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.
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.
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.
As we're just over a week away from seeing the new play-in format the NBA has decided to go with this season, it means that teams are vying to be in the top 10 in their respective conferences to keep their postseason dreams alive.
We have seen LeBron James make public statements opposing the new format even though it was unanimously approved by the NBA Board of Governors last year. It's understandable that James would have negative feelings about the new format as his Lakers have struggled throughout the season as both him and superstar teammate, Anthony Davis, have dealt with injuries which have caused them to miss significant time.
The Lakers are currently in the seventh spot in the west which puts them in line to host the Golden State Warriors in one of the Western Conference play-in games. This is an exciting matchup for fans, but it would put LeBron and the Lakers directly in the sights of MVP frontrunner Steph Curry.
Steph who missed most of last season with an injury is epitomizing what it means to have a comeback season and has overtaken Bradley Beal for the league lead in points per game, now averaging 31.9 on the year. He also leads the NBA in three pointers made by a wide margin. Curry has 324 made threes which is 55 more than Buddy Hield who comes in at second place currently with 269.
Klay Thompson every time Kerr pulls Steph Curry before he breaks his record 😂😂😂 https://t.co/3Vt7NJyV8R— ᕼᗝᗝᗪᎥᗴ 𝙇𝘽𝙅 ➐ (@ᕼᗝᗝᗪᎥᗴ 𝙇𝘽𝙅 ➐) 1620534236.0
It's not that the Warriors are a more difficult matchup than what would've been the Lakers' first round opponent in a traditional format where they would have just faced the two seed in the first round, that's not the case.
That would put the Lakers right up against the Phoenix Suns who have shocked the basketball world all season behind the play of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Yahoo Source: Lakers star LeBron James (ankle) has had two “really good days of workouts at a high level” and feels… https://t.co/BjAlbmo41E— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes) 1620656452.0
It's that now, there is a very real chance that we may see a team that has the likes of LeBron James, AD, and a handful of all-stars not making it into the postseason. This is a very bad look for the King if it were to happen. So it's possible that his recent negative comments about the new format is in a way, him doing some preemptive PR in the event that Los Angeles does have to participate in the play-in games and they don't make it past that round.
If the standings remain the same at the end of the regular season and we get a Lakers and Warriors play-in game, it makes for an interesting matchup as the Lakers boast the league's best defensive rating (tied with the 76'ers) but have struggled to get any of their scorers in sustained stretches of success. The Warriors on the other hand lead the league in assists which has always been a staple of the Steve Kerr led team. It would make for an excellent example of what wins between isolation offense and team ball.
Looking over to the Eastern Conference there is another team lurking to steal a playoff spot and disrupt some plans in the early rounds of the playoffs. The Washington Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the league since early April. That's when Bradley Beal returned from a nine game absence. With a full compliment of Beal, Russell Westbrook, and Daniel Gafford available the Wizards are a dangerous team, especially in a play-in game format.
Russell Westbrook tonight: 33 points 19 rebounds 15 assists 181 career triple-doubles And the game winning b… https://t.co/EY8HacJseY— NBA Central (@NBA Central) 1620524700.0
The only problem for the Wizards is that news has come out that Beal may miss the rest of the regular season with a hamstring injury. MRI's came back negative for any significant damage, but it's enough that he's being held out for the next few games until there's a chance to have further analysis done. That's not to say he wouldn't be back in time for a potential play-in game or the playoffs, but the team will monitor his situation with caution as he is the catalyst for the team's long term success.
Did Steph Curry know Bradley Beal scored 50 points earlier today before the Warriors tipped off tonight? Steph: "Of course I did." 🤣— Drew Shiller (@Drew Shiller) 1620536014.0
If Beal is ready to go however we recently saw Washington go on a 15-4 run since April 7 and there may not be two players in the league that play with a bigger chip on their shoulder than Bradley Beal and Russ. By adding an athletic big man that can get to the rim in Gafford, the Wizards have just enough ammunition to make the top contenders in the east very nervous.
Daniel Gafford (7-7 FG) scored 15 points and blocked three shots in 15 minutes tonight! #WizPacers | @Dan_G33 https://t.co/7hkZMxOYmF— Washington Wizards (@Washington Wizards) 1620097359.0
Now that March Madness is over, here are a few games to mark on your calendar this week to keep feeding your sports appetite.
After a thrilling season of college basketball we saw Stanford take home their first Women's NCAA Basketball title in 29 years while on the men's side Baylor handed Gonzaga their first and only loss of the season and earned the school's first Men's NCAA championship. Since we didn't have the tournaments last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was amazing getting to see the highlights and the drama return, and both tournaments delivered on the promise of madness.
Gonzaga all season until they played Baylor tonight 😂 #NCAAChampionship https://t.co/2O2M1ZiXBy— El Maestro (@El Maestro) 1617678325.0
But now that we'll have to wait until next year to get more college basketball action, here's a rundown of some of the best matchups in the NBA as their season is getting closer to their postseason, and in the MLB where teams are just ramping up nearing the end of the first week of their season.
Utah Jazz vs. Phoenix Suns Wednesday April 7
We start with the top two teams in the NBA's western conference who play on Wednesday night. The Utah Jazz bring the league's best record to Phoenix to take on the second place Suns. If you haven't been paying attention to the NBA and are now craving more basketball, now is a perfect time to jump in.
That wasn't a typo you just read either; the Jazz and Suns are ahead of the likes of the Clippers and Lakers in the standings, and these are two very good teams you need to get acquainted with. If only someone could have suggested you do it sooner by, I don't know, writing a feature article about one of them in the first week of the season.
DEVIN BOOKER. Another 30 point performance. https://t.co/DN07ZaMsnd— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns) 1617675411.0
Chris Paul continues to make everyone around him better, including Alfonso Ribeiro in those State Farm commercials. But more importantly his presence has expedited the development of all of the young talent around him in Phoenix, resulting in the Suns being a team we talk about in terms of "they can win now" versus "they can win someday."
The Jazz are basically the Spurs during the Duncan era. They're a very fundamentally sound team that plays basketball the way you should play it, and it's not very fun to watch most of the time. But that's not a shot at them, it's a testament to their coaches and players for putting together an excellent game plan and executing it night in and night out.
Longest win streaks in the NBA this season: Utah Jazz - 11 Utah Jazz - 9 (active) Utah Jazz - 9 Hawks - 8 Bucks - 8 Nets - 8— John Keeffer (@John Keeffer) 1617514941.0
If you haven't seen these teams play it's a great opportunity to see two of the best fight it out as they battle for positioning atop the western conference.
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors Friday April 9
I know what you're thinking. Why would I spend my Friday night watching a Wizards game? Well a lot of this rests on Bradley Beal returning to action who has missed the last five games with a hip injury. But if Beal is good to go against the Warriors, we'll get to see the aforementioned Beal go head to head with Stephen Curry. Beal is currently leading the league in points per game with 31.3 ppg, and Curry is third in that category averaging 29.4.
People seem to forget Steph Curry led the Warriors to 73-9 WITHOUT Kevin Durant— Ben Stinar (@Ben Stinar) 1617637387.0
Even if Beal is unable to go, my backup argument for watching this game is that you then get a matchup of Curry vs. Russell Westbrook who is fresh off leading the Wizards to a win over the Raptors behind the former MVP's triple double on Monday. Either way it's a low stakes game with some talented scorers, and it's going to be fun.
Russell Westbrook insane game: 35 PTS 14 REB 21 AST The first 35/10/20 game in NBA history. https://t.co/MnS5NHOAHH— StatMuse (@StatMuse) 1617067788.0
Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals Wednesday April 7 3:35 pm EST
The reason I had to denote the time of this game is that it's the second game of the scheduled double-header we'll see between these teams on Wednesday. Due to some positive Covid-19 test results the series that was meant to start last week will actually begin today on Tuesday April 6.
GOT 'EM! Bryce Harper tried to stretch this into a double, but @Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. had other plans 💪 https://t.co/bESXJlYJPY— FOX Sports: MLB (@FOX Sports: MLB) 1617481262.0
Furthermore, the reason that this game is on this list is that the Braves and Nats are going to play three baseball games in the span of about 27 hours. This is the last game on the schedule within that timeframe. That means we could very well see some weird stuff, and in baseball we love weird stuff.
We could see minor league call-ups whose only professional game is this one. We could see pitchers being used as pinch hitters. We could see position players being called upon to be relief pitchers, maybe even a half inning called by only one announcer because the other had to make a bathroom break run.
Considering we don't even know who the probable pitchers are for this one yet, it's a safe bet that we're going to get weird.
Washington Nationals vs Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday April 10
I promise you that I didn't intend to list three Washington sports games on here, but it's just how the schedules played out.
This day was supposed to be all about the star power that the Lakers and Nets were going to bring to Brooklyn in primetime, but thanks to injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it will instead be a game worthy of a blackout rather than a national spot.
So instead we turn to another L.A. team taking on an east coast powerhouse in the MLB, and if it's star power you want, these teams can bring it. Even though we don't have projected starting pitchers yet, it's likely we see Trevor Bauer toe the mound for the Dodgers, and it's unlikely we'll see Max Scherzer ready to go by then as he's going today in their season opener.
Hi hello Opening Day is TOMORROW Let's watch some *crushed* Juan Soto homers to get us ready 🙌 ⬇️ https://t.co/SWGADq3deS— Sarah Langs (@Sarah Langs) 1617236372.0
But on the offensive side there is an endless supply of power for both teams. Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger lead the way for the 4-1 Dodgers while Juan Soto and Trea Turner highlight the lineup for the Nationals.
If you're bummed you're missing out on the Lakers and Nets matchup we've been waiting for, tune in for this one as it could turn into a barnburner of a Saturday night.