What happened to the Lakers in the NBA this season wasn’t the Hollywood ending that many expected. The Suns melted their hope of repeating as champs. But LeBron James (LBJ) and the Lakers have nothing to be ashamed of because if you understand basketball and you’re not a LEBRON HATER, you know why they’re not supposed to get past the first round after what happened in Game 3 of the series. It was a game they won, but ironically, it was when they lost the series. It was a battle they won but it made them lost the war.
Does Booker and the Suns beating LeBron and the Lakers mean that they are the better team? I am of the opinion that it does not. Of course you would say that this is just the LeBron diehard in me expressing a sentiment.
Skip Bayless and his disciples – the legion of LeBron haters – were quick to crucify the leader of the Lakers for that early playoff exit. They will most certainly be calling him again “the washed king,” a label they grudgingly swallowed like a bitter pill when in 2020 he led the Purple and Gold to their 17th NBA title.
Why did the Lakers lose to the Suns?
Go back to Game 3 of the series. If you are indeed a fan of basketball and not just waiting for LeBron to fail, you would have noticed three significant takeaways in that game.
Firstly, it revealed the formula in beating the Suns – inside the paint. Knowing how atrocious is their team’s outside shooting this season, particularly from beyond the arc, Vogel and his coaching staff figured that they have to use their advantage in size. The Lakers outshone the Suns in the paint 58-38 with Anthony Davis (AD) and LBJ leading the charge. Check the statistics of that game and you’ll see also that Chris Paul and company were outrebounded 51 – 35. Now, remove AD from the equation. What would happen to that advantage in inside scoring and rebounding?
In games 1 to 3, AD had this points-rebounds-assists-blocks stat line – 27-9-4-2.
That brings us to the second takeaway from Game 3 – AD’s injury. That happened when he tried to block from behind Booker’s lay-up late in the 2nd quarter. While he may have finished the game, those who understand the nature of injuries in basketball, knew that AD will feel the effects of that injury after the game. True enough, in Game 4, he was not himself, did not play in Game 5, and logged in only 5 minutes in Game 6. That means that the Lakers’ season was pretty much over after Game 3. Why? Where would his team get the 27 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game that AD contributed during the first 3 games?
That question leads us to the third takeaway – Dennis Schorder’s performance. In Game 3 which the Lakers won, he scored 20 points. He was supposed to be the third most reliable scorer and backup playmaker. The reason the Lakers acquired him, sacrificing Danny Green and a future draft pick in the process, is to take some pressure off LBJ and AD. But he was surprisingly inconsistent in his performance throughout the series. In the 2 games that the Lakers won, he averaged 22 points per game. In their 4 losses, he scored 10.5 per game. He did not score a single point in the pivotal game 5 where they scored only 85 against the Sun’s 115. And it was that game that AD did not play.
What exacerbated matters for the Lakers was the fact that it wasn’t AD only who got injured in Game 3. Cadwell Pope got hurt as well. In case you haven’t noticed, he was the most reliable defender against Booker. In Pope’s absence and his ability to defend compromised when he returned, Booker averaged 31.33 points in Games 4, 5, & 6.
Generally, those injuries to AD and Pope in Game 3 very much encapsulated Lakers’ injury-plagued season. Don’t forget that LBJ himself was out for a long time because of ankle injury and it was not only in Game 3 of their playoff series against the Suns that AD was injured, not to mention the games that Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol missed because of COVID-19 protocols. Just imagine how those injuries and missed games by the said players affected the building of team chemistry. Thus, even if they would have eclipsed the Suns in the first round, which they had high probability of accomplishing had Davis not suffered that injury, getting deeper into the playoffs and possibly the championship is almost a losing proposition.
And by the way, LeBron, at 36 and probably not playing at 100% because of the injury he had, was still the Lakers’ best performer with averages of 23.33, 7.16, and 8 (points-rebounds-assists).
The founder and CEO of the Lebron Haters Inc., Skip Bayless, could be scratching his head wondering how on earth did the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks (113 – 103) and the Los Angeles Clippers (112 – 103 ) in their last two games.
Bayless’ placing his bet against the Lakers in those two games stems from his hatred of Lebron James whom he fondly calls the “washed king.” The sports columnist believe there’s no way Lebron could outwork Buck’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA’s MVP, and Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Final’s MVP last year. But to Bayless’ chagrin, Lebron performed better than his boys. King James had 37 points against Gianis’ 32. Giannis had more rebounds (11 to 8) but the Lakers’ forward had more assists (8 to 6). Against Leonard whom Bayless shamelessly worships, Lebron’s stat line (points, rebounds and assists) is better too – 28, 7, & 9. In that game, Leonard had 27 points, 2 rebounds and no assist. To think that Lebron is already 35 years old (and playing on his 17 year in the NBA) while Giannis and Leonard are only 25 and 28, respectively.
Bayless criticizes the “washed king” for not playing defense but we saw how in that game against the Bucks Lebron defended well against Giannis who is much younger and taller. Giannis was bullied by King James in several occasions. Lebron played “bully basketball” in those games against the Bucks and the Clippers. He played like a man possessed in both ends of the floor.
One facet of King James’ game that Bayless usually makes fun of is his free throw. Did he notice that Lebron converted 12 of his 15 freebies against the Bucks. He also attempted from the stripes 14 times when the Lakers played the Clippers and made 12 of those. That’s 24 out of 29 – 82.76% accuracy. Bayless could be having nightmares.
In several occasions the Fox Sports host lambasted Lebron for being afraid to drive to the hoop because he said “the washed king” was so afraid to get fouled and be embarrassed missing the free throws. That’s exactly what Lebron did in the games against the Bucks and the Clippers – he fearlessly drove down the lane and challenged the defense. He dared his opponents to foul him and disappointed Bayless by converting his free throws.
And how Bayless has harped about Leonard as a “Lebron stopper.” Where was Leonard when Bayless needed him most to prevent Lebron from proving him wrong?
Knowing Bayless, he wouldn’t give credit for what Lebron has done for the past two games which he fearlessly forecast the Lakers would lose (he even had the sagacity to tweet that the final score of the game between the crosstown rivals would be 110-100 in favor of the Clippers). Probably he would take refuge on the fact that Lebron committed 4 turnovers against the Bucks and 2 against the Clippers. That’s just how Bayless has been (and will always be) – look for a way to discredit the “washed king.”