For the first time in his career, LeBron James was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Phoenix Suns in six games, ending their hopes of repeating as NBA champions.
James performed admirably in the final game of the series, dropping 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes on the floor. The 36-year-old had to carry more of the burden as Anthony Davis unfortunately could not make it past the first quarter due to the groin injury he re-aggravated after originally suffering in Game 4.
All season, the caveat with the Lakers and their title hopes was their health and it seemed like each time someone came back another person would go down. The situation would have been a tough hill to climb for any team and it was one that the Lakers could not get over themselves.
James admitted that the only thing he regretted was not being able to see what Los Angeles could do with everyone available.
“It’s kind of hard to start thinking about when we got started, this season started so fast after leaving the bubble obviously. I think I was talking to Wes in the locker room just a few minutes ago and I said the one thing that bothers me more than anything, we never really got an opportunity to see our full team at full strength either because of injuries or COVID or something going on with our ballclub this year,” James said.
“We couldn’t ever fully get into and rhythm and never really kind of see the full potential of what we’re capable of. But all in all, I give my hats off to everyone on this team who showed up every day to work, showed up every day to compete, showed up every day to put the time and effort and we obviously fell short of our goal but we tried to do everything we could to be as good as we could be, as great as we could be under the circumstances. Also want to shoutout Phoenix too. Monty Williams, Book and that team, they were excellent throughout this series, all of them. So, much respect.”
As far as his own health goes, James believes that the offseason will give him an opportunity to get back to 100% after dealing with a high ankle sprain in the second half of the season.
“Well it’s gonna work wonders for me, obviously,” James said of the offseason. “Obviously during the season I don’t talk about rest, I don’t even like to put my mind and frame into that, it makes me weak. But in the offseason I get an opportunity to rest. I got like three months to recalibrate, get my ankle back to 100% where it was before the Atlanta game.
“That’s the most important thing for me, everything else feels extremely well. My ankle is the only thing that was kind of bothering me, obviously bothering me in the later stage of the season and it never fully got back to before the injury. But I’m happy I was able to just go out there and at least try to help our team win.”
The Lakers’ roster was clearly built around James and Davis plus role players meant to complement them, but when both stars went down with injuries the team predictably struggled in their absence. It is hard to remember now, but Los Angeles was playing extremely well at 21-6 before Davis’ initial injury and looked well on their way to repeating.
Either way, the offseason will bring major changes, but hopefully it will also present opportunities to improve their chances to get back to another title.
James calls 2020-21 season ‘mentally draining’
The constant injuries were not only a physical hurdle but a mental one as well for the Lakers. James acknowledged it was another obstacle for them to overcome, though he thanked everyone for trying to get through it together.
“I think I always think about just the moment we entered the bubble to now today. It’s been draining. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining. Did not stop me from committing to the game, committing to my teammates, committing to the work, putting in the work, mentally just trying to stay as sharp as we could. But throughout it, it’s been mentally draining and like you said, dealing with, every team has to deal with it obviously, but with us and Miami obviously going the long haul in the bubble and then coming right back on a short notice to this season, it’s been very draining.
“Like I said, I commend my teammates, commend the coaching staff and this organization just being ready to go when the time was called and giving everything we had up until this moment. But may the better man win and the Suns was the better man throughout this series.”
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