Coming off their first championship since 2010, the Los Angeles Lakers were heavy favorites to repeat in 2021. LeBron James and Anthony Davis returned to a re-tooled team that looked to be better and deeper than the squad that lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Orlando bubble less than three months prior.
The team began the abbreviated 72-game season 20-7 and betting on them winning a back-to-back championship seemed like a lock. Then despite some good moments, the wheels started to fall off. They struggled with injuries, poor chemistry, and disappointing performances. the Lakers finished the season in 7th place, were forced to play into the playoffs, and then lost to the Phoenix Suns decisively in their first-round series.
With that series loss, the Lakers became the first championship-winning team to lose in the first round of the following year’s NBA Playoffs since 2012, capping one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
Not to make excuses, but injuries played a major part in why the Lakers fell short this season. Anthony Davis was the first big player to be sidelined, aggravating an Achilles injury and straining his leg during Valentine’s Day loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Adding to the loss of Davis, the team almost immediately lost key 6th man Dennis Schröder for four games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Without Schröder, the team would lose 4 straight games, and then drop 6 of 8 leading up to the All-Star break. When play resumed, the team lost Marc Gasol to COVID protocols, leaving James a rotating cast of players before he himself went down with a high ankle sprain on March 20th.
The injury would sideline James for a total of 26 out of the Laker’s final 30 games and seal their standings fate.
In a Tweet on June 4th, Laker icon and former President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson called out several Lakers on the roster for underperforming during the playoffs, while taking an underhanded swipe at current General Manager Rob Pelinka.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has a lot of work to do this summer because a lot of Lakers did not perform well during the series against the Phoenix Suns.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) June 4, 2021
It’s hard to argue that the Lakers bench didn’t step in the playoffs. Many believed that this year’s team was better and deeper than last season’s championship squad, but the results were simply not there.
With the short offseason, COVID protocols, and tight schedule, team chemistry was hard to come in the 2020-21 season leaguewide. However, it seemed that Los Angeles was particularly hit hard, as they also struggled due to injuries to key players.
Last season the team that won the championship was littered with experienced veterans and future Hall of Famers. Rajon Rondo, one of the smartest basketball minds, veteran Dwight Howard, and Danny Green and JaVale McGee, both past champions with pedigree, who all lived and played together in the Orlando Bubble.
This season the team saw both Montrezl Harrell and Sixth Man of the Year, Dennis Schroeder stepping into starting roles. Andre Drummond getting bought out and not playing for Cleveland for a month or two months and then coming into the line-up late. And injuries forcing numerous players in and out of the line-up for the better part of the season, all making for a difficult season.