The Los Angeles Lakers just lost Game 1. Anthony Davis was piss-poor shooting from the field, making just a third of his shot attempts. LeBron James scored well below his season average while being outgunned by the the opposing team's offensive superstar, who dropped 34 points. The star's running mate poured in 21 points for good measure, as their team just felt in control all game against the presumptive title favorite Lakers. But this wasn't against the Phoenix Suns.
The exact same scenario played out last year during the NBA bubble. Damian Lillard, just like Devin Booker, dropped 34 points against the Lakers. Anthony Davis went 8-for-24 in that game, a nearly identical shooting percentage as his 5-for-16 display against the Suns in Game 1.
The collective panic among the Laker faithful was on full display after that game, and I couldn't help but smirk. The panic that resonated after Game 1 against the Suns feels much of the same.
I myself am what you call a certified LeBron James hater. I passed the certification test and everything. The sheer glee I felt after that loss in the bubble last season had me 100% hitching myself to that Blazers bandwagon as nothing would bring me more joy than to see the Lakers dismantled.
But then Game 2 happened and the Lakers won by 23 points.
“It's still 1-1 so the Blazers could still bounce back,” I remember thinking, right before the Purple and Gold proceeded to steamroll Portland throughout the rest of the series. The Lakers pulled off a backdoor gentleman's sweep, losing the first game before winning four in a row. Their margin of victory was a whopping 15 points in those four games. The Houston Rockets won Game 1 in the following series and I hoped for the exact same thing, but I clearly never learn my lesson.
My disdain for LeBron James has been ingrained in me since the mid-aughts. As a true Washington Wizards fan (sad, I know), I watched my team get eliminated by a young LeBron James for three straight playoff series as my beloved Gilbert Arenas just wasn't good enough to get past The King in Cleveland.
Ever since then, I've stayed heavily invested in LeBron James' career, but hoping for things to turn out badly rather than to witness greatness. I shorted his career like GameStop, if you will. I wished nothing but ill of him, especially when he spurned his hometown Cavaliers to move to the Miami Heat. Despite an early stumble, he finally won his ring and then proceeded to make the NBA Finals in eight straight postseason runs.
I came to learn that the only way to stop LeBron James is to have an all-time great team bury him through sheer talent. That's what it took for the Golden State Warriors to stop him, just as the San Antonio Spurs had done the years before them.
As terrific as the Phoenix Suns have been this season, they're no all-time great team. I don't mean to be dismissive of the Suns and what they've accomplished. On the contrary, I absolutely love Chris Paul, and Devin Booker has such great heights to reach in this game with his prime still ahead of him. But if I've learned anything from a decade and a half of cheering opposite LeBron James, it's that betting against him usually doesn't work out.
Lakers-Suns Game 2 is on Tuesday night.