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Kevin Durant and LeBron James will go head-to-head for the first time since Christmas 2018 when the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles Friday night, and FanDuel is offering a $1,000 no-sweat first bet to call customers that sign up with a FanDuel promo code before the game tips off.
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The Lakers’ season could not have been scripted by the best soap opera writers. They started the year off 2-10 and seemed completely out of hope, but since that point, they have produced the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. A lot of impressive results came after the trade deadline, during which they made a flurry of moves and ripped off 16 wins in 24 games.
There have also been recurring injury problems with LeBron, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell that have affected the team’s chemistry—but even despite that, they are 6-1 when all three play and have one of the best net ratings in the NBA.
The Lakers were beaten Wednesday night decisively by the Clippers, albeit in abnormal circumstances. The purple and gold were on the second night of a back-to-back and played in Utah the night before, whereas the Clippers had not played in four days.
LeBron leads the team with 29.0 points and 6.8 assists and also chips in with 8.4 rebounds per game. He is also quietly shooting 76.8% from the free-throw line, his best average since the 2011-12 Miami Heat days. Anthony Davis has also been a force and is averaging 26.3 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game.
LA’s biggest asset—one that it did not have earlier in the season—is depth. Austin Reaves has emerged as a true star and is averaging 22 points and 5.3 assists this month. Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr. have also impressed as legitimate contributors in the front court coming off the bench.
The Lakers are seventh in the Western Conference with a 41-39 record. They are level with the New Orleans Pelicans but ahead by way of the tiebreaker and one game behind the Golden State Warriors, whom they also have the tiebreaker advantage against.
The first few months of the season made it seem like the Suns, who made the NBA Finals just two years ago, had missed out on their championship window. They flung the door wide open again by sending Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, and a litany of first-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets for Durant.
Durant injured himself in pregame warmups shortly after arriving but is back and looks like his regular self. The team is 8-0 when he plays and is the sportsbooks’ favorite to win the West. Devin Booker has also thrived playing alongside his new 7-foot teammate since teams cannot double him while Durant is on the court.
Phoenix arguably has the best starting lineup in the NBA but is thin on the bench. Players like Cam Payne, Torrey Craig, and Bismack Biyomobo are among the first names in the second unit and a tier below bench players on other contenders.
Durant leads the Suns with 29.1 points to go with 6.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game and is shooting a career-best 56.2% from the field. Booker, meanwhile, averages 28.0 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds.
A lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of Chris Paul to be the team’s third star, especially in the playoffs, where he has a lengthy injury history. Deandre Ayton also needs to play with a high motor for the team to reach its full potential, which he has had a problem doing in the past.
The Suns (44-35) are locked into the four seed in the West and will play the fifth seed in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Suns are favored heading into Friday because of their strong team performances since acquiring Durant. However, the Lakers, as mentioned earlier, are 16-8 since making their series of trades and have also won seven of their last nine games.
LeBron had one of the worst halves of his career in the opening 24 minutes against the Clippers but poured in 30 second-half points. His being able to carry that rhythm into the early-weekend war will be crucial to take down a Suns team that is incredibly efficient on offense.
The Lakers rank ahead of the Suns in net rating over the past 15 games, are playing at home, and beat them when they matched up a couple of weeks ago (albeit without Durant in the lineup). Look for them to use those advantages to get a win but not one large enough to cover the spread.
*Odds from FanDuel sportsbook
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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