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Three Things to Know: Lakers eliminated from playoffs after epically disappointing season

Amid the rubble of a disastrous 2021-22 season, Michael Smith and Michael Holley debate where the Lakers should go from here -- and whether rumored coaching candidate Doc Rivers would have any interest in moving to L.A.

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA great.

1) Lakers eliminated from playoffs after an epically disappointing season

The warning signs were there when the Lakers went 0-6 in the preseason and got smacked around. We all ignored them, myself included.

The flaws in the roster were visible even before the season tipped off — Russell Westbrook was not a natural fit next to LeBron James, the Lakers were too old and not athletic enough, they lacked defenders — but LeBron had earned the benefit of the doubt. He wasn’t just one of the greatest players ever, he was the game’s greatest problem solver ever — he had lifted worse rosters to much higher heights. Anthony Davis is still elite and in his prime. LeBron and the Lakers would figure this out.

They didn’t. Tuesday night, the Lakers lost their seventh straight game, this time to the Phoenix Suns — a team that made sure all their stars dressed for what was a meaningless game for them because Davis said the other day the Lakers would have beaten the Suns in the first round last year if he were healthy, and the Suns took that personally. Phoenix ran Los Angeles out of the building 121-110 in a game that wasn’t that close (Phoenix led by 25 midway through the fourth, before garbage time).

The Lakers have been eliminated from even the play-in. They trail the Spurs by three games in the loss column with three to play, and the Spurs have the tiebreaker. It’s over.

That led to the Tweet of the night from the guys at Action Sports Network

With the victory, the Suns set a franchise record with 63 wins on the season.

The postmortums are coming for Los Angeles. Davis again pointed to injuries, and that played a role, but every team faced them — the Grizzlies and Suns kept winning without their stars. Russell Westbrook was supposed to bring that to Los Angeles, and he did not come close to it. Frank Vogel could have been better as coach — and he will pay the price and be fired soon — but it’s also far from all on him. This was a poorly constructed Lakers roster that needed everything to go perfect to win, and things never go perfectly. A major overhaul is coming this offseason, but we saw that last season and… the benefit of the doubt for Rob Pelinka and the front office is gone.

The only remaining question for the Lakers this season: Will LeBron play two more games to qualify for the scoring title chase? He has played 56 games, he has to play 58 to qualify. After dropping 45 on Tuesday, Joel Embiid passed LeBron for the scoring title chase (30.4 per game to 30.3 for LeBron). If LeBron comes back and wants the title, he can’t just “cruise” to some 25-point games, he is going to have to put up big numbers. Will his ankle let him? Does he want to? The logical thing is to shut him down for the season, but what has been logical about the Lakers this year?

2) Nets win, Hawks and Hornets lose, Brooklyn back up to No. 8 seed in East

Speaking of teams not living up to the preseason hype…

The Brooklyn Nets will at least make the play-in, and their chances of advancing out of that into the playoffs proper got a big boost on Tuesday when they beat the Rockets 118-105 behind 42 from Kyrie Irving.

That combined with the Hawks falling to the Raptors 118-108 (a win that moved Toronto up to the No. 5 seed) and Charlotte falling to Miami 144-115, the Nets are back up to the No 8 seed in the East. Just a reminder, the No. 7/8 seeds need to win just one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs, while the 9/10 seeds need to win two games in a row. There is no margin for error, and even with the Nets’ firepower they would like to avoid that.

The Nets control their own destiny in getting the No. 8 seed — win out and they are in. They have three games left: At the Knicks Wednesday on the second night of a back-to-back, against the stumbling Cavaliers, then at home hosting the Pacers.

3) Toronto wins, rises up to No. 5 seed, and will be a tough out come playoffs

The Toronto Raptors are good. And dangerous come the playoffs.

That needs to be acknowledged, because this is a team where too often the conversation is about how many Celtics could travel to Toronto if the teams meet in the playoffs. It shouldn’t be. Toronto has a borderline All-NBA player in Pascal Siakam and team of long, athletic, switchable 6'7" to 6'9" guys led by the efficiency and smart play of Fred VanVleet at the point. The Raptors don’t play the style of any other team, and no other coach wants to deal with the wrinkles Nick Nurse will throw at them in the playoffs.

Since the All-Star break, the Raptors are 14-8 with the second best defense in the NBA. Other teams have noticed. This is a tough matchup and the top four are eyeing easier ones out there.

Tuesday night the Raptors climbed up to the No. 5 seed after beating the Hawks 118-108 behind Pascal Siakam’s 31 points and 13 rebounds, while rookie Scottie Barnes added 19 points and 14 boards. Combine that Raptors win with the Bulls losing the Bucks, and Toronto is currently the No. 5 seed (the Raptors have one tough game left against the 76ers on Thursday, followed by the Rockets and Knicks over the weekend).

Highlight of the Night: Clarkson splits the double, switch hands mid-air, gets bucket

Jordan Clarkson may not repeat as Sixth Man of the Year, but the man is still a walking highlight reel.

Utah picked up a quality win over Memphis, the kind of victory that can snap a team out of their slump.

Yesterday’s scores:

76ers 131, Pacers 122
Magic 120, Cavaliers 115
Nets 118, Rockets 105
Heat 144, Hornets 115
Raptors 118, Hawks 108
Bucks 127, Bulls 106
Wizards 132, Timberwolves 114
Thunder 98, Trail Blazers 94
Spurs 116, Nuggets 97
Jazz 121, Grizzlies 115 (OT)
Pelicans 123, Kings 109
Suns 121, Lakers 110