Last Years Improbable Run
After last year’s improbable run in the bubble to become NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2020-2021 season with the shortest turnaround from one season to the next in NBA history. After defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA finals on October 12th, 2020, they quickly had to start defending their crown with a December 22nd opening night matchup against their crosstown rivals, the LA Clippers.The offseason spanned just a little over two months, 70 days to be exact.
With Laker basketball back in full swing, the city of Los Angeles and the Laker fan base was generating a lot of excitement around the team once this year began. Rightfully so, as superstar small forward, LeBron James and his counterpart, Anthony Davis, were the cornerstones of the franchise who had helped reach the mountaintop for the first time in a whole decade.
In the minds of most experts, the roster going into this year was even more talented than the championship team assembled the year prior. Despite the losses of Dwight Howard and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, the Lakers added the reigning sixth man of the year in Monterzl Harrell and signed 27 year old Dennis Schrooter from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Rocky Regular Season
Once the season began, the Lakers started off by coasting through the regular season. They were a top 4 seed in the Western Conference for much of the year until injuries to their two most important stars began to pile up. Star power forward Anthony Davis suffered multiple injuries which caused to miss exactly half of the regular season (36 games). To make matters worse, LeBron James suffered a high ankle sprain which caused him to miss 29 games respectively down the home stretch.
Thus, the Lakers finished the regular season as a 7th seed and had to fight their way to get into the playoffs in the new play-in tournament format. They faced Stephen Curry and the red hot Golden State Warriors. Despite the victory, the Lakers did look fairly rusty and barely got by a team that was outmatched, especially from a talent perspective.
Early First Round Exit, Who is to blame?
After beating the Warriors in the play-in tournament the Lakers earned themselves a date with the two seeded Phoenix Suns; a team that had very little experience entering the postseason. Entering the series, the Lakers were the prohibited favorites. In fact, they were favored at -250, making it the lowest seed to have ever been favored by this much.
After stumbling in Game 1, the Lakers bounced back to win Games 2 and 3 to gain home court advantage from Phoenix against a hobbled Chris Paul. In Game 4, the Suns responded in a big way and tied the series up at two games a piece. To make matters worse, star forward Anthony Davis suffered a groin strain in the contest making his status for Game 5 unknown at the time.
Turns out, Davis was forced to sit for the pivotal Game 5, and the Lakers were completely embarrassed from the get go. Their margin of defeat was 30 points, and LeBron James was caught on camera leaving the game with five minutes left.
While James did not have a poor game in comparison to his teammates, the decision to get off the bench and leave his team during a blow out sent a negative message to his teammates and rightfully so. One could argue that that moment was the writing on the wall for the Lakers even though they still had a chance to tie the series up at three games a piece heading back home to Staples Center.
Entering Game 6 last night, the pressure for Lebron James and the entire Lakers team to perform well was at an all time high. They could not afford to get bounced out of the first round especially when this was the first time the purple and gold had the chance to play postseason basketball in front of their fans since 2013.
Right out of the gate the Suns came out guns blazing as they did in Game 5, and took complete control of the game. A hobbled Anothny Davis made an attempt to play in the game but quickly re-aggravated his groin after a mere five minutes.
While Los Angeles did put up a fight in the second half to lessen their embarrassment, they still lost the game which officially booted the defending champs out of the playoffs. The real question remains, who is most responsible for the Lakers defeat? One could argue Frank Vogel, one could argue the lack of availability from Anthony Davis, or one could argue the leadership of LeBron James. After all, he is “the king”.
While the success in the bubble the previous year generated much excitement, it did not feel the same from a fans perspective considering the team was playing in an isolated venue with no fans. The most pressure was amounted once the Lakers left Phoenix down 3-2 and returned home to their anxious fans in an elimination game.
Pressure is something that LeBron James has previously struggled with in his career. He did eventually grow from in by winning multiple championships in Miami and one in Cleveland, but he has never had to face the amount of pressure Lakers nation expects from their brightest stars. It was LeBron’s decision to come to Los Angeles, and with that comes great responsibility and expectations.
Leaving the Lakers bench in a Game 5 blowout, left a sour taste in not only the player’s mouths but Laker fans all over the world. The leader of a team must face the consequences just like everyone else on the team were. This was a perfect example of how poor leadership can trickle down all the way to the last man on the bench.
If LeBron hopes to salvage his relationship with his teammates and the entire Lakers fanbase, he must own up to his mistakes as a leader in order to galvanize his team. Otherwise, LeBron’s legacy in LA will leave a sour everlasting impression, just as it is now.