Top Takeaways from Russell Westbrook, Lakers' Loss vs. Devin Booker, Suns

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIApril 6, 2022

Top Takeaways from Russell Westbrook, Lakers' Loss vs. Devin Booker, Suns

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    The Los Angeles Lakers won't be playing any more games this season beyond their regular-season finale against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

    On Tuesday night, Los Angeles was eliminated from playoff contention with a 121-110 road loss to the Phoenix Suns, which recorded their franchise-record 63rd win of the season. The Suns have been the best team in the NBA in 2021-22, and they're building momentum for the playoffs.

    The Lakers, meanwhile, have been the most disappointing team in the league, and their players will be heading home early.

    LeBron James didn't suit up in Phoenix, as he sat out for the fifth time in Los Angeles' past seven games because of a lingering ankle injury. Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, and Anthony Davis tallied 21 points and 13 rebounds, but the team trailed by as many as 26 points and couldn't come back in the fourth quarter.

    Here are key takeaways from the Lakers' latest loss, their seventh consecutive defeat.

Big 3 Weren't on Court Together Enough for Success

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    How could the Lakers have James, Davis and Westbrook on the same roster and not be successful? Well, one big reason was that the trio didn't spend enough time on the court together during the 2021-22 season, as Los Angeles got hit hard by injuries. And the team may have never reached its full potential because of it.

    As Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today pointed out, the trio has played only 21 games together this season. But even when all three were on the court, they still didn't produce the intended results, as Los Angeles went 11-10 in those contests.

    James and Davis weren't the only Lakers players who missed substantial time because of injuries, as Kendrick Nunn, Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker were among the others who couldn't stay healthy. But Los Angeles needs James and Davis on the court the most in order to have success.

    Meanwhile, Westbrook's inconsistent play throughout his first season with the Lakers was likely not what the team envisioned when they traded for the 33-year-old point guard last offseason. But he indicated that he's hoping to be back in L.A. for the 2022-23 season so this roster can show what it can do when it's at full strength.

    "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," Westbrook told reporters. "So I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something."

    Westbrook has a $47.06 million player option for next season, and it's hard to imagine he won't opt in. Could the Lakers look to trade him? That remains to be seen. But if not, perhaps James, Davis and Westbrook will get that opportunity to show they can lead a better team than this year's 31-48 squad.

A Disappointing End to the Frank Vogel Era

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    While James, Davis and Westbrook may all be back next season, head coach Frank Vogel may not be. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported Tuesday that the Lakers are expected to part ways with the 48-year-old, who has led the team the past three seasons.

    Vogel's tenure in Los Angeles got off to an impressive start. He led the Lakers to a 52-19 record during the 2019-20 season, which was paused for four months because of the coronavirus pandemic. When play resumed in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, he guided his team to a championship.

    Los Angeles underperformed during the 2020-21 season, when it went 42-30 and got eliminated by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. But few could have predicted the Lakers would be much worse this year, which may be why the team could be ready to go in a new direction.

    After Tuesday's loss, Vogel said he was "extremely disappointed," but he also shared praise for his players.

    "I can say it has not been due to lack of effort," he told reporters. "We have all put in the work. Our guys stayed fighting right till the end. We brought integrity to the process. We just fell short through a disjointed season."

    But none of that led to wins for the Lakers, which missed the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years. And when they aim to get back to the postseason next year, there could be somebody other than Vogel trying to lead them there.