Chris Paul injury and 2018 LeBron mode are the Lakers’ only hope

May 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (center) battles for a loose ball against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (center) battles for a loose ball against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during game one in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers may actually be on a one-way flight to Cancun or staring down the barrel of a 3-1 hole if not for Phoenix Suns‘ Chris Paul’s bum shoulder. A shockingly poor reflection on the Lakers following a title, and it continues to reflect poorly on last year’s bubble as a whole as well given how this postseason is unfolding.

Its been well documented that LeBron James and Anthony Davis having entered this postseason fresh-off of injuries has given some cause to pause, closing the gap for other contenders like the Jazz and Clippers from the Western Conference favorite Lakers. However, falling to the mostly bright-eyed Suns in the first round would still be wildly disappointing despite that.

Yes, they have an eye-raising, extremely versatile big three surrounded by solid, unassuming, hungry wings, a surprisingly viable second unit point guard in Cameron Payne, and very good coaching in Monty Williams.

But given the inexperience outside of Paul, who hasn’t been near himself for 80% of the series, the team with championship pedigree and two best players on the floor should find a way when push comes to shove.

But, considering Anthony Davis will be unavailable or a shell of himself for the remainder of the series in all likelihood, the Lakers have become the underdog for the first time in the LeBron-AD Lakers regime.

With Davis dealing with a new groin strain, giving him little rest time to recover and probably keeping him sidelined tonight, there’s no doubt that the panic button is within arms reach for LeBron and company.

We saw the Lakers down 1-0 desperately needing a win in Game 2, and were reminded that if Davis performs like the top 5 league-wide player he’s proven to be over the past handful of years, they’re too overpowering for any west opponent.

Then we saw Sunday afternoon where the Lakers had a grand opportunity to put this series out of reach, but even before the Davis injury, he was 2-9 shooting and a total no show on both ends.

Down double digits most of the second half, the Lakers may very well have been heading to an L regardless of the Davis groin strain. And serious discussion about whether Davis can be the Lakers’ cornerstone player moving forward is very real and valid.

Moral of the story, this era of the Lakers goes as AD goes as long as LeBron is on the floor too. And, given both their wins came while Paul had shoulder issues, the Lakers simply haven’t legitimately impressed this postseason yet as crazy as that is.

Now, not all hope is lost, Lakers fans.

That NBA supernova that is LeBron James is still a singular beacon of hope in times like this. Just ask your friends in the midwest. The Lakers could very well still squeak out of this series out in a knockdown, drag-out seven-game series, and that’s what I believe will happen.

But, it will require a full resurrection of 2018 Cavaliers LeBron and some surprising role player(s) executing magical overachieving performances a la Mario Chalmers and Jeff Green.

Unfortunately for Lake Show nation, Chris Paul is trending in the right direction health-wise. He’s looking like the closest thing to his MVP candidate self in game 4, Meanwhile, Davis just has to walk a few feet to his teammate LeBron to find out what a pain in the tush a groin ailment is.

After it kept LeBron sidelined long term for the first time in his career with a bad groin pull on Christmas Day in 2018. Especially tough to recover quickly for two dudes who primarily operate out of the post and drive to the cup.

Tonight’s pivotal game in the desert doesn’t necessarily determine the winner of the series. With the unpredictable injury luck and level of play pendulum swinging back and forth each day of this series, it absolutely has the makings of going seven as aforementioned.

Laughably, one LeBron James has only needed to win a Game 7 in the first round once in his career, in 2018 with Cleveland over Indiana. And, he has never been eliminated in round one in all of his playoff appearances. One of the many tidbits Lebron stans clings to when shouting in favor of him in the great GOAT debate.

LeBron certainly needs to fully tap into that 2018 mode, requiring a stat line around the ballpark of 35, 10, and 8 to deliver a win tonight and maybe moving forward. Given he just had the shortest offseason in league history coupled with all the mileage through 18 seasons, he’s pumped the breaks on shot volume, and become more of a lax jump shooter, and isn’t even involved in the playmaking and initiating the offense as much in years past.

He’s going to have to flip a serious switch starting tonight at age 36 and be the full-on system that he’s been in the past in Cleveland to lift his team in trying times. A tall order even for the great LeBron James.

Other than Alex Caruso in Games 1 and 4 and a nice blast from the past from Marc Gasol Sunday afternoon, the role player and bench production has been garbage this series. With another key piece to this championship mix in fully blossomed, primary team shooter and sound defender Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out with injury, all eyes on the perimeter outside of Lebron are on Dennis Schroeder tonight.

A special scoring night like he had in Games 2 and 3 would bode very well for the Lakers, but could very much go one of two ways for the erratic, unpredictable but uber-talented point guard. In terms of Lebron support down low, with Davis out, all eyes are on Andre Drummond. This is where getting him on the low-risk buyout market can really pay off.

We know he’ll effectively end Suns’ possessions and extend some Laker ones on the glass. But with the elite defensive void Davis leaves, his activity on that end versus DeAndre Ayton and company will set the tone for tonight’s contest.

He also has to find a way to overachieve on the offensive end tonight and score at a higher clip than we’ve seen him do in a Laker jersey as he did in previous years in Detroit as an All-NBA performer. A champion who logged plenty of playoff minutes in Gasol will have to muster production like he had the other day as well.

All things considered, safe to say there are serious stakes and history on the line for this era of the purple and gold. Especially for the immediate future given an overwhelming majority of role players hit free agency this offseason. Although again, I’m still trusting LeBron and picking the Lakers in this series at least in seven over this talented but inexperienced Suns team.

Next. 50 greatest Lakers of all-time. dark

But, Lakers fans have multiple reasons to be sweating through tonight’s showdown as it could really go either way at this point.