Suns Close Out Series, Deliver Knockout Blow to Lakers

LeBron James loses NBA first-round series for first time
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The Phoenix Suns put an exclamation point on the team’s dominating performance by running away from the Los Angeles Lakers for a second straight game, earning a 113-100 Game 6 victory and taking the series 4-2.

The Suns, the No. 2 seed, advance to face the No. 3 seed, the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Anthony Davis started the game after sitting out Game 5 with a groin strain. However, Davis limped through the first six minutes.

After challenging a Devin Booker driving lay-in, Davis pulled up lame and had to leave the game, heading to the locker room for further evaluation and never returning to the floor.

The Lakers also lost guard Alex Caruso to a left ankle strain.

It didn’t matter.

Just like Game 5, the Suns blitzed the Lakers at the start of the game, taking a 36-14 lead after the opening quarter.

Booker was the best player on the floor and in the series. He shot 6-for-6 from behind the arc and scored 22 points in the opening quarter, including 17 straight points. Booker finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

The Lakers became the seventh defending NBA champion to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The last team to do so was the San Antonio Spurs in 2015.

After going 14-0 in the opening round of the playoffs during his 18 NBA seasons, LeBron James lost an opening round series for the first time in his pro career.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Lakers trailed by as many as 30 points in the first half of Game 5 and 29 points in the first half of Game 6. Those are the two, largest first-half deficits in James’ playoff career.

James led the Lakers with 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers head into the offseason with plenty of questions needing answers.

At the top of the list: Can an aging 36-year-old superstar like James and an injury-prone big man like Davis carry this franchise to another NBA title?

How did one of the deepest rosters in the NBA not get past the first round?

Why couldn’t head coach Frank Vogel create better chemistry and cohesion with this talented group?

The Lakers started the season 21-6 but ended it 23-27.

Perhaps a full offseason to allow players to recover from nagging injuries will better help the Lakers answer these questions this offseason.

Top player: Wesley Matthews brought grit and toughness off the bench, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds.

What I liked: The Suns led from start to finish, but the Lakers managed to cut Phoenix’s advantage to 10 points with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but would get no closer.

What I didn’t like: Like they have the entire series, the Lakers struggled from behind the arc, making 10-for-35 (28.6 percent) from the three-point line. By comparison, the Suns shot 18-for-35 (51.4 percent) from behind the arc.