LeBron James admits reality of ‘draining’ Lakers season after first-round playoff exit

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LeBron James is exhausted.

The 36-year-old entered his 18th season after a short 72-day offseason, following a historic championship run in the 2020 NBA Bubble — only to have his MVP-caliber season hindered by an ankle injury that lingered into the 2021 playoffs.

Injuries would ultimately lead to the Lakers’ first-round playoff exit, as they were eliminated by the Suns in a 116-100 Game 6 loss on Thursday night.

“I always think from the moment we entered the bubble to now, it’s been draining,” James said after his first career first-round exit.

“Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining. Every team has to deal with it, obviously. But with us and Miami going the long haul in the bubble and then coming right back on short notice to this season, it’s been draining.”

The injury-clad Lakers clearly ran out steam in the loss to Suns.

Anthony Davis’ absence to a nagging groin injury was a huge loss to the Lakers on both ends of the floor. The big man, who suffered the injury in Game 5, played just five minutes before he exited Game 6 for good in the first quarter.

“We had the pieces,” Davis said after Game 6. “We just couldn’t stay healthy. A lot of that is on me – a main guy who couldn’t stay on the floor.”

Davis, who missed 36 games this season with heel injuries and calf soreness, said he “wanted” to be on the floor, but his body had other plans.

“Just the competitive nature in me to go out and help the team as best as I could. My body didn’t agree,” Davis said.

Davis has taken responsibility for his injury woes this season, but he wasn’t the only Laker dealing with injury. On top of James not being 100 percent after suffering a high right ankle sprain in March, Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was dealing with a bruised left knee that sidelined him for Game 4.

Pope would go on to play 15 minutes in Game 5 and was later a game-time decision for Game 6, in which he ended up playing 39 minutes.

The ailing Lakers’ failed to run it back after a stellar 2019-20 season that culminated in a championship in the bubble. They couldn’t overcome the young Suns, led by veteran Chris Paul, who shot the ball extremely well in the close-out game.

Devin Booker recorded 47 points in 46 minutes, along with 11 rebounds and three assists.

Suns center Deandre Ayton, guard Mikal Bridges and forward Jae Crowder all shined throughout the series. Paul, who was also playing through an injury, was a force on both ends of the floor.

Now, as the Suns advance to the second round to take on the Nuggets in a best-of-seven series, it’s back to the drawing board for the Lakers — whose main concern should be getting healthy in their early playoff exit.

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For James, he’s got two things on his agenda to begin the offseason.

“I think I’m going to play for the Toon Squad this summer instead of the Olympics… Didn’t have much success versus the Suns, so now I’m gearing my attention to the Goon Squad here in July,” he said, referencing the release month of his new “Space Jam” movie.

“I’m gonna let the ankle rest for about a month, then I’m gonna gear up with Lola, Taz, Granny, Bugs and the rest of the crew. Hopefully see y’all at the match.”

The Lakers were not the only team that couldn’t parlay success in the bubble into the following the season. The defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat were also eliminated in the first round of the 2021 playoffs by the Bucks. Of the final four teams from the bubble, only the Nuggets advanced out of the first round in 2021, as the Celtics were also bounced by the Nets.

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