Sorry, Phoenix: The reward for your historic season is a first-round series against the world's best player and his championship team

LeBron James and Chris Paul
LeBron James and Chris Paul
Photo: Getty Images

Man, the Phoenix Suns are fantastic, so this isn’t to say they can’t do it, but it sucks that awaiting them in the first round after their fifth-best regular-season ever are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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The Suns were one of the very few NBA teams this year who managed to evade significant regular-season COVID-19 issues en route to a win percentage of .708. They even had a chance to finish with the Western Conference’s best record up until the very end. The 51-21 Suns will also break a 12-season long playoff drought in Phoenix. Damn.

But last night, the Lakers outlasted the Golden State Warriors in a Game of the Year candidate to lock in the seventh seed out West. The same Lakers who won the 2020 NBA Championship in the bubble and finished 42-30 this season amid injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the top-seeded Utah Jazz will face the winner of the Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, who will have a much shorter rest between the Play-In and playoffs.

The Suns actually won the season series against the Lakers, two games to one, but never played James and Davis together. On March 2, the Suns defeated the Lakers in L.A., 114-104, despite 38 points from James, who was without Davis. On March 21, the Suns won 111-94 against a Lakers squad without both James and Davis. And on May 9, with only Davis, the Lakers won 123-110. Davis led the way with 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks. With both James and Davis active this season, the Lakers are 19-8.

The Suns’ top four players in minutes are Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and all four of them made 67 or more appearances in the 72-game schedule. Paul will likely find himself on many MVP ballots after making a direct impact on winning, as well as averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 assists per game at 35 years old (36 now, as of May 6). Devin Booker put up 26-4-4 and shot 48 percent from the field. Ayton took an impactful step in his development despite posting lesser numbers (14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game) than he had the previous two seasons. Bridges, who put up 13.5 points on 54 / 43 / 84 splits, has become one of the most intriguing and durable players in the league. And head coach Monty Williams, voted Coach of the Year by the NBA Coaches Association, is a candidate for the official COTY Award.

But all that for Paul to still endure this: Already a poster child for not having a ring, people will foolishly question his standing as an all-time great point guard, when what stands in the way of him finally getting one is the man for whom he is the godfather of his first son (Bronny James).

Last time didn’t serve well for Paul in this equation either:

Well, good luck anyway to Paul and the Suns. It’s unfortunate for them that it had to be this way. For fans, it should be a helluva thing to watch.

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