LeBron James has never been eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. In fact, prior to Tuesday’s game, he had never even lost consecutive games in the first round.
Now, after getting blown out by the Phoenix Suns 115-85 in Game 5 on Tuesday, the Lakers will play a win-or-go-home game at Staples Center on Thursday. The last time James played in an elimination game was in 2018, when his Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors 108-85 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
James will be hoping for a better result in Game 6, but he knows that he and his teammates have a lot to sort through together after their abysmal performances on Tuesday.
“We got our ass kicked.” James said. “It’s just that simple. They got to whatever they wanted to get to in this game and we’ve got to be better obviously if we want to force a Game 7. So, obviously there’s a lot to learn from in this game: a lot to cover, to see what what we’ve got to do better going into Game 6.
“But, I mean, they pretty much just kicked our ass. There is nothing else for me to say.”
Near the top of the list of the things that the Lakers will need to improve upon in Game 6 is their shooting. In Game 5, the Lakers shot 34.5% from the field, including 43.5% from the restricted area and 34.3% from 3-point range. For the series, they’re shooting 41.3% from the field, which is he third-worst percentage of the postseason thus far.
“We’re literally not making shots,” James said. “We’re just not making shots and it’s my job to get guys open looks and find guys and get guys in rhythm ... we’re just not making many shots.”
The problem has extended beyond the Lakers making shots, though; they’ve also been reluctant to take them when they’ve been open, which is likely a result of them losing confidence in their shooting ability.
Dennis Schröder, who ended Tuesday’s game with zero points on 0-9 shooting from the field, was guilty of that on multiple occasions in Game 5, and he acknowledged his shortcomings on offense after the game.
“I gotta be better for sure,” Schröder said. “Like I said, I don’t even know if I’m watching film on that one. I think we’ve got to flush that one, stay positive, and then I’m gonna be better in Game 6. I think everybody can do better, but it starts with me for sure.”
Schröder is right: everybody can be better, and with the fate of their season on the line in the next game, they don’t have a choice but to be better.
“It’s literally win or go home at that point,” James said. “So you shoot all the bullets you got and throw the gun too. So I look forward to the environment, obviously the Laker faithful is going to give us a lot of energy, and I look forward to the moment. I look forward to the challenge, and we’ll see if it brings out the best in me and my teammates.”
The Lakers said all of the right things ahead of Game 5, too, and they still lost by 30. In Game 6, Frank Vogel is hopeful that their actions will back their words.
“We’ll find out,” Vogel said. “We’ll find out what we’re made of and how bad we want this.”