Many around the NBA world felt that the second seed was nothing less than flattering for the Phoenix Suns, a team that had failed to make the postseason the season before. Now, they are one game away from eliminating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Yep, Lakers vs Suns is going to be epic!
Phoenix was transformed by the offseason acquisition of point guard Chris Paul, joining first-time All-Star Devin Booker in the backcourt. The Suns “Big three” is rounded out by third-year center DeAndre Ayton, who is playing the best basketball of his career in this series.
Paul had been dealing with a shoulder injury suffered at the start of the series but looks to be returning to a level of normalcy after performing well in Games Four and Five.
Lakers vs Suns | Injuries Hold Up the Lakers
The injury bug for the Lakers has been relentless as of late, forcing Anthony Davis to miss a blowout loss in Game Five while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has dealt with knee and ankle injuries that forced him to miss Game Four.
LeBron needs to score 40 tonight! James is regarded as one of the most durable players in the NBA but has dealt his fair share of problems lately, dealing with lingering effects from an ankle sprain suffered during a March 20th loss to the Atlanta Hawks. James would miss 26 games, the most of his career, while rehabbing from his injury, though he claimed that he will never return to 100%.
The Lakers had been in second place and two games behind the Jazz for first place in the Western Conference when LeBron was first sidelined by his ankle, only to plummet to #7 by the conclusion of the regular season.
Failing to Meet Expectations
LeBron started the playoffs looking hesitant and ground-bound, and although he has seemed to improve as the series has progressed, he is clearly not the same “King” that the world is used to watching. James is averaging his lowest amount of points and rebounds for a postseason thus far, posting a line of 22.2 points, 8.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds.
James is also averaging 3.4 free throw attempts per game, of which he is making 58.8%. To put this in perspective, aside from the 2015-16 postseason during which he shot 5.9 free throws per game, LeBron has averaged at least twice as many attempts at the line in every postseason appearance of his career.
The Lakers’ supporting cast has not exactly done their job either, with fellow starters Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond all missing their season average in points, while players not named James or Davis have shot a woeful 28.6% from three-point territory.
Davis has had two 34-point double-doubles in this series, but his status for Game Six remains unclear; even if he does play, LeBron will have to score 40 to win.
A LeBron James team has never been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, making a potential elimination a huge deal in determining if his age is getting to him or not. The last time that LeBron trailed 3-2 was in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, where he ended up advancing past the youthful Boston Celtics to face the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
Lakers vs Suns Game Six will take place in the Staples Center, where the Lakers are 1-1 in the series and were 21-15 in the regular season. The rest of the Lakers have proven that they do not seem particularly interested in scoring or defending this series, and LeBron will have to become a full-on solo act, the likes of which have not been seen since Game One of the 2018 Finals if he wants to force a Game Seven.
Although he only managed to convert three of his nine two-point field goals in the Game Five blowout loss, James nailed six of his 10 attempts from the perimeter. Look for him to carry the hot hand from beyond the arc into Game Six, mixed with a steady dose of the high pick and roll and attacks at the basket.
Lakers vs Suns Game 6 is now do-or-die for the defending champions, while Devin Booker and the young Suns will look to close out the series and advance to the second round for the first time in most of their NBA careers.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.