When you’re “The King,” otherworldly performances are expected.
From dragging his 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers — a team entirely devoid of talent — to the NBA Finals, to coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the 73-win 2016 Golden State Warriors in The Finals, LeBron James has almost always lived up to his “King” title on the court. But even the king ages, and as he does, the supporting cast around him must continue to improve in order to lessen the workload of their leader.
The Los Angeles Lakers surrounding James have been unable to pick up the slack for their aging superstar, and they’re one-game away from elimination because of it.
This isn’t the 2020 playoffs in the Orlando bubble, and the Lakers roster is not as good as last year’s championship core. Even with all their baggage, Dwight Howard and Javale McGee were the modern “Twin Towers” in the playoffs, giving the Lakers a physicality in the paint that is noticeably lacking this postseason. The Lakers’ offseason acquisitions this year — Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews, and Montrezl Harrell — have not lived up to expectations, with Harrell being completely dropped from the rotation. Mid-season pickup Andre Drummond has never seemed like the right fit next to James and Anthony Davis and was benched by coach Frank Vogel for most of the second half of game five.
James has never been in this situation before — one loss away from a first-round playoff exit for the first time in his illustrious 18-year career. He’s been to the playoffs in 15 of his 18 NBA seasons, and not once has he failed to reach the second round. And while it would be silly to expect James to throw in the towel Thursday night and head for vacation, all types of new occurrences are happening for James.
Before Tuesday night’s blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns, James had never even lost two consecutive games in the first round, let alone found himself well on the way to his first early playoff exit. James is averaging 22.2 points per game in the series against the Suns — his lowest average in 15 career first-round matchups, according to NBA.com.
The game five loss wasn’t unexpected — the Lakers were six point underdogs entering the game — but it was the way in which they lost that was so shocking.
Most expected James to come out overly aggressive without his superstar sidekick, yet James seemed passive at best, finishing with 24 points on 9-19 shooting from the field. With Phoenix up 30 at the half and the result of the game never in doubt, James left the court for “treatment” before the game even came to a close.
To say his performance was a disappointment would be an understatement. We’ve always expected James to carry his teams — especially when injuries to the roster become an issue — to victories. Even James himself believes this to be the case.
“These shoulders were built for a reason,” James told reporters before game five, “and if it takes for me to put more on top of it then so be it. Win, lose, or draw. I’m ready for the challenge.”
Turns out, those shoulders aren’t as young as they once were, and if Anthony Davis is unable to play in game six Thursday night in LA, James will be looking back longingly on his more youthful postseason experiences.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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