The Suns had a fantastic season, making the 2021 NBA Finals. Last year’s Lakers were a massive disappointment with a first-round loss.
But who was actually the better team?
Los Angeles led its first-round series against Phoenix 2-1 and held a slight lead in Game 4 when Anthony Davis injured his groin. The Suns then won three straight to advance, Davis playing only five more (hobbled) minutes.
Anthony Davis, asked if his groin injury is the main reason the Lakers didn’t beat the Suns in the playoffs last year, says: “It was … We know that. They know that … They got away with one”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 13, 2022
The Suns do not know that.
Devin Booker, via Kellan Olson of Arizona Sports:
"If if was a fifth, we'd all be drunk. … There's a lot of if's in this game. And you look at history along the lines, there's something that comes up for every team during every season. Instead of just taking the high route and going, you have to make a comment like that." pic.twitter.com/BxanohbOmf
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 14, 2022
We’ll never know who would’ve won the series if Davis, who was already playing through a left knee sprain, stayed healthy.
But definitely don’t assume it would’ve been the Lakers.
Phoenix was better than Los Angeles throughout the season (which is why it was a 2-7 matchup). Though the Lakers were dangerous with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, underperforming teams tend to get overrated in the playoffs. They don’t flip a switch into contending mode as easily as most people think. The Suns were an excellent team rounding into top form as the playoff progressed. They set an extremely high level the Lakers – even with Davis healthy – would have had a tough time surpassing.
Plus, Phoenix star Chris Paul was limited by a shoulder injury throughout the series. There’s no good reason to speculate what a healthy Lakers team would’ve done without also supposing perfect health for the Suns.
Though players rarely disrespect opponents like this publicly, this type of sentiment is more common behind the scenes. Of course, Davis believes so strongly in himself, in his team. Nearly all players who reach this level hold extreme confidence, and the Lakers’ 2020 championship only further validated Davis.
But 2021 wasn’t 2020.
Likewise, 2022 isn’t 2021. Phoenix is even better, Los Angeles even worse. The Suns demolished the Lakers yesterday (without Davis).
But Davis is on track to return for the postseason. If the Lakers advance through the play-in tournament, they’d be on pace to face the top-seeded Suns – a matchup that looks even juicier given Davis’ comments.