Lakers Eliminated From Playoff Contention

The last glimmer of hope for the Los Angeles Lakers this season is gone.

With LeBron James watching from the bench, the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, ending their chances of making the playoffs. A win by the San Antonio Spurs over the Denver Nuggets earlier in the night turned the Suns’ game into a mathematical must-win for the Lakers to stay in postseason contention.

The Lakers lost seven straight games beginning in late March, allowing the Spurs to eclipse them for the 10th-best record in the Western Conference and a spot in the NBA play-in tournament, which will decide the seventh and eighth seeds. in the playoffs that begins on April 16.

During the Lakers’ seven-game streak, James and Anthony Davis played together just once, highlighting an issue they’ve faced all season.

Davis returned on April 1 after missing 18 games with a sprained midfoot. James has been dealing with soreness in his left ankle, which has caused him to miss five of the team’s last seven games.

Since the league’s All-Star break in mid-February, the Lakers have the second-worst record in the West, having won just four games. Only Portland has been worse.

This is the seventh time in the last nine years that the Lakers have missed the playoffs, a stretch that was once unthinkable for the organization. Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Lakers had missed the playoffs only five times since the franchise’s inception in Minnesota in 1948.

It’s also the second time James has missed the playoffs since joining the Lakers in 2018, when he arrived in Los Angeles after eight straight NBA Finals appearances with Miami and Cleveland.

During his first season with the Lakers, James joined a young team that included Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, all players who were productive elsewhere.

James injured his groin in a Christmas Day game that season and played in just 55 games. The Lakers went 37-45 and finished 10th in the West, which, before the entry tournament, gave them no hope of postseason play.

They traded for Davis that summer and immediately won a championship in 2020, when the league ended its season in a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Florida due to the pandemic.

Last season, which was shortened by the pandemic, Davis was injured and played just 36 of 72 games. The Lakers finished 42-30 and lost to the Suns in the first round as the seventh seed.

In the offseason, the Lakers looked to become championship contenders again. They traded young role players to the Washington Wizards for aging nine-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, whose $44 million salary made him the team’s highest-paid player this season. They hoped Westbrook’s playing ability would help the Lakers when they were without James, who normally runs the Lakers’ offense.

“I’m coming to a championship-caliber team and my job is to make sure I can make his game easier for him,” Westbrook said in his introductory news conference when asked how he would fit in with James. “And I will find ways to do it throughout the game.”

When the season began, very little went according to plan.

James missed 11 of the Lakers’ first 19 games with injuries, the first suspension of his career and a false-positive coronavirus test.

Davis has played in just 40 games this season, missing several weeks with two different injuries: first a knee injury and then a sprained foot.

Westbrook has struggled to find his footing. That prompted Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who has experimented with lineups all season, to walk away from Westbrook in the closing minutes of games.

Westbrook’s 18.4 points per game is his lowest average since the 2009-10 season, his second year in the NBA. His rebounds per game (7.5) and assists per game (7.1) also dropped considerably from last season.

Still, with James in contention for the league’s scoring title, the Lakers had the ninth-best record in the West at the All-Star break and a chance to force their way into the playoffs. But they could not give the necessary push at the end of the season.

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