Championship DNA, for whatever it’s worth, doesn’t guarantee good health.

The Lakers might have been able to boast the former, the outgrowth of last season’s championship run in the bubble. But the latter failed them throughout this mad scramble of a shortened, compressed NBA season. And yes, when it comes to writing the story of the Lakers’ 2020-21 season, and the bid to repeat that fell short, there is blame to be laid and it’s not all internal.

That story ended Thursday night with a 113-100 elimination game loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the first round, and it figured that the most important game of the season revolved around the injury report. Even then, good news turned out to be not so good after all.

After a couple of days of uncertainty, the Lakers received a blast of hope when Anthony Davis was deemed available to play before the game … only to have it doused when the All-Star big man limped off for good less than 5½ minutes into the game, his strained left groin making it impossible to continue after he’d visibly labored whenever he tried to run or jump.

The moment of truth came when Davis pursued the Suns’ Devin Booker on a drive to the basket, jumped … and came down awkwardly and agonizingly. Davis bent over in obvious pain, then limped to the sideline and plopped to the floor, head bowed in disappointment. Moments later he went to the locker room for treatment, and by halftime, the obvious had become official: He would not be returning.

Davis, of course, had provided the first clue that this Lakers season was going to be a grind when he limped off the court on Valentine’s Day night in Denver with the calf strain felt throughout Southern California. Davis missed 30 consecutive games with that injury and 36 all told in the regular season, hyperextended his left knee in Game 3 of the Suns series, then suffered the Grade 1 strain of his left groin in Game 4 on Sunday while trying to play through the knee issue. And yes, the knee injury led to the groin injury.

That in itself was a microcosm of what turned out to be a brutal end of the season, with Davis and LeBron James missing extensive time and a team that started out 21-6 and was seemingly in a great position to repeat suddenly having to battle for its playoff life.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Lakers and Miami, the last teams standing in the Orlando bubble last October, were also among the first ones gone this spring. With a short offseason followed by a 72-game schedule crammed into 146 days, with few off days, little time for real practices and an array of continuing COVID-19 protocols and restrictions … well, what did you expect?

“From the moment we entered the bubble to now, today, it’s been draining,” said James, a 36-year-old four-time league MVP. “Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining.”

The short offseason disrupted players’ routines, Davis noted, and “all around the league, guys didn’t handle that very well. … You usually take about a month or so off and you still have six weeks weight room training, and then you have another month, month and a half for on-court (work). We didn’t get that.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that “none of our guys were prepared for training camp, and we tried to grind through it and get our legs under us,” another reminder that there’s a good reason why, under normal circumstances, players are expected to be in condition when camp begins.

The first-round series with the Suns finished with the No. 2 seed doing what it should do to a No. 7 seed. At 51-21 in the regular season, Phoenix was only one game behind Utah for the league’s best record, and the Suns might be capable of going the distance assuming future Hall of Famer Chris Paul gets his health back.

But Vogel had every right to wonder what if.

“This is a matchup, if we’re whole, that should probably take place in the conference finals,” he said. “But obviously the regular season was what it was with the injuries, and we slipped. I would like to see what our group could have done against this team if we were at full strength. But we weren’t. That’s sports. You gotta do the best you can and make the best of it.”



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