Even LeBron James couldn’t save the Lakers

On January 25, the Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Brooklyn to face the Nets and showed a joy that was unusual for this season.

Their top stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were all healthy – this happened just 21 times this season. It was Davis’ first game back from a knee injury. It was James’ only appearance in New York City. He was suspended for the team’s November tour of Madison Square Garden, his favorite place to play.

On the net back in the luggage, James stole the ball and sank to the other side as the crowd roared in anticipation. Each time James used to cry, they would be filled with joy.

After that, James smiles. He opened with Michael Strahan, a former NFL star who sat in court, and returned to the Lakers’ bench smiling.

“The more minutes we log in, the more we see how we can be dynamic,” James said after the game.

The Lakers were eighth in the Western Conference, and predicted the night. At that time it seemed incredible that a team that could become the undisputed super team would be stuck in a tournament, but the Lakers had plenty of time to rise to the standings. Many assume that they can still be dangerous in any sporting situation.

Then, something is expected to actually happen.

The Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, though James was the second-highest point average of his 19-year career this season. On Friday, James was dropped for the last two games of the season because of a shoulder injury that had previously left him out of three previous games. The Lakers are expected to finish 11th in the Western Conference, a spectacular failure for a team that hopes to compete for the championship this season.

This season was challenging for many teams, as the NBA attempted to return the Coronavirus pandemic to its usual comeback with high profile injuries affecting many teams. But no team in the league will end the season with a big rift between expectations and reality as the Lakers did.

“It’s obviously frustrating on many levels,” Westbrook said. “But you can’t do much about it at the moment.”

Westbrook was introduced to superstar fanfare in August, as Rob Pelinka, president of the Lakers’ basketball operations, announced that he had the chance to win the franchise’s 18th championship. But his arrival did not come without questions.

How, for example, does a player who needs the ball in his hands be productive with James, is one of the best offensive tackles? Was it wise for the Lakers to get older – signing more than 30 fighters – when they were already suffering from health problems that often come with age?

The Predators are not always predicted to be the regular season, but the Lakers succeeded in their competition.

When they tired at the beginning of the season, there was an easy way for the team to explain their situation: It happens. Superstars don’t always go to jail immediately.

Pandemic provided an excuse – making this continuation almost impossible for any team in the first few months of the season.

Epidemic barriers reached their peak during the Omicron wave in November and December, during which dozens of athletes entered the league’s health and safety protocol.

The NBA’s testing system wasn’t perfect and James was impressed by it – he flew home from Sacramento on a quarantine plane because of a false-positive Corona virus test result before playing against the Kings. It was the Lakers’ first 12th out of 23 games that missed James.

A few weeks later, a corona virus outbreak spread through the team, even knocking out Lakers coach Frank Vogel for ten games.

Many teams, though, were hit even harder by the Lakers, including the Chicago Bulls, who once had 10 players in the Health and Safety Protocol in December, and had to postpone two games.

The injured offered another explanation for the Lakers’ stumbles. James and Davis jointly remember more than 60 games – not an unexpected result, given their recent dates. Davis said he was “disappointed that we didn’t get the opportunity to have a full team.”

“Not sure how good we could be,” he said. “Along with myself, two unfortunate injuries that kept me out for a while. It was just part of the season. As one of the team’s leaders, especially on the defensive end of the floor where people had to kick me out. Needless to say, useless for me, for our team, for our organization.

But this season, the injury hit several teams.

Miami Heat extends Jimmy Butler by almost a month. The Phoenix Suns lost Chris Paul for a month. The Los Angeles Clippers spent the entire season without Kawhi Leonard and lost to their second star Paul George for three months.

While these teams found ways to organize themselves and keep them in the conversation for the game, the Lakers couldn’t.

This was partly due to a list that was thinner than most because of the resources dedicated to Westbrook.

To acquire Westbrook, the Lakers have traded away young role players in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. They refused to re-sign Alex Caruso, who became a key defensive tackle for the Bulls.

The Lakers defense was ranked third in the NBA this season, as they gave up 100 points for every 112.8 possessions. The only team that has given up more runs in points per game is Houston.

The Lakers also struggled to protect the inside of the paint, a symbol of their complex big man rotation.

During their championship season two years ago, the Lakers used JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard as their main focus, sometimes to fill the role of Davis and James. This season they brought Howard back, two years older and less effective. They signed DeAndre Jordan, 33, who proved to be his former prime minister as well.

They did not have assets at the trade deadline to move which did not hurt them further. Westbrook’s contract will be even more attractive to other teams next year when he is on his last year, assuming he will select his player option for the 2022-23 season.

As it was obvious that the Lakers’ roster was not working, it was even more obvious that a right skin would not come.

They were expanding the teams under the league. The best teams were winning over them, too. Young playoff teams such as the Grizzlies and Timberwolves were teasing them, regularly targeting Westbrook’s bad shooting.

“This was the season we just didn’t get it,” Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We had the tools. Some things were beyond our reach. Some things we can control, some things we can’t control. We didn’t get it. We cannot make excuses about it. We just don’t get it. “

In the last nine years, the Lakers have lost seven games. This is an incredible stretch for a franchise that was once used to compete, if not always win, a championship.

This is a franchise that is expected to add superstars, and sometimes they do. This equation didn’t work this season.

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