Lakers eliminated from postseason contention with loss to Suns
It ended here.
The Lakers’ attempt to win their 18th title ended far short of their goal, the team being eliminated from postseason contention following a 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs’ win in Denver on Tuesday night.
But maybe it really ended Friday in Los Angeles, when in a last gasp, the Lakers played an injured LeBron James and a recovering Anthony Davis. Or maybe it ended the Sunday before that when the Lakers blew a 20-point lead on the same night James sprained his left ankle.
Or, maybe it was all over when James’ left knee couldn’t be counted on. Or maybe when Davis sprained his foot when he stepped on Utah center Rudy Gobert’s. Or when he injured his knee in Minnesota. Or when the team was run over by a COVID-19 outbreak in December, or when it got into a shoving match. Or when the Lakers traded three players and a first-round pick for Russell Westbrook.
The actual moment when this Lakers season no longer became viable can and will be discussed. The admirable, albeit delusional attempts to try to talk this team into a contender, though, no longer need to be had.
“Our backs are against the wall,” coach Frank Vogel said before the game. “It’s not over for us.”
Forty-eight minutes later, the wall won.
Westbrook scored 28, Davis had 21 and Austin Reaves scored 18. Devin Booker led the Suns with 32, Phoenix effectively ending the Lakers’ season two years in a row after eliminating them in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
The Lakers’ misguided and mismanaged season went from bad to worse. There is plenty of blame to go around.
“This was a season where we just didn’t get it done,” Carmelo Anthony said.
Entering the game with the first-place Suns without James, the Lakers faced elimination with a loss and a Spurs win. And by the time they took the floor for warmups, San Antonio already had a double-digit lead.
James missed his second straight with his sore left ankle, one more injury to punctuate a season with so many. Now the question becomes if and when the Lakers will see James on the court again.
James, the NBA’s scoring leader, cannot qualify for the honor unless he plays in 70% of his team’s games. He’s two shy of that mark with three games left.
Winning the scoring title would be a consolation prize in every sense, for a team that entered the season with championship hopes and a name-brand roster full of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. The Lakers, though, never forged any real cohesion. Amid injuries and losing combinations, Vogel sent out 39 different starting lineups.
The team never was more than three games above .500 all season. That happened on Dec. 15 when Reaves hit a game-winner against the Dallas Mavericks. The next day, the team fell into the depths of a COVID-19 outbreak, clearing the way for 24 players to log minutes for the team this season.
A possible 25th — guard Kendrick Nunn, a free-agent acquisition last offseason — still hasn’t been officially ruled out for the year by the team despite playing zero minutes while recovering from an injury.
The second injury to Davis, against the Jazz right before the All-Star break, was too much for the Lakers to overcome.
The team has won just four times since, needing James to score at least 50 in two of those games to get victories.
Yet the Lakers had hoped that a chance still existed, that the team could win its way through the NBA’s play-in tournament and get into the playoffs. And if they peaked at the right time, the Lakers still could contend.
But that peak never came, the Lakers discovering new rock bottoms all through their schedule.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offered a public apology on Tuesday to LeBron James following the Hall of Famer’s critical comments of the Lakers star on Sunday.
Needing wins and facing a brutal schedule down the stretch, the Lakers have lost seven games in a row. Tuesday, they played well enough for most of the first half before the Suns pulled away without much of a chase.
With 2:24 left and trailing by 16, the Lakers called time out with their players gathering on the bench. Davis and Westbrook didn’t get back up, the clock left to run down without the team’s best players on the floor.
It was the first public sign of concession. It was all over, the Lakers’ experiment this season officially a failure.
“We just fell short through a disjointed season,” Vogel said. “We’re all disappointed.”
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.