Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

Jamie Carragher believes Jurgen Klopp is "lying" about who he wants Liverpool to face in the Champions League final and extended an offer to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James to join him in Paris.

The Reds overcame a scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 on Tuesday, securing a 5-2 aggregate triumph and punching their ticket to a 10th showpiece in Europe's premier tournament.

Liverpool were trailing 2-0 at half-time before second-half goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane ensured they will meet Manchester City or Real Madrid in this month's final.

It means a remarkable quadruple is still on the cards, with Liverpool having already clinched the EFL Cup and still in the hunt for the Premier League title and FA Cup too.

Manager Klopp insisted he would have no preference over who he faced in the French capital, but former Reds defender Carragher reckons the German would secretly prefer to face newly crowned LaLiga champions Madrid.

"I think he's lying," Carragher said speaking as a pundit for CBS. "I am pretty certain he'd prefer Real Madrid."

Regardless of how many trophies Liverpool end up with this term, Klopp has cemented his status as a legend at Anfield and recently committed his future to the club until 2026.

Carragher thinks that was the right move and is not sure his coaching style would ever suit Barcelona or Madrid, clubs he has in the past been linked with.

He added: "There's lots of great clubs but not another one that suits Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool are not an underdog by any means, they are one of the biggest clubs out there but that thing of when he was at Dortmund and they were fighting against Bayern with no funds, and the same sort of thing against maybe Manchester United and Manchester City in the Premier League.

"I couldn't see him managing a Real Madrid or a Barcelona, I don't think it would suit his style of management.

"I think he needs the intensity of the crowd and that togetherness. He is already and, who knows what Liverpool will have won in four years' time, he is going to be remembered as one of the greatest managers in Liverpool's history and one of the greatest figures in Liverpool's history right up there with the great managers."

Plenty of Liverpool fans will flock to Paris for the final and one particularly famous supporter could be headed to France in the form of NBA great James, who owns a small stake in the club.

And Carragher had an invitation for the four-time NBA champion, who had Tweeted to say: "PARIS HERE WE COME!!!!!!!! @LFC!"

"LeBron, if you want to come to Paris you can join me, and the CBS team, and you can be my guest pitchside," he added.

"I want you next to us in Paris to give us the support that we need to win that seventh European Cup. Come and join us, big man!"

Jimmy Butler became only the third Miami Heat player to have three 40-point playoff games with a big performance in Tuesday's Game 2 win against the Atlanta Hawks.

The six-time All-Star finished with 45 in a 115-105 win to give the Heat a 2-0 lead in the first-round series.

Only LeBron James (also three) and Dwyane Wade (seven) have previously had as many 40-point games for the Heat in the postseason as Butler.

Indeed, only James (26.9) and Wade (22.6) have averaged more points per game for the Heat in the postseason than Butler (21.9).

And coach Erik Spoelstra, who led a Heat team containing James and Wade to titles in 2012 and 2013, considers Butler worthy of comparison to the latter.

"It actually is a good comparison," Spoelstra said. "If you get in those pressure moments and the moments of truth, if you're on the other side, would you ever want to just give Dwyane Wade an open three?

"You would not, because he's a killer. He's going to seize that moment.

"And Jimmy has a lot of those same qualities. You can say whatever the percentage is – throw those all out when it becomes about winning. He'll find a way to kill you."

Butler's latest display was unlike anything previously seen by a Heat player, though.

At the start of the week, no player had finished with 40-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists, no turnovers and no fouls in a playoff game since turnovers became an official statistic in 1977-78.

Butler became the second player to achieve such a stat line in two days, following in the footsteps of breakout Dallas Mavericks star Jalen Brunson.

The two previous 40-point playoff games from Butler had come in the 2020 run to the NBA Finals, which played out in the 'bubble' in Orlando.

But Butler, now paired with point guard Kyle Lowry, feels he is "a different player" in 2022.

"I am a different player now than I was then," he said. "I just always want to play basketball the right way and do whatever it takes to help this team, this organisation win. That's why they brought me here.

"I'm not as ball-dominant as I was in the bubble. We've got a point guard, and that's Kyle, and I love him being a point guard.

"I just get to go out there and try to score. And if I can't score, pass the ball. We're a different team; I'm a different player."

It was perhaps not the most surprising news when it emerged on Monday that coach Frank Vogel had been dismissed by the Los Angeles Lakers.   One of the most star-studded teams of all time inexplicably failed to even make the NBA Play-In tournament, finishing the season with a record of 33-49 and in 11th place in the western conference.   However, it would have been astonishing to imagine this scenario in September, when Vogel was handed a one-year extension to his deal, and especially a year prior to that when he was lifting an NBA championship in his first year with the Lakers.   How did we get here, though?

Vogel enjoyed a good start to his career in coaching, making it to the play-offs with the Indiana Pacers in each of his first four years, reaching the conference finals in 2013 and 2014.

After six years in Indiana, he moved to the Orlando Magic, but was unable to repeat the trick there with a young team, with an overall regular season record in his two years in Florida of 54-110, failing to reach the post-season in either campaign before being fired in 2018.

A year later, he was appointed by the Lakers, making a great start as he boasted a regular season record of 52-19, before going on to win their first championship in 10 years.

Vogel's second season was not as smooth, with a 42-30 regular season record. A dramatic Play-In victory against the Golden State Warriors brewed excitement that another dramatic championship run could be on the cards, but a 4-2 defeat to the Phoenix Suns in the first playoff round ended those hopes.

Despite that setback, his post-season win percentage of 66.7 is the third-best in Lakers history, behind only Pat Riley (68.5) and Paul Westhead (68.4).

However, even after having faith shown in him with a one-year contract extension in August 2021, Vogel was unable to add to those figures with a spectacular failure to reach the post-season this year.

The regression in 2020-21 had largely been put down to injury issues suffered by two of his stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and with those two back fit and after trading to bring Russell Westbrook in from the Washington Wizards, the Lakers went into the 2021-22 season as one of the favourites to go all the way.

 

While Davis and James have suffered further injury setbacks, the latter has still had one of his most productive seasons of an illustrious career, and a failure to get anything like the best out of Westbrook has also been a factor.

James averaged over 30 points per game (30.3) for the first time since 2007-08, with only Joel Embiid averaging more across the league (30.6), though it was the first season since 2009-10 in which Westbrook averaged fewer than 20 points per game (18.5).

The 33-year-old did not hold back when asked about Vogel on Monday, saying at his exit interview: "I think it's unfortunate, to be honest, because I've never had an issue with any of my coaches before.

"I'm not sure what [Vogel's] issue was with me, or I'm not sure why, but I can't really give you an answer to why we really never connected."

The writing was on the wall towards the end of the season, with the Lakers losing eight straight games to miss out on the Play-In tournament, only slightly improving their record with two final wins before the end of the regular season, and ultimately, the end of Vogel's time in LA.

Frank Vogel was fired after the Los Angeles Lakers endured "a disappointing season at every level", according to general manager Rob Pelinka. 

The Lakers missed out on a place in the NBA playoffs after a 33-49 season saw them finish 11th in the Western Conference, costing the head coach his job on Monday. 

Vogel led the Lakers to the NBA championship in his first season at the helm, but a poor campaign has seen him removed from the post just 18 months later. 

Speaking after the announcement of Vogel's departure, the Lakers' vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Pelinka said the time had come for a change. 

"I want to thank him for three really strong years," Pelinka said of Vogel. "We just felt like it was time for a change in our leadership voice. Frank is a great man, a great coach and will go on to do great things. 

"This was a disappointing Lakers season at every level. In the face of disappointment, our fans expect more, and that's at every facet.  

"I think when you have disappointment, you need to take ownership of that and vow to make the adjustments to be better. That's where the work starts today.  

"We've been in this place before and we know what it takes to put in the work to fix it, and that's where our energy and time will be spent in the coming days."

In his 19th season in the league, Lakers star LeBron James averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 37.2 minutes per game. 

Pelinka acknowledged the roster assembled for this season was not good enough, but felt confident the Lakers can experience success again in the future, with James remaining their lynchpin. 

"We need to do all we can to be caretakers of his legacy and to try to build the best team we can around him," he added. "We had the objective for that last year and obviously this roster did not work.

"But there's a great level of trust in our collaboration with him to make sure we get it right this summer and fix it. 

"I don't know exactly how long LeBron will play but, of course, this year he played at the highest level. [It was] an incredible year for him offensively, and he feels highly motivated to return next year and have another elite level of play. 

"If our team had found a way to win more, he would have been in the MVP conversation. For him to play at that level in the 19th year of his career is jaw-dropping, and his motivation to come back and do that again next year was palpable in my exit interview with him. 

"Every indication we've received is that he sees the Lakers as his home."

LeBron James does not intend to play a significant role in any offseason roster moves the Los Angeles Lakers make. 

The Lakers missed the NBA playoffs after finishing 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record, resulting in head coach Frank Vogel being fired after a frustrating campaign.

James and Anthony Davis were reportedly particularly influential in the decision for Los Angeles to blow up their roster with a trade for Russell Westbrook last year, who endured a disappointing season. 

It seems James will now take a back seat during an impending roster shake up, insisting his focus is solely on leading the team that the Lakers put on the floor. 

"It's human nature to start thinking about the roster and what it could look like and how we could have a roster that brings in more wins," said James, speaking to the media prior to the announcement of Vogel's dismissal.

"I've started to think about it a little bit. It's not solely on me obviously, but we definitely want to be better coming into next year. 

"It's not my decision to sit here and say, 'Well, this is what we should bring back and have on the roster.' That would be the front office's decision. 

"Obviously they may ask for my input, but at the end of the day, they'll make the decision they feel best suits this franchise going forward. 

"I think the front office is gonna do whatever it takes to help this ball club become better. 

"It's my job to make sure I'm ready at the start of training camp, ready to lead the franchise and the team that's put on the floor. That is my focus."

James will turn 38 next season, which will be his 20th in the league, but he remains keen to help the Lakers win another championship, and insisted that only his physical condition would decide how much longer he remains in the NBA.

"I came here to win a championship and I want to win more," he added. "I accomplished what I wanted to, but I'm still hungry for more.

"I'm confident this organisation wants the same. It's what this organisation has always been about. 

"How long [will] I play? It's up to my health. It's up to my spirit, my motivation ... I don't have a cap on how long I want to play, I don't want to say this or that. 

"My wife doesn't wanna hear that if it's longer than a certain amount of years! But I can still produce at a high level as I showed this year, for sure."

LeBron James' season is over, the Los Angeles Lakers have confirmed.

The NBA great has had the second most productive campaign of his storied career in terms of points per game, though the Lakers have had a year to forget, failing to reach the playoffs or even next week's play-in tournament.

LeBron sprained his ankle in a defeat at the New Orleans Pelicans in late March, and the Lakers confirmed on Friday that he will not play in either of their final two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers' tweeted: "LeBron James' left ankle was recently reassessed by the team's medical staff, and it was determined that due to the ankle sprain James suffered in a game on March 27th, he will miss the remainder of the 2021-22 NBA season to allow for continued healing and an expected full recovery."

 

The 37-year-old ends the campaign having played 56 games overall, averaging 30.3 points per game, only the second time he has averaged over 30 in a season (31.4 PPG for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005-06). Only Joel Embiid (30.4) averages more in the league this season.

LeBron averaged 8.2 rebounds per game, 6.2 assists and brought three-pointers into his arsenal more than ever, hitting a career-high season average of 2.9 successes and 8.0 attempts per game.

He also became the first player in NBA history to record more than 10,000 career points, rebounds and assists.

Adam Silver is concerned by what he sees as "a trend" of the NBA's best players spending too much time on the sideline.

NBA commissioner Silver was speaking at a news conference following a two-day meeting with the league's board of governors.

Last year's NBA MVP Nikola Jokic was one of 11 players to play every game in the shortened 72-game 2020-21 regular season.

But only five players are on course to complete the full 82 games this year – and none of them could be considered superstars.

While Jokic has still played a good number in 73, MVP rivals Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been limited to 66 and 65 games respectively.

Stephen Curry has played in 64, Luka Doncic and James Harden in 63, LeBron James in 56, Kevin Durant in 53 and Kyrie Irving, chiefly due to the vaccine protocol that was in place in New York for much of the season, in 27.

Harden (37.2 minutes), James (also 37.2), Irving (37.5) and Durant (37.1) have at least seen plenty of time on the floor when they have been available, although the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers have spent much of the season hovering around the play-in line.

While Silver acknowledged injuries were a factor, he suggested this sort of motivation was key to seeing the best of the league's stars.

Antetokounmpo (32.9 this year) has long played limited minutes in the regular season, while Kawhi Leonard – prior to the injury that has kept him out of this season – was allowed regular periods of rest with the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers in order to prepare for the playoffs.

"The greater concern to me is a trend of star players not participating in a full complement of games," Silver said.

"I think that's something we, together with the Players Association, need to address. I'm not standing here saying I have a great solution.

"Part of the issue is injuries. One of the things we have focused on at the league office and we had begun to spend a lot of time on pre-pandemic [is]: are there things we can do in terms of sharing information, resources around the league to improve best practices, rehabilitation?

"The other way we can get at it, in terms of player participation, is creating other incentives.

"The play-in tournament, I thought, was a beginning of creating renewed incentives for teams to remain competitive and be fighting for playoff position. It might be through in-season tournaments and changes in format where we can get at it."

Russell Westbrook hopes he will get the chance to play an 82-game season alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis next year, but he added: "Nothing is promised."

Westbrook signed for the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of this season in a trade with the Washington Wizards that has since been widely criticised.

The Lakers traded away three key players in exchange for Westbrook and his huge contract, which contains a staggering $47.1million player option for 2022-23.

Having also given up their draft picks for the coming seasons in acquiring Davis, the Lakers may have little option but to run it back with the core of a team who have missed out on the postseason this year.

For all the Lakers' problems – their elimination confirmed by Tuesday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns – Westbrook hopes that will be the case.

He has played only 21 games alongside both James and Davis this season, with each suffering from injury troubles.

"That's the plan, but nothing is promised," Westbrook said. "You've got to take one thing at a time each day and play the cards you're dealt.

"Yes, we want to be able to see what that looks like, what that entails over the course of an 82-game season.

"But we're not sure if that's guaranteed, either. I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something in the future."

Westbrook described the season as "obviously disappointing on many levels" and said "so many different things" had gone wrong.

However, he added: "It's a situation that I was just blessed to be able to be in.

"I learned a lot about a lot of different things within myself. I was able to just stay real faithful and true to what I believe in, regardless of what was ever thrown our way, my way. We continued to fight through it regardless of results.

"I'm covered. What I mean by that is I am super blessed and grateful. Regardless of whatever is thrown my way, I'm covered by the protection of faith. Whatever is thrown my way, I can always prevail and get through it."

Head coach Frank Vogel added: "I'm extremely disappointed, disappointed for our fan base, disappointed for the Buss family, who gave us all this opportunity.

"We want to play our part in bringing success to Laker basketball, and we fell short.

"We were eliminated tonight, but I can say it's not been due to a lack of effort. We have all put in the work, our guys stayed fighting right until the end, we brought integrity to the process; we just fell short through a disjointed season."

Vogel also pointed to the Lakers' injuries, suggesting they were the main difference between this season and the team's title-winning campaign of 2019-20.

"It's just a different team," he said. "Without getting into a lot of the details why, that was a very different team than we have this year.

"I would say if LeBron and AD played 15 games together that year, we would have had a similar year to what we're having right now."

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be missing from the NBA playoffs.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is less than two years since the Lakers won the title in the 'bubble', but that championship was followed by one mishap after another, leading to this painful season.

Stats Perform seeks to break down where it all went wrong.

Ageing LeBron limited

This could and perhaps should have been remembered as a great year for James, who has scored 30.3 points per game. At 37, he is on course to become the oldest player ever to win the scoring title – a mantle he will take from the great Michael Jordan.

However, for a second straight year, injuries have limited James' involvement.

Already with more than 63,000 minutes in his legs across the regular season and playoffs, James has continued to push himself to try to save the Lakers' season. He has played 37.2 minutes per game – his most in five years, the most of any Laker and the third-most in the entire league. Again, he is 37. Ultimately, unsurprisingly, this has meant more wear and tear, with James playing in just 56 games.

Although James has scored more than 35 points in each of his past five games – a streak bettered only by DeMar DeRozan (eight) this season – he has also missed five games in that span. The Lakers have lost all five.

AD also absent again

Given James' age, it was to be expected his body might start to let him down. That he needed to play so many minutes when he was available, though, was due to injury issues for Anthony Davis – eight years his junior.

Davis was outstanding in helping James to win a title in their first season together in 2019-20 but has played only 76 games since across two regular seasons. After an Achilles strain hampered his 2020-21 campaign, Davis has missed time this year with knee and foot injuries. He played on Tuesday but revealed his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

Whether Davis can ever get back to playing a full 82-game season remains to be seen, for he has appeared more cumbersome than in years past even when he has been available, having bulked up coming into this year. That is evident in the numbers, too, with Davis shooting a career-high 73.5 per cent at the rim but just 18.6 per cent from three-point range.

Derailed by Russ trade

Of course, even with James and Davis kept on the sideline for periods of the 2020-21 season, the Lakers still made the play-in tournament and then the playoffs. However, the Lakers then allowed almost their entire supporting cast to leave.

Their four most-used players in terms of minutes in 2020-21 departed, including three of them in an ill-fated trade for Russell Westbrook. On his fourth team in four years, there was hope Westbrook could form a 'big three' with James and Davis – "our goal was to win a championship," Davis said on Tuesday – yet the trio have played just 21 games together.

And Westbrook has been far less effective than the men he replaced in carrying the team in the absence of the Lakers' superstar duo. LA are 6-17 when Westbrook plays but James does not.

Having averaged a triple-double in four of his prior five seasons, Westbrook is down to 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. One of 10 triples this year came in perhaps the worst individual performance of the campaign, in which Westbrook also had a league-high 10 turnovers and was ejected against former team the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What next?

"Who knows?" That was Davis' response after the Suns loss. The Lakers have very little room to manoeuvre in this coming offseason, even if James, Davis and Westbrook can each rediscover form and fitness – highly unlikely in itself.

As part of the deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers traded away an unprotected first-round pick in 2022, a potential first-round pick swap in 2023 and either their 2024 or 2025 first-round pick. The 2022 pick is sure to be a big loss following this season, while the Lakers would have to turn their fortunes around dramatically for the subsequent picks not to also represent significant assets.

And yet the Lakers' cap situation is arguably even worse, headlined by Westbrook's player option for a staggering $47.1million in 2022-23. Only a league-low seven players are signed for next year, yet the team are already above the luxury tax threshold.

It is no secret James and Davis were hugely influential in constructing this roster, but whether the extortionate cost was worth it for a single title is up for debate. Another championship surely will not follow for some time.

Anthony Davis still believes the Los Angeles Lakers could have won the NBA title this season if not for injury.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is a remarkable fall from grace for a team who were champions less than two years ago, although both Davis and LeBron James have struggled with injuries.

Davis has played only 40 games following knee and foot injuries, while James has been limited to 56 as he has attempted to overcome an ankle sprain.

James was absent as the Lakers' playoff hopes were ended against the Suns, with Davis on the floor but acknowledging his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

"We haven't had the chance to have our full team, with myself out, LB out, other guys," Davis said. "It's the most disappointing thing. I'm not sure how good we could have been.

"For myself personally, it's two unfortunate injuries that kept me out for a while, a significant part of the season.

"I was one of the leaders on the team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. When guys needed me most, I wasn't able to be out there.

"For me, for our team, for our organisation, we've got to recap now and see what's next."

Considering what that might mean for next season, Davis said: "Who knows?"

He added: "We've got to recap the season, what worked, what didn't work and go from there. I truly think we could have done something special if Bron and myself, mainly me, were healthy for the entire season.

"I think you would love to see, the world would love to see, we would love to see what this team could be if we were healthy for the full 82."

The Lakers' trade for Russell Westbrook has been widely criticised, with the point guard's return of 18.5 points per game his lowest since 2009-10.

Even when the Lakers had Davis, James and Westbrook all in the lineup, their record was a relatively mediocre 11-10.

However, Davis believes they would have improved with time, explaining: "Our goal was to win a championship. We had the pieces, but injuries got in the way of that. That was the difference in our season.

"Even though we lost games where all of us were on the floor – me, Bron, Russ – I think we're three great players and we would have figured it out if we logged more minutes together.

"We weren't able to do that, which makes it tough to be able to compete for a championship."

However, team-mate Carmelo Anthony, while agreeing with Davis' assessment of the team's potential, refused to point to injuries as an excuse.

"We just didn't get it done," he said. "We had the tools. Some things were out of our control – some things we could control, some things we couldn't.

"It's nothing else more than we didn't get it done. You can't make excuses about it. We just didn't get it done."

Anthony Davis pondered "what could have been" this season after Sunday's 129-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets, and admitted he feels like "the whole world wants to see" the Los Angeles Lakers lose.

The Lakers' loss means they are now two games behind the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the last Western Conference Play-In Tournament spot, with just four games to play.

Favourite to win his second consecutive MVP award, Nikola Jokic starred once again for the Nuggets, scoring 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting, with 18 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.

Davis also played well, with 28 points (11-of-25 shooting), nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and three blocks, but when speaking to post-game media he wondered what his team could have accomplished if healthier.

"We never [got a chance to get continuity] all year," he said.

"I think us three – being me, LeBron [James] and Russ [Westbrook] – have played… 21 games together?

"We didn't expect to only have 21 games together, but it's just kind of been that year. Either I'm in, or [James is] in, and the times we do play together we look really good – and then somebody's out of the line-up.

"It's been tough not being able to fully reach our potential, as far as us three being on the floor and seeing what we really could be.

"But that being said, we also have enough to win basketball games, either when [James] doesn't play or when I don't play. 

"You saw tonight, we fought extremely hard, and we were there, there were just some costly plays in the last four or five minutes that cost us the game."

That thought about what the Lakers could have been was not a passing one for Davis, who admitted it weighs on his mind.

 "I think the biggest thing that I think about is 'what could have been'," he said.

"If we stayed healthy all year, what could we have been? 

"Of course you have to figure out the kinks early on, but after that 10, 15, 20 games to figure it out, and you get close to All-Star [Weekend], or after All-Star, and you're rolling, you feel like 'what could we have been' if I was healthy all year, or LeBron was healthy all year, if [Kendrick] Nunn was healthy.

"You think about those things. When we put this team together, it really looked good on paper, but we haven't had a chance to reach our potential."

While there is plenty of reflection happening, Davis insisted his side is not going to roll over in the last few games of the season, but admitted he feels like people enjoy watching the Lakers struggling.

"We know with the situation we're in, especially with losing today, it's another must-win – a must-must-win – in Phoenix [against the Suns on Tuesday]," he said.

"[Phoenix] is playing well, but also can be beat. But [our] spirits are high, we're not a team that's going to fold until it's all the way over.

"We've got four games left, and it's our job to try and compete and go out and win every one of those.

"There's no moral victories in this league. Especially with us – the whole world wants to see us lose, to be honest."

LeBron James acknowledged the Los Angeles Lakers lost a "must-win" game at home to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday but insisted their season is not over yet.

The Lakers, who are 11th in the West, went down 114-111 to the ninth-placed Pelicans. With the San Antonio Spurs also winning in 10th, LA fell a full game outside the play-in tournament.

It was a fifth defeat in a row for the Lakers and came despite the team hurrying James and Anthony Davis back from injuries.

James scored 38 points in a mammoth 40-minute shift, yet an air ball from three-point range at the buzzer sealed the loss.

Afterwards, the four-time MVP – still in pole position for the scoring title with 30.3 points per game – was understandably disheartened.

"The big picture is that it pretty much was a must-win for us," James said, "and we didn't get the job done.

"We had great opportunities throughout the night, and we didn't make enough plays down the stretch. So that's the big picture.

"It just feels like you can't catch a break. No matter what's going on on the floor, it just feels like the ball bounces the other way, the ball doesn't always bounce in our favour, or a call doesn't go in our favour.

"It's just like when it rains, it pours for our year. It's just the way it's been going."

However, he added: "Until it says we're eliminated, it doesn't. Until that moment, we'll know what our destiny is, but right now, we don't. So we keep pushing forward."

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