In the world of basketball, the Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most successful franchises ever to hit the hardwood. The 2020-21 season, however, looks like it could be a year to bury in the depths of the history books. After struggling through an injury-plagued regular season, LeBron James and company are one loss away from crashing out of the playoffs in the first round.
While a first-round elimination would be a failure for the defending champs, the Lakers are no stranger to an early exit. In fact, the franchise has fallen at the first hurdle a handful of times in its illustrious history.
The LA Lakers are one loss away from a first-round playoff elimination
Last season, the Lakers rode their star power to an unconventional championship in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. This year, things are back to normal, and the club has run afoul of an old foe: injuries.
As any veteran sports fan will confirm, injuries can cripple even the most talented team. No amount of athleticism can shine through when an athlete’s body betrays them. Unfortunately for the Lakers, both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have confirmed that reality this season.
During the regular season, both stars were sidelined by their own issues, causing the Lakers to slip into the play-in game. Although they advanced into the proper bracket to face the Phoenix Suns, injuries have further complicated things.
Davis is now struggling with a groin problem, and with him out of the lineup and the rest of the supporting cast struggling, the club is on the ropes. They’re down 3-2 in the series and will face elimination on Thursday night.
How many times have the Lakers been eliminated in the first round?
Suffering through a first-round elimination, especially as defending champions, would be a painful experience for those in Hollywood. Over the years, though, even a decorated franchise like the Lakers has suffered through some early playoff exits.
According to their official playoff history, the Lakers have fallen in the first round of the playoffs eight times since the postseason expanded in 1974. They first fell at that hurdle in 1978, then repeated the unfortunate feat in 1981, 1992, and 1993.
Los Angeles also crashed out of the playoffs in the first round in 1996, 2006, 2007, and, most recently, 2013. For those in search of historical parallels, three of those exits (1993, 2006, and 2007) came at the hands of the Suns, and another (1980) came when the Lakers were defending champions.
LeBron James will have to shine to avoid playoff elimination
In the NBA, talent will usually shine through. While the Lakers have one of the most talented men in the entire Association on their roster in the form of LeBron James, even he might not be enough to save their season.
As mentioned above, Davis is battling a groin injury. While there’s a chance he’ll try to give it a go for Game 6, he probably won’t be at his best; lower-body muscular injuries can be a literal pain, and if you can’t move freely, it’s impossible to play basketball at a high level. The rest of the Lakers’ supporting cast has also floundered in the first round, forcing James to step up.
That, unfortunately, is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, King James is an all-time great with a decorated playoff history; if you want your season resting on one man’s shoulders, it’s his. With that being said, though, LeBron is no longer a young man. While he still possesses plenty of talent, he might not be able to lift his team over the hump singlehandedly.
If we know anything about James, though, it’s that he won’t let his Lakers get eliminated without a fight. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see if they can escape from the first round.