Suns prove they're for real by knocking out defending champion Lakers

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Lakers 113-100.

There will be a new NBA champion crowned in 2021.

The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers got steamrolled by a three-point barrage from the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of their first-round series to fall 113-100 on Thursday night and get eliminated from the playoffs.

This is the first time in LeBron James' career he's ever been knocked out in the opening round.

The Suns will next face the Denver Nuggets in Round 2 after they wrapped up their series vs. the Portland Trail Blazers in six games on Thursday.

Game 6 was, overall, a nightmare scenario for the Lakers as the Suns jumped on them early, leading 36-14 after the first quarter with Phoenix star Devin Booker scoring 22 and tying an NBA record for three-pointers in a frame with six.

This set the tone for the Suns the rest of the way as they led by as much as 29 and, despite the Lakers cutting that down to 12, proved too much for Los Angeles to overcome, particularly with Booker taking a step toward true superstardom as he finished with 47 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 15-of-22 from the field and a remarkable eight for 10 from deep.

Of course, things could have gone differently for the Lakers had they been at full strength Thursday, but it just wasn’t to be.

Anthony Davis was cleared by medical staff just prior to tip-off, but only lasted about five and half minutes before he was forced to leave the game looking to be in some considerable pain from the groin injury he sustained in Game 4 and caused him to miss the following contest.

Without Davis, the Lakers relied heavily on a 36-year-old James who was also banged up and lacked his usual explosiveness heading to the rim.

A combination of bad injury luck as well as a killer performance from Booker and the Suns in general (they shot 18 of 35 from three-point range as a team) ended up dooming the Lakers and gave Phoenix its first playoff series victory since, coincidentally, it lost to L.A. 11 years ago in the conference finals.

Here’s are the biggest takeaways from the six-game series.

The Suns are for real

There will understandably be a lot of chatter about the Lakers in the aftermath of this defeat. They were the defending champions after all, plus they have James on their team, a man you can still argue is the greatest player in the world.

With that said, when the initial shock wears off, it isn’t very surprising that the Suns won this series. Remember, this was a No. 2-No. 7 matchup, and Phoenix was the second seed, so the expected outcome ended up happening.

The Suns finished with the second-best record in the NBA this season, racking up 51 wins in a 72-game season and, as their series victory over the Lakers proves, that certainly wasn’t a fluke.

Phoenix finished in the top seven in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season and owned the league’s third-best net rating, a strong balance that appears to have carried over into the playoffs.

Of course, the additions of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder in the off-season have paid massive dividends for the Suns, but really, this was a team that was building toward this moment dating back to the bubble last year when they went a perfect 8-0 and just missed the play-in tournament.

Booker made himself known as a legitimate clutch performer back then and it looks like his knack for raising his game in important contests has translated to the playoffs proper.

So, given the fact this is a Suns team with with excellent balance on both sides of the ball, has legitimate senior leadership thanks to Paul and Crowder and has a legitimate superstar in the making in Booker, it’s a small wonder that Phoenix managed to knock off the champs, and is probably a good thing for NBA as a whole, as an entirely new audience will finally get introduced to Booker and the Suns.

At the very least, James seems to have respect and admiration for Booker.

End of an era or just a one-season blip?

The question everyone will be asking now in the aftermath of James and the Lakers flaming out in the first round is whether or not this is a sign of things to come for them, or if this was simply a one-season anomaly?

On one hand, James will be 37 next season and his ability to stay healthy seems to be waning more and more so, for the first time in his career, his durability is of legitimate concern. Additionally, Davis, for as ultra-talented as he is, has an awful injury history and it feels like the 2019-20 season was more the outlier for him health-wise than the rest of his career.

These are major factors that stack against the Lakers because, as seen during this series against Phoenix and for most of the regular season, because they’re so top heavy with James and Davis, they simply don’t have the depth to sustain an injury to either of them.

On the flip side, though, is that James and Davis could manage to stay healthy all of next season and, really, the only reason why the Lakers struggled was because they missed time. Think of it this way: before the mid-season injuries to James and Davis, the Lakers held the second-best record in the NBA, but afterwards they were a sub-.500 team (if you include the playoffs).

So it’s a double-edged sword for the Lakers with talents as incredible as James and Davis on their roster. They won last season, but then got cut by it this season.

How next season plays out is anyone’s guess now.

Have to like Phoenix in the next round

Looking ahead to the next round for the Suns, let’s just say that if you like offence, you’re likely in for a treat.

Both Phoenix and Denver can put up points in bunches, and even though they won’t be facing each other directly, the star duel between Booker and Jokic will be awesome to watch, especially for fans who may not be as familiar with the two teams.

From a competitive standpoint, however, it’s hard not to favour the Suns in this matchup mainly because Phoenix’s defence looks so much better than Denver’s.

The Suns were able to win their series with the Lakers on the strength of their D as they only gave up 102.6 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were forced to outscore the Trail Blazers in their matchup as their defence was sieve-like, giving up 122.1 points per 100 possessions over six games.

Granted, the Blazers sport a much more potent offence than the Lakers do – particularly with Davis missing time – but, as mentioned before, Phoenix was among the league’s elite offences this season, too. The big difference, however, is that the Suns will more likely get more stops than the Nuggets will.

This obvious disparity between the two teams’ defences – along with the fact that the Blazers kind of figured out how to beat this Nuggets team without Jamal Murray by just making Jokic shoot a ton – play to the Suns’ advantage.

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