LeBron James hit one key phrase a number of instances after the Lakers noticed their alternative for back-to-back championships disappear: Draining.
The Suns’ 113-100 win over the Lakers on Thursday night time was simply the ultimate blow in what has been an exhausting stretch for James, Anthony Davis and the remainder of the workforce. It began after Los Angeles captured the 2020 title within the Florida “bubble” in October. The Lakers had a 71-day break between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, the shortest offseason in NBA historical past.
They shortly went from being secluded on the NBA’s campus again to the actual world, although that offered its personal challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The method of following well being and security protocols took its toll on everybody, from gamers and coaches to executives and trainers.
“I believe I at all times take into consideration simply from the second we entered the ‘bubble’ to now at the moment,” James mentioned. “It has been draining — mentally, bodily, spiritually, emotionally draining. . . . Each workforce has to cope with it, clearly. However with us and Miami clearly going the lengthy haul within the ‘bubble’ after which coming proper again on quick discover to this season, it has been very draining.”
Then there have been the accidents. When Davis went down in February with an Achilles concern, the Lakers had been 21-7 and nonetheless had James obtainable, which ought to have allowed them to outlive. Then James suffered a excessive ankle sprain in March, and the tumble down the standings started. Los Angeles slid to No. 7 within the Western Convention standings, however after the Lakers defeated the Warriors within the play-in spherical to earn a playoff berth, the prevailing concept was that the squad at full power might nonetheless take down any opponent in a seven-game collection.
However then Davis damage his knee, and later, his groin. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was banged up. The harm bug stored biting all the best way as much as the ultimate sport towards the Suns when Alex Caruso suffered an ankle pressure and could not return.
“Once we had been wholesome, everybody was obtainable, we had seen the kind of workforce that we will be. . . . We had been rolling,” Davis mentioned. “We had the items. We simply could not keep wholesome.”
There have been basketball causes Los Angeles didn’t repeat as effectively. The offseason additions of Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews seemed nice on paper, however the group by no means absolutely meshed earlier than the postseason. Midseason acquisition Andre Drummond did not make a significant impression. James and Davis did not dwell as much as their lofty requirements.
It additionally should not be misplaced that the Suns merely outplayed the Lakers. Phoenix confirmed its spectacular common season was no fluke, operating Los Angeles out of the gymnasium in Video games 5 and 6. James famous that it is “might the higher man win” come playoff time. The Suns had been higher this time, and that is why they’re shifting on to the convention semifinals.
The Lakers, in the meantime, will head into an offseason that would characteristic extra roster turnover, however extra importantly, an opportunity for everybody to take a break and refill their tanks.
“I simply assume the entire thing was a problem, to play all the best way into October, after which to start out the season as shortly as we did, it was simply going to be an uphill battle,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel mentioned. “None of our guys had been ready for coaching camp, and we tried to grind by it and get our legs beneath us and get them conditioned the correct approach. We made strikes. The entrance workplace made strikes.
“We tried to handle and navigate by accidents as a training workers, simply attempting to strike that proper steadiness of maintaining guys in there and constructing them up the correct approach. In the end, the accidents that we confronted had been simply an excessive amount of.”