round knockout between the Lakers and Suns. Lebron James and the new Laker 360 coasted into another L on their losing streak that extends all the way back from the playoffs to now. It wasn’t much of a contest after the 1st quarter as CP3 lit up the 2nd, Phoenix grabbed their hands on the steering wheel and never looked back. It wasn’t so much the score but the punishment in the paint the Suns were piling on inside and the Lakers’ inability to do the same despite their overwhelming size. In proper Phoenix style, Chris Paul’s squad fired and scored from all corners of the roster. Los Angeles left their starters in till the dire end of the 4th to cosmetically clean up the final score, but it was a blowout with little resistance from the home team that inevitably will leave stains. The Russel Westbrook experiment and the prayer from distance he calls a jumper continues to bare overripe, inedible fruit.

Despite the lack of competition, the overall spice level of the matchup was cooked up from the left-over taste from the playoffs. Multiple Techs were handed out in 4th included a pair to the two bigs of AD and Ayton with Davis transparently caught up in his feelings in the middle of their second loss of the season. The two franchises find themselves in a perfect storm. AD and Bron’s injuries in the postseason last year are the biggest blemish on CP3’s Suns Finals run. The assumption that if healthy they would’ve been handled by the title favorite Lakers is the saving grace for the LA narrative coming into the season. Every meeting between these two teams inevitably carries more weight than it should. If they match up in the postseason, the outcome essentially would play out as a double-or-nothing situation. Fair or not, it will validate one of two truths, either A.) the Suns’ Finals run was a fluke due to the AD injury, or B.) the Suns would’ve handled them regardless.

According to the majority of preseason predictions, the Lakers are the overwhelming title favorites to represent the West with the Brooklyn Nets coming out of the East. It’s hard to argue with the fact that Lebron and Davis are better than either of Phoenix’s 1 to 2 punch in Paul and young Devin Booker…but there is zero proof up to this point that the new Laker 360 combo is a better team than the well-oiled Sun machine. With all the extracurricular content with the unnecessary physicality in the blowout, it looks like there is a new rivalry being formed between these two squads. Possibly it’s due to the Chris Paul presence and all the 100-year-old vets on the Lakers roster that previous narratives and decade-old beef has laced itself into one unpleasant vibe. However, it didn’t look like he was at the center of the chaos. It looked like the fight was being set in paint, where the boards are fought over, and the second chance buckets are born.

It was DeAndre Ayton’s ability to handle Davis before his injury that was the beginning of his newly formed narrative as the new young big in the West. Today was the day for AD to cancel Ayton’s subscription to his All-NBA aspirations…but despite the Lakers going big with Davis at the 4, Ayton never looked small. Up until the 4th quarter when the game felt like a mix between garbage time and an exhibition, the Suns had outscored the Lakers in the paint 41 to 13. Much of that was in transition, but still, it was an embarrassing outing by a team that is sporting such a surplus of future hall a famers.  

One of the biggest instigators of aggression in the 4th was former sniper, pre-washed hoodie Melo, who was shouting at several of the young Suns. It must be an odd feeling, recently being listed as a top 75 player all time and yet knowing that if he were playing on Phoenix he’d be fighting just to make their deep rotation. And that brings us to one of the big questions for the fermenting fumes in the city of angels. How much losing can these all-time greats take before the thin shell on these eggs start to crack? They all came on the cheap with the thought that they’d be steamrolling teams and instead they’ve watched a Curry-Classic and a CP3 masterpiece put on their heads back to back in Staples.

It’s early and as bad as they’ve looked there is plenty of time to retool and reassess their strengths. Maybe a little THT is the ingredient missing in their rotation that brings things together…but how do Russ, DeAndre, and Carmelo think about that sentiment? Lebron and Davis looked openly frustrated with not only the calls but their overall play. James even was caught not coming back on defense twice, and the second time was so egregious that the telecast discussed it for multiple possessions.

It is a long season, but vibes are set early, especially for a franchise that has title or bust expectations and a squad filled with ring chasers signed on the cheap. On the other side, the Suns look cool and collected. All the heat brought by Davis and Melo in this early matchup may look innocent enough, but CP3 and the Suns already had these games in LA circled on their calendar. It may have not been wise to give them a deeper incentive to show up and ball, because as of now, despite the Suns being a young squad and the Lakers laced up with vets, it’s Phoenix who will dictate the pace between these two teams moving forward. Maybe this minor speedbump is nothing and Frank Vogel figures out how to maximize the new addition of Russel Westbrook…but it isn’t hard to imagine that 20 games in he loses the locker room and the support of Lebron James. Up till now, he has allowed Vogel to coach and himself to lead…but it is well known that the King’s patience is thin.

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