When Anthony Davis went down with an injured groin in Game 4 of the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns, we knew that the defending champions would need a couple of vintage, monster performances from LeBron James to avoid elimination. Those never came, and the Lakers were blown out in Games 5 and 6 to bring an end to a disappointing season.
By any other standard, James' numbers in the series were good: 23.3 points, eight assists, 7.2 rebounds on 47 percent shooting, including 37.5 percent from 3-point range. But anyone watching the games could clearly see that James wasn't the wrecking ball, force of nature that we're used to witnessing come playoff time.
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During last year's championship playoff run, James shot 67.9 percent on drives, according to NBA.com. He averaged more drives per game this postseason, but converted on just 48.6 percent of them. According to Synergy Sports Technology, James averaged 1.038 points per possession around the rim in the series against the Suns, good for the 29th percentile. Last postseason, he was in the 99th percentile with 1.573 points per possession around the rim.
Clearly something was not the same, and a report recently surfaced indicating that James' right ankle, which he initially injured at the end March, has not yet fully healed. Sources reportedly told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that James' ankle was 85 percent healthy during the first-round loss to the Suns, though that number fluctuated from game to game.
That would certainly explain why James was unable to finish in the paint in the manner we're accustomed to seeing. Despite the limitations, however, James doesn't think the injury will affect him long-term.
"I'm not worried about anything," James told Yahoo Sports. "I just need rest. I was told that from the beginning. I gave what I had."
This was the first time a LeBron James-led team has suffered a first-round playoff exit, and the injuries to him and Davis highlighted roster issues that will most likely be addressed by the Lakers front office this offseason. With James turning 37 next season, it would be foolish to write off this postseason's subpar performance as the beginning of his decline. He was performing at an MVP level before the ankle injury, and there's no reason to believe that he can't get back to that after a long and productive offseason.