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LeBron out, Davis in as Suns look to eliminate Lakers for 3rd time in 4 years

Updated: Davis cleared to play

2021 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

For the third time in his four seasons in Laker land, LeBron James might see his playoff chances die at the feet of the Phoenix Suns.


2019 — Suns win, 118-109

Way back in LeBron’s first season with the Lakers, they came into Phoenix with their playoff hopes diminishing. You might remember that game, where LeBron, after the Suns scored yet another basket, lazily threw an inbounds pass off the back side of the backboard for a turnover to help seal the game for the Suns. The Lakers dropped to 30-33 that night while the Suns improved to 13-51.

After Saturday night’s humiliation against a 13-51 Suns team, which dropped the Lakers to 30-33, James’s gang only sports a 1.3-percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

They also have the league’s eighth-toughest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com.

Marc Stein, NY Times on March 3, 2019

LeBron had 27 points, 16 assists and 9 rebounds in that losing cause. Turns out that 2019 playoff-less Lakers team was even better than this year’s. Check the starting lineup on that night: LeBron was surrounded by Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo and Reggie Bullock, with Josh Hart, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming off the bench. I’ll bet Bron would love to have that group back right now.

On the Suns side, young guard Devin Booker (25, 4 and 4) got good contributions from rookies Deandre Ayton (26 and 10) and Mikal Bridges (12 and 5).

Here’s the highlights:


2021 — Suns win playoff series, 4-2

You all remember this one, so I won’t belabor it. The Lakers, specifically Anthony Davis, complain that if they’d stayed healthy they would have won that series.

Yet, “if ifs were fifths, we’d all be drunk”, as Devin Booker says.

The Suns suffered their own serious injury in that series, with Chris Paul unable to use his right arm properly (neck stinger, causing numbness) for several games and only began to feel better later in the series.

The Suns won the series on the Lakers’ Staples Center floor in game six, with Devin Booker scoring 47 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the close out blow out.

LeBron had never lost in the first round of the playoffs before.


2022 — Another one?

If the Suns win on Tuesday night, they will remove all chance of the Lakers even making the play-in tournament. The Lakers would be too far back with only three games to go, and the season would be over.

LeBron has been ruled out of this game with his lingering ankle issues, and Anthony Davis will have to carry the load if he plays. Currently, Davis is questionable Davis is playing (updated 2 hours before gametime) after saying that beating the Suns is a must-must-must win to keep their hopes alive.

A win would also be win #63, clinching the best regular-season record in franchise history.

“We started from the bottom and now we’ve built our way to the top,” Booker said today, before the Suns-Lakers game.

Indeed, the same core of Booker, Ayton and Bridges that had the second-worst record in the league in 2019 but knocked the Lakers anyway are still in place tonight.

They have leveled up, of course. Booker has the 4th-best odds for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, while Mikal Bridges has the 2nd-best odds for Defensive Player of the Year, according to DraftKings.com. Deandre Ayton had one of the best playoff debuts of a big man ever and was a dark-horse candidate for the All-Star game this year before he missed a lot of time in December and January.