Phoenix – The season that began with the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship promise ended with the pain of failing even to qualify for the championship.
Tuesday’s 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns—along with the San Antonio Spurs’ victory over the Denver Nuggets 116-97—officially eliminated Los Angeles from the playing competition with three games remaining in the regular season.
Phoenix blew the game open with a 35-22 third quarter, and the Lakers slalom to the finish line from there. Suns’ Devin Booker (32 points on 12 to 22 shots) and Jay Crowder let the opponent’s bench hear that, relishing the opportunity to bury the Lakers after Anthony Davis suggested last month that Phoenix’s 2021 playoff win over Los Angeles was luck.
In the end, it was just another rough night for the Lakers in a season that their fans will soon forget.
Injuries have ruined the season, with the new-look Big Three from L.A. LeBron James, Davis and Russell Westbrook coming together to play just 21 games together through Tuesday. The Lakers went 11-10 in those games – hardly dominant, but certainly not basement dwellers either.
Injuries played a factor again on Tuesday, as James missed for the fourth time in the past five games with soreness in his left ankle. This was his 23rd missed game of the season. Joining James on the visitors bench at Footprint Center in streetwear, Kendrick Noone has missed his 79th game of the season with a bone bruise in his right knee so far and, curiously, has not been ruled out for the season by the Lakers.
Even Davis, who was playing in Game Three after a six-week absence due to a sprain in the middle of his right foot, has also been dealing with the plantar fascia in his right foot that he has injured since returning, according to the Lakers. Coach Frank Vogel.
A rash of poor health — including COVID-19 running through the locker room in December — has led to a ridiculous total of 24 different players fitting in L.A. at some point this season. That left Vogel no choice but to constantly fiddle with his available players as he tried 39 different starting lineups as of Tuesday – the second-most in the league behind the Brooklyn Nets.
A team selected to win 52.5 games in the pre-season by BetMGM Sportsbook and one of the frontrunners — along with Brooklyn — to win it all, were eliminated from the championship-playing competition by losing their seventh game in a row to raise their record to 31-48.
It’s the Lakers’ longest losing streak this season, while San Antonio have won for the seventh time in their past eight games to ensure they’ll be at least the 10th seed in play. The New Orleans Pelicans, who needed to win Tuesday night or lose to the Lakers, beat the Sacramento Kings 123-109 to seal a place in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles have not won back-to-back games since early January, when they beat Sacramento and Atlanta at home.
By the time the Lakers beat the Suns on Tuesday night, Spurs had a seven-point lead over Denver late in the third quarter, putting half of the Los Angeles exit scenario in place. The Lakers clung to a 42-39 lead over the Suns midway through the second quarter as San Antonio finalized their win.
Loss unceremoniously begins on a vacation full of Lakers question marks. Will Vogel keep his job? Is there a change in store for the front office? Can the Lakers find a trading partner for Westbrook and cut their losses? Will James, entering the final year of his deal, sign a contract extension to keep him in Los Angeles beyond his 20th league season?
James, who was familiar with the messages, showed his compatibility with the franchise through his outfit on Tuesday. He wore a white T-shirt printed on the front with “Lake Show” in purple and gold lettering, featuring caricatures of Laker legends Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar .
No one from the 2021-22 Lakers made the cut.