The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.
The play-ins have been a short, but wild rollercoaster and the playoffs are getting ready to set off.
The seeds are finally set, and the first-round matchups are 76ers(1) vs Wizards(8), Nets(2) vs Celtics(7), Bucks(3) vs Heat(6), and Knicks(4) vs Hawks(5).
Today’s #NBAPlayoffs schedule 📺 ▪️ MIA/MIL: 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch ▪️ DAL/LAC: 2nd consecutiv… https://t.co/VBl9jKJOJF— NBA (@NBA)1621693800.0
76ers vs Wizards:
The Russell Westbrook-Joel Embiid rivalry will continue during this year's playoffs and fans cannot wait. The Wizards finished the season with a 16-6 record, and after a lackluster start this season, they have made themselves a dangerous 8th seed. While the 76ers didn't finish the season hot, I'm sure with a team-full of veterans, rest was more of a priority. The 76ers beat the Wizards three times during the season, but two of those games were very close and came early in the season.
The Wizards can definitely make this series a challenging one for the 76ers. The Wizards have shooters all around with Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans. But the 76ers have a much deeper team with guys like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard providing good veteran leadership. The Wizards are riding on the health of Bradley Beal, who has dealt with hamstring tightness in the past two weeks.
Nets vs Celtics:
The Nets finally seem to be healthy just in time for the playoffs, which is dangerous for Boston. Although the Nets big three only played eight games together, the Nets still finished with a 48-24. The Nets also have a great mix of reliable veterans like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, and Joe Harris. These two teams meet three times during the regular season with Brooklyn taking all three games.
The Celtics have not lived up to expectations this year. After making a conference finals last year, it was expected to carry through the regular season, but they never found their stride. Jaylen Brown will continue to be sidelined with a broken wrist, so most of the load will be carried by Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. I see this series being an easy one for the Nets.
Jaw-dropping handles, unlimited scoring ability and incredible playmaking… Kyrie Irving. #ThatsGame Kyrie and th… https://t.co/Oxb2hKv6OL— NBA (@NBA)1621697400.0
Bucks vs Heat:
A rematch of the heated second-round matchup last year, where the Heat upset Milwaukee, who had Giannis dealing with injuries. Interestingly enough, both of these come to the playoffs on the right side with an 8-2 record in their last 10 regular-season games. Giannis is back with more weapons on his sides like Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and Jeff Teague, while also keeping their core from last year. Giannis had had another MVP-type season averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds.
The Miami Heat started the season off slow, probably because of the NBA finals hangover, but got hot after the all-star break. Miami also acquired many new weapons like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon. The Jimmy Butler-Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup will be the most important aspect of this series.
Knicks vs Hawks
After what seems like a lifetime drought, the Knicks are finally back in the playoffs! We can all agree that when the Knicks are good, the league is in better spirits. Tom Thibodeau has turned this team around, and you can't forget about how Julius Randle has been playing this season. Possibly the most improved player, Julius Randle has proved all his doubters wrong and has taken the keys to this Knicks franchise. The Knicks have great veteran leadership with guys like Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson who are familiar with Thibodeau. They also have great young talent with guys like RJ Barret, and Obi Toppin.
The Hawks on the other hand have turned it around since firing Lloyd Pierce and having Nate McMillan made this team do a complete 180. Trae Young and John Collins are one of the best duos in the league. With guys like Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic who can get hot at any point of the game. This series can definitely go to 7 games, with last-second shots determining the outcome.
We can all agree that no one could have predicted the state of the Western Conference before this season.
This year has been full of surprises, and injuries. This year is the first time in a long time where we have a toss-up on who is coming out of the West. There isn't a team like the Warriors who we all know is winning, or the Lakers from last year who dominated everyone. The first-round matchups are set with the Jazz vs Warriors/Grizzlies, Suns vs Lakers, Nuggets vs Blazers, and the Clippers vs Mavs.
Jazz vs Grizzlies
The Jazz has been consistently great all year. With the best record in the league at 52-20 and only 5 losses at home. This team has no weaknesses with superb defense, field goal percentage, and overall team chemistry. We don't know the status of Donnavan Mitchell, who has had another superstar season, so guys like Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert, and Bojan Bogdanovic will have to step up. Gobert is most likely going to be Defense of Player of the Year, leading the league with 2.7 blocks a game. The Memphis Grizzlies are a hot young team, who most people did not see beating the Warriors in the play-ins. The backcourt of Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant is an excellent balance of offensive scoring, and defensive excellence. The defense of Dillon Brooks will definitely give Donnavan Mitchell problems scoring.
Suns vs LakersThe Lakers are probably the best seventh seed to ever exist, which is news Suns fans don't want to hear. But the Suns are a very deep team with Chris Paul turning this team around through his leadership and his ability to keep everyone involved. Devin Booker is finally getting his respect with another 25ppg+ season. Deandre Ayton has been a great force for this Suns team on both sides of the ball. The Lakers are finally healthy just in time. Lebron was quiet during the play-in game but proved his clutch gene once again with a game-winning three. Anthony Davis is also finally healthy and led the Lakeshow to a five-game winning streak to close the season. The Lakers are still looking for a third option who they could trust down the stretch, Dennis Schroder has been a huge disappointment, and he blames it partly on post-Covid-19 exhaustion. Kyle Kuzma has been wildly inconsistent this year, and Talen Horton-Tucker doesn't have the experience to be a reliable option for Lebron. As a result, This series can definitely go to seven games, and Phoenix is definitely isn't afraid of the defending champs.
Nuggets vs Blazers
When Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL, everyone assumed that the Nuggets season was over, but Nikola Jokic had other plans. The MVP candidate has averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. The trade deadline was good to the Nuggets who acquired weapons like Aaron Gordon, and Austin Rivers. These two have provided the Nuggets with good scoring, and more importantly depth. Portland has had another great season with their core from last year being relatively the same. The backcourt of Lillard and McCollum continues to be lethal. But a problem for Portland for the past couple of years has been injuries. If they find a way to go through this series without any injuries, the Blazers have a great chance to beat this Nuggets team.
A center with REMARKABLE passing ability... #KiaMVP Finalist Nikola Jokic! #ThatsGame Joker and the @nuggets host… https://t.co/alglAU5veM— NBA (@NBA)1621700100.0
Clippers vs Mavs
A rematch of the heated first-round matchup last year, the Mavericks look for revenge against this Clippers team. Luka has taken another leap this year with 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Kristaps Porzingis is finally looking healthy again, providing 20 points a game. The acquisition of JJ Redick has provided Dallas with great shooting off the bench, and he won't be available for game 1, so the injury problems continue with Dallas. The Clippers acquired many veterans like playoff Rajon Rondo, Demarcus Cousins, and Nic Batum have years of playoff experience who will be the X-factors for this series.
J. Cole has had himself a week.
The Grammy Award-winning rapper not only released his sixth studio album, The Off-Season, but he also made his debut in the Basketball Africa League with the Rwanda Patriots. The Patriots are one of 12 teams from all over Africa that are competing in the inaugural season of the league.
The league itself is a product of the NBA and the International Basketball Federation in an attempt to bring a platform for players across the country to showcase their talents in hopes of making it to higher levels of competition across the globe including the NBA. Beginning in the late 1990s we began to see a slow trickle of international players making their way into the NBA, but not until players such as Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker started making all star teams and winning championships did the flood gates open.
NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, has been a longtime proponent of bringing in the best talent from all over the world, and this is yet another step for the progressive league to provide as many avenues for the best to find their way to the league. With much of Europe having established professional basketball leagues, there was a huge void in the country of Africa in regard to opportunity.
Africa is still a very poor and under-industrialized country, so the resources and money simply aren't there to support such an endeavor. But with the support of the NBA, the league has a great chance to be successful and to produce NBA players.
But what's up with J. Cole?
Cole played some college ball with St. John's as a walk-on, and we've seen his ability on display at NBA All-Star weekend in the celebrity games and on his social media accounts. So we know that Cole can hoop, and we know he's always willing to put in the work. He's talked at length about his creative process while making his art, and one can only assume that he's taking that work ethic into this new realm of professional basketball.
J. Cole’s first professional basket for the Rwanda Patriots Basketball Club 🏀 https://t.co/ZiazRDN0Cf— SAINT (@SAINT)1621179481.0
Cole is expected to play in a handful of games for the Patriots over the course of the UEFA Champion's League style schedule of play. The BAL (Basketball Africa League) breaks the teams into a group phase, which is comprised of 18 games, and then the top eight teams from the group phase qualify for playoffs. The remaining teams will compete in a single elimination playoff season that will last three rounds. The BAL Final will be held on May 30.
Cole isn't expected to play every game; the team only anticipates he'll play in six games at most. In his debut with the Patriots he managed 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes of play. Not exactly the start he was hoping for, but if he manages to catch up to the speed and start putting down shots, we could see him extend that limit a little.
.@JColeNC in his pro debut 👏 https://t.co/RwHLvuKxAH— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter)1621182943.0
The timing of Cole's debut, his album release, and the cross-over appeal he brings is a perfect cocktail for the BAL as they are attempting to get eyes on their product. Cole has always said he wanted to make it to the NBA, but at his age (36) it's unlikely he'll have the chance. So he instead gets to live out his pro basketball fantasy in the BAL while helping players in that country get looks.
Cole's desire to lift others up has long been part of who he is which can be seen in his non-profit organization Dreamville Foundation and their efforts to support underprivileged and under funded communities largely in his home state of North Carolina.
While you might not make money betting on J.Cole playing basketball. The Off-Season is primed to be a front-runner for Rap Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2022. Much like the Academy Awards, the Grammy's have a history of awarding artists a few projects too late. Cole's new album sees him attempting to position himself at the top of the rap game as the best lyricist alive.
J Cole riding his bike home from the studio after recording The Off Season https://t.co/mExIBg6TsE— Orange Juice🍊 (@Orange Juice🍊)1620966704.0
Cole has been revered as one of today's purest rappers since debuting in 2014 with 2014 Forest Hills Drive and putting an exclamation on that take with 2018's KOD, which wasn't even nominated for Best Rap album that year.
Cole's newest album features intricate beats produced by Timbaland and even sees the rapper work on the other side of the sound booth producing songs on the album himself. It appears that one of rap's poets is seeking even further control over the art he is putting out into the world. It's something that the Grammy voters will take into consideration.
While the album isn't a clear improvement over any of his previous releases, there is certainly no signs of regression. The album is representative of what we've seen from Cole throughout his illustrious career. His delivery is smooth, his messages are strong, and the album leaves you wanting more.