Slow start dooms NAZ Suns in loss to Lakeland, 108-99
NBA G League
PRESCOTT VALLEY — Sometimes a basketball box score doesn’t do a good job of revealing the struggles that one team has against the other.
Such was the case on Friday, Feb. 1, in the Northern Arizona Suns’ 108-99 loss to a red-hot Lakeland Magic squad in NBA G League action at Findlay Toyota Center.
Both the Suns and the Magic shot 50-plus percent from the field, and both drained 10-plus 3-pointers.
The Magic outrebounded the Suns by a slim margin, 38-36, and both teams committed 12 turnovers.
The glaring discrepancy? Lakeland converted 21 of 26 free throws (81 percent) to Northern Arizona’s 9 of 19 (47 percent).
Nevertheless, in this case, you need to read between the lines and dive into the gray area. Seven Magic players scored in double figures, and that’s a problem if you’re a Sun. Northern Arizona, typically a decent defensive team, lagged in that regard on Friday.
Lakeland carried a 56-37 lead into intermission and wasn’t truly threatened thereafter.
“They came out with great energy and great activity, and it showed in how they played,” Suns coach Bret Burchard said of the Magic. “And good things happen when you do that. We came out pretty flat and sluggish, and we weren’t doing the things we do when we have success.”
Lakeland was led by forward BJ Johnson’s game-high 21 points on 7 of 16 shooting and an unblemished 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. He added four steals and two assists.
“When we play together, it’s hard for teams to try to defend individual guys,” Johnson said.
Magic center Amile Jefferson registered a double-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. He was 4 of 4 from the charity stripe. Anthony Brown followed with 16 points, five rebounds and two assists.
“They space the floor, and they make you pay from their 3-point shooters,” Suns forward George King said.
For the Suns, King netted a team-high 19 points (4 of 6 3-pointers) with six rebounds and two assists. Hollis Thompson had 13 points, five assists and four rebounds. Point guard Retin Obasohan followed with a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists.
“They did everything we prepared for them to do — we just didn’t execute it,” Obasohan said. “In order for us to win, we have to make sure that we eliminate mistakes on all fronts. That’s just the next step in our maturity.”
Eric Stuteville (12 points, three rebounds) and Aaron Epps (10 points, seven rebounds) also stood out for the Suns.
“On offense, we didn’t do what we were supposed to do [either],” Stuteville said. “We talked about it after the game.”
With the loss, the Suns’ record dipped to a Western Conference-worst 7-28, while Lakeland improved to 20-11. Northern Arizona is now 4-4 in its last eight games, but dropped to 3-12 at Findlay Toyota Center.
Lakeland owns the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, remaining one game behind the Long Island Nets (21-10). The Magic has won three straight, eight of its last nine games and 10 of its past 12.
Suns guard Daniel Dixon remained out of the lineup with a left foot injury. He hasn’t played since Dec. 21, a span of 13 straight games. … Starting guard Jawun Evans, a two-way player with the Phoenix Suns, was not with Northern Arizona. Evans, who’s played in 26 games for Northern Arizona, is one of five players in the G League to average at least 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and 1.9 steals per game this season (minimum of five games played).
Northern Arizona plays host to the Delaware Blue Coats (11-18 record) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Findlay Toyota Center.
Lakeland visits the Stockton Kings (19-12) at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, at Stockton Arena in California.
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.