Russell Westbrook couldn’t figure out a way to consistently mesh with his new teammates, Anthony Davis couldn’t stay healthy and a 37-year-old LeBron James couldn’t carry a team all by himself.
The Los Angeles Lakers made no secret they were a team built to win a championship this season. Instead, they won’t even make the playoffs.
In a development that few would have seen coming six months ago, the Lakers were eliminated from the playoff race on Tuesday night after a 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Westbrook scored 28 points, Davis added 21 and James watched from the bench, nursing a sore ankle that kept him out for a second straight game. The Lakers fell to 31-48, 11th place in the Western Conference, and can no longer crack the top 10 to earn a spot in the play-in tournament.
“It is nothing more than we just didn’t get it done,” Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We can’t make excuses; we just didn’t get it done.”
Health was a constant issue this season for the Lakers, who rarely had Westbrook, Davis and James on the floor at the same time. Davis has only been available for about half the season, missing time with knee and foot ailments.
“We had the pieces but injuries got into the way of that,” Davis said. “That was the difference in our season.”
The Lakers and the James-Davis-Westbrook trio could make another run together next season, though it’s unclear if they’ll want to give it another shot. Davis and James are under contract while Westbrook seems likely to exercise his $47m player option.
“That is the plan, but nothing is promised,” said Westbrook, who took a big chunk of criticism aimed at the team. “You’ve kind of got to take one day at a time and you’ve got to pay the cards you are dealt.”
Even a month ago, it seemed the Lakers had time to figure out a way to regroup, get healthy and make a run in this year’s playoffs. James looked 10 years younger at times with his scoring production, averaging 30.3 points for his highest average since 2008.
“I think the world would love to see, we would love to see what this team could could be if we were healthy for a full 82,” Davis said.
Westbrook played hard on Tuesday night, plowing through the Suns’ defense over and over in a desperate attempt to make something positive happen. There were a few big buckets but also a few big turnovers. The inconsistency was all too familiar.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he was “extremely disappointed” that the season will end short of the postseason. The Lakers have lost seven straight games and now must play three more with no playoffs on the horizon.
Vogel led the Lakers to a championship in 2020 when the playoffs were played in the Florida bubble. Now his job security appears tenuous at best.
“I can say it has not been due to lack of effort,” the coach said. “We have all put in the work. Our guys stayed fighting right till the end. We brought integrity to the process. We just fell short though a disjointed season.”