In his 21st season, LeBron James gets a new stage to operate on when the Los Angeles Lakers play host to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday in a quarterfinal game of the NBA in-season tournament.
James helped the Lakers to a 4-0 record in group-stage play of the inaugural event and the top seed in the West heading into the win-and-advance quarterfinals.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will face the New Orleans Pelicans-Sacramento Kings winner in Thursday’s semifinals at Las Vegas.
James showed he is as feisty as ever during Los Angeles’ 107-97 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday. He backed into the lane for a 360-degree reverse layup and also earned a technical foul for a verbal spat with Rockets coach Ime Udoka in the fourth quarter. Udoka was ejected from the game.
“I think at this point of his career he’s done everything, so he literally goes out and just tries stuff and see what works,” teammate Anthony Davis said of the layup that brought the Lakers bench on the court in celebration as Christian Wood was assessed with a technical foul.
Said James: “I was just hoping I made it. … I definitely knew that I put the right English on it and that I had the right angle. But as I was falling, I lost track of the ball. The fans let me know that I made it.”
James (left calf contusion) was listed as questionable for the Phoenix game as of Monday.
The Lakers opened their in-season tournament group-stage schedule with a 122-119 victory at Phoenix on Nov. 10. Los Angeles had to overcome a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit in order to end a three-game losing streak.
Starting with that game, the Lakers are on a 9-4 run.
The Suns have won eight of their 10 games since losing to the Lakers, including a seven-game winning streak that helped them to a 3-1 record in West Group A play.
Phoenix enters the tournament quarterfinals off a 116-109 home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, when Devin Booker tallied 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
In nine games since returning from an early-season calf injury, Booker has averaged 27.1 points and 7.9 assists. He sat out Friday against the visiting Denver Nuggets in the opener of a back-to-back set, and the Suns lost 119-111.
The Suns still are waiting to see stars Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Booker on the court at the same time. Beal has played in just three games as he deals with a back injury, and he will remain sidelined on Tuesday.
“He’s making progress but still no timetable,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said.
Durant and Booker are at least getting a chance to nail down their on-court chemistry.
“It’s just special to play with a player who understands the game on that level,” Durant said Monday at practice before the Suns departed for Los Angeles. “We always have constant communication on what we see out there. It makes the game easier for everybody when we’re both out on the court. The more games and the more reps we get under our belt, the better we’ll become as a team.”
Durant is averaging 31 points with 6.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists through 18 games this season, while Booker is at 27.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists through 11 games.
Phoenix’s Eric Gordon (right knee contusion) is questionable for the Tuesday contest.