Lakers On the Ropes

It just wasn’t meant to be this year. As I write this, the Lakers are down 66-36 at the half, with Phoenix having gone on a 35-12 run since the game was 31-24. It’s as ugly as can be for the Lakers. Not only do they have no offense at all, they can’t play defense, either. Phoenix is shooting 54% from the floor compared to the Lakers’ 30.8%. The Lakers are 20% from three (3-15) and Phoenix is 44% (8-18). Suddenly that vaunted Lakers defense looks like ancient history.

Of the Lakers’ 12 total field goals made in the first half, LeBron has scored or assisted on 8 of them (3 FGs, 5 assists). He’s not having a good game, either. They’re just that bad.

This game is clearly over, and it looks like the series is over. Unless AD can come back from his groin strain for game 6 and ball out, this one is done.

After game 3, I said the Lakers looked like they had taken control of the series, but I was not ready to go as far as many in the sports media and declare the series over. I knew there was a chance Chris Paul could get healthy, I knew there was a chance injuries could rear their ugly head once again (as they have been all season for the Lakers), and I knew there was just something off about LeBron James.

LeBron has not been the same guy since he came back from that high ankle sprain. He just hasn’t. Sure, he’s had flashes where he looked great, but overall, he looks like a greatly diminished player.

I went out of my way in the last post to argue that it was not because he’s suddenly old and washed. I’ll need more evidence before I’ll say that. Because before he and AD got hurt, he was looking like his normal self, was an MVP candidate, and the Lakers were rolling. When AD got hurt on February 14, the Lakers were 21-6 and on a 7-game winning streak. Even when it was just LeBron with no AD, they still managed to tread water at 7-7, but then LeBron got hurt on March 20, and the Lakers went 7-12 until AD came back on May 3. They managed to close the season out on a 7-game winning streak including the play-in game, but the team was clearly not the same as they were before the injuries to their two superstars.

These are just the facts.

The biggest concern all year I had with this Lakers team was that they had a 72-day offseason from the end of the Finals in the bubble to the start of this season. LeBron wanted the season to start in January, and he wanted the NBA to outright cancel the All Star Game–you could tell he was not a fan of the short offseason. When you’re 36 with the 6th-most regular season minutes played in NBA history and the most playoff minutes ever for a grand total of 61,017 career minutes played in total, you need lots of time off to rest and recuperate. That’s why LeBron did so well in the 2020 season: the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2019 and he got a long offseason. And that’s why he did so well in the bubble: there was a 5.5-month layoff due to Covid.

There are only two players in NBA history with more combined regular season and playoff minutes played than LeBron: Karl Malone with 62,759 and Kareem with 66,297. Anyone acting like this wasn’t a factor is fooling themselves.

The Lakers played 2.5 months in the bubble, then had the 72-day offseason, then jumped into the 72-game regular season for 2021. That’s a lot of basketball and not a lot of down-time over the past 10 months.

Couple that with the fact that the Lakers had a lot of new faces on the team this year: Schroder, Marc Gasol, Trezz, Drummond, Wesley Matthews. It’s hard to build chemistry with new players when your best players are hobbled by injuries.

I just got the sense this year that the Lakers’ entire season was derailed by the injuries to LeBron and AD, and the injuries were a result of the 72-day offseason. Fatigued players just get hurt more. AD has always been injury-prone, and LeBron is 36 and not as indestructible as he was for so long.

They’ll be down 3-2 going back to LA. Maybe AD comes back. Probably not. Maybe LeBron goes Full Thanos mode and we get a 38-point triple double. But I just don’t see it. I feel like we would’ve seen one of those games out of him already in this series. I don’t think we’ll see it until next season.

I hope I’m wrong. I’m not going to rule out the Lakers forcing a game 7, and then at that point anything can happen. Maybe AD comes back for game 7. But I don’t think they can win without AD. And I don’t think AD is healthy enough to play game 6.

Ever since the injuries, it’s just felt like it wasn’t meant to be for this Lakers team in 2021. Honestly, once the 72-day offseason was confirmed, I had a feeling it would not be good for the Lakers. It feels like this season has been doomed from the start.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. The series isn’t over yet. But it feels like the Lakers are cooked.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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