It was no accident that LeBron James waited to win his third NBA title to reveal that he always wanted to watch Michael Jordan’s six championships. James may have historical aspirations, but he’s also an accomplished cultivator of his own heritage and wise enough to know that you don’t even start talking about MJ until you have at least half of it.
Among this generation of NBA players, Jordan has GOAT status. Its six rings are the bar that all have to be free to be inside The Conversation. Five rings will take you to the same mountain top as all-time greats like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
James was 31 when he won three rings with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. It took him until he was 35 to win his fourth ring last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he and his new co-star Anthony Davis looked like they could win a few more – if they stayed healthy.
But after Tuesday’s 115-85 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series, James and the Lakers are one loss away from closing this season – and their chance to create a legacy – for good to have .
Davis was unable to play due to a tight groin he suffered in his Game 4 loss at the Staples Center on Sunday.
James was unable to carry his team, even though it was as bad as the Lakers supporting cast played, it didn’t matter how broad his shoulders were.
And against the resurgent Suns, who now lead the series 3-2 and look like the team that ended up with the second-best record in the NBA, the Lakers couldn’t fight much.
“We just played our style,” said Sun guard Chris Paul. “We kept the pace, shared the ball. We just played the way we play.”
LA was so bad on Tuesday night that Hall of Famer and former Laker James Worthy even said on the local Lakers post-game show, “After a game like this there must have been a head-to-head encounter in Laker history.”
James finished the game with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes, well below the time he normally plays in the postseason. But there was little reason for him to play in the fourth quarter with the Lakers by up to 36. And there was no reason for him to even watch as he and Davis walked off with 5 minutes and 39 seconds remaining in the game, to get an early start on treatment prior to Thursday’s 6th game in Los Angeles.
“We kicked our asses. It’s that simple, ”said James. “We have to be better if we want to force Game 7. They pretty much kicked our asses. There’s nothing more to say.”
Regarding his approach to Game 6, a potential elimination game, James said he was preparing to play again without Davis.
“My mindset is that he can’t play in game 6, but that’s just my mindset,” said James. “If something changes, we go from there. It literally means winning or going home … so you shoot all the bullets you have and throw the gun too. I look forward to the environment.”
Now the legacy discussion is shifting to that of Sun’s 36-year-old star point guard Paul, who has returned from a shoulder injury to enable his team to win the defending champions in Game 6 or a Game 7 on Saturday at Phoenix.
Just a few days ago it was the Suns who, after losing on their opponent’s home pitch, knocked down the long chances of a comeback, with one of their stars being hindered by an injury. That’s how fast this series spun in the course of 72 hours.
However, it would be too easy to say that the change is entirely due to the reversal of Davis and Paul’s injury status.
Yes, the Lakers really missed Davis’ offensive and rim protection, but their miserable performance on Tuesday night was the result of systemic problems on the offensive that they never fully addressed. Point guard Dennis Schroder is theoretically the third best player in L.A., the “next man,” as James put it on Sunday after Davis was injured. But Schröder has never quite got that responsibility under control this season, and he completely let go of the rope in a goalless, 26-minute attempt in Game 5.
“We have to be creative to make Dennis work; he’s one hell of a player,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “He’s been great for us this year. He’s struggled a few games in this series. But we have to get out of this game and be a little more creative to make it work, because if it works we’re damn good ” Team. He’s had a tough night. “
In fact, Schroder averaged 22 points in 52% shooting in the Lakers’ two wins, but only 7.3 points in 28% shooting in their three losses.
Then there’s the lack of field shots in LA. It’s never been a strong point for the Lakers (25th in the regular season), but it was downright horrific for that series (31.8%, 15th place out of 16 playoff teams ).
On Tuesday, LA was just 12 out of 35 behind the arch (34%), but even that is a bit of a misnomer as James hit six of his 10 3-pointers, meaning the rest of the Lakers were only 6 out of. was -25.
“We didn’t play well enough on either side of the ball,” said Vogel. “At the beginning of the game they built a big lead and we didn’t react. But they did what they should – win Game 5. Whether you win with 1 or 30, you have won Game 5.
“It’s our turn to go back to L.A., take care of our home seat and turn it into a seven-game series.”
Phoenix, on the other hand, is on fire from the start. Devin Booker had 18 points on 7v10 in the first quarter and really never cooled down, ending up with 30 on 13:23.
Paul finished the game with nine points, six assists and four rebounds in just 23 minutes, but that hardly reflects his influence on the game as Phoenix was a staggering +34 with him on the court.
Cameron Payne continued his breakthrough season with 16 points off the bench in 7-of-11 when the Suns took a double-digit lead.
The only bad mark for Phoenix in Game 5 was the sight of Paul down on the court grabbing his injured right shoulder after Wesley Matthews nudged him from behind as he went up for a rebound. Paul seemed upset about the foul at the time, but he later walked over and shook hands with Matthews.
“It’s a bit of a mess, but I’ll be fine,” said Paul. “It scared me. I spoke to [Toronto Raptors guard] Kyle Lowry a lot. He had a similar injury last year. I don’t know, it’s just a very uncomfortable feeling. Somehow helpless. When it happened I just looked up, not knowing what had happened. But after seeing it I came back on the court and told Wes it was a clean game. It’s just unfortunate that my neck and arm are broken again, the way it was. “