The Los Angeles Lakers were officially knocked out of the playoffs on Tuesday as the Phoenix Suns sent the slumping NBA giants to a seventh straight loss.
With an injured LeBron James watching from the sideline, the Lakers’ faint hopes of making the playoffs were dashed as the Western Conference leaders went in style to claim a convincing 121-110 win at Phoenix.
Los Angeles’ loss — and San Antonio’s 116-97 win over the Denver Nuggets earlier on Tuesday — means the Lakers won’t be in the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
It’s only the fourth time since James entered the league in 2003 that the NBA superstar hasn’t made the playoffs.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Disappointed for our fan base, disappointed for the (owner), who gave us this opportunity.
“We wanted to play our part in the success of Lakers basketball and we didn’t. It wasn’t for lack of effort. We all worked.
“Guys stayed fighting until the end. We brought integrity to the process that we just missed in a disjointed season. We’re all disappointed.”
Tuesday’s loss ends a miserable campaign for the Lakers.
The decision to rebuild their squad last year in a blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook was a spectacular failure, accentuated by a long-term injury to Anthony Davis which kept the star forward sidelined for around half of the season.
A shroud of gloom has shrouded the NBA’s most glamorous franchise in recent weeks as costly loss after loss has piled up to leave the 17-time NBA champions needing a miraculous streak of results to squeeze their way through. one way or another in the play-in tournament.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game, social media had been inflamed with speculation that the Lakers would move quickly to fire embattled coach Vogel, who led the team to the NBA championship in 2020.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers and Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder have both been linked to the Lakers hot seat.
With San Antonio clinching the win over Denver long before the Lakers-Suns game was over, Los Angeles knew only a win would do for Phoenix.
– ‘Playing for our lives’ –
But after a brilliant opening, they were quickly outclassed.
The Suns took a 59-50 lead shortly before halftime and held the hammer in the third quarter, Devin Booker draining a jump shot from three points to give Phoenix an 84-65 lead before the Suns retired 26 point lead.
Booker led the scoring for Phoenix with 32 points, Deandre Ayton adding 22.
Vogel said knowledge of San Antonio’s win over Denver didn’t change his team’s approach against Phoenix.
“We’ve played for our lives the last five, six, seven games,” Vogel said. “It didn’t change anything.”
Westbrook, meanwhile, couldn’t determine how the Lakers’ season went wrong.
“There’s nothing,” Westbrook said. “There are so many different things that happened, but I don’t like to point fingers or blame anyone.”
In other NBA games on Tuesday, Joel Embiid improved on his MVP credentials with another monumental performance as the Philadelphia 76ers overpowered the Indiana Pacers 131-122.
Embiid finished with 45 points, 13 rebounds and two assists, while Tyrese Maxey provided support with 30 points and seven assists.
James Harden had a quiet night with 11 points, but had 14 assists for his teammates.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture became clearer with Toronto and Chicago both clinching playoff berths.
Toronto secured a playoff berth after beating Atlanta 118-108 while rivals Cleveland fell to a 120-115 loss at Orlando.
Meanwhile, Chicago was beaten 127-106 by NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, but also earned a playoff berth thanks to Cleveland’s loss to Florida.
Both Cleveland and Atlanta are guaranteed a spot in next week’s qualifying tournament.
Elsewhere, Kyrie Irving’s sparkling form continued as the Brooklyn Nets beat the Houston Rockets 118-105.
Irving finished with 42 points after draining eight of 16 points from three-point range.
It was the fourth time in the past month that Irving had scored 40 or more points.