He was the best player on the court Sunday by a wide margin, better than Stephen Curry, better than Klay Thompson, better than Draymond Green.
Anthony Davis was a force.
With LeBron James on the bench in street clothes and a walking boot, Davis scored a game-high 39 points in the Lakers’ 113-105 win over the Golden State Warriors at Crypto.com Arena.
Davis collected eight rebounds. He distributed six assists. He blocked two shots and changed several others.
It’s a reason to believe in these Lakers.
Here is the disclaimer: it is also a reason not to believe.
The Lakers may have overhauled their roster in the last month, Davis will carry them in James’ absence, and the Western Conference may be wide open, but the team’s core problem remains the same.
The two players the Lakers depend on the most are the players they can depend on the least to be on the court.
This is nothing new, a dynamic that hasn’t changed in the four seasons James and Davis have played together on the Lakers.
You know how this ends. You have seen how this ends.
The only time James and Davis were healthy at the end of the season was when the Lakers won the bubble championship, and who knows if the pandemic hadn’t forced the NBA to take a two-month hiatus. eliminations
The Lakers have won five of their last seven games and are tied with the Utah Jazz for last place in the play-in tournament, but their improved form looks more like a tease than a preview of what’s to come.
For the sake of argument, say James returns after being re-evaluated in three weeks. Say he plays as well as he did before he injured a tendon in his right foot. Say they make it to the play-in tournament. Say they advance to the playoffs, where they would likely have a first-round series against the Denver Nuggets or Memphis Grizzlies.
However, what are the chances of James and Davis staying healthy enough to win four straight playoffs?
Not good, given their history.
Do you remember the 2020-21 season?
The injury-ravaged Lakers limped into the playoffs, winning a game against the Warriors and taking a 2-1 lead over the second-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round. Davis strained his groin in Game 4 of that series and the Lakers’ season was over.
With the Lakers on the back foot of the regular season, coach Darvin Ham said it would be important to “go back to your principles.”
“Circumstances change in an NBA season, health-wise, who you have on your roster,” he said.
The Lakers know they are in a precarious position.
That’s why the front office didn’t join this team and didn’t trade their first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
What could happen this season: Will Lakers star LeBron James take the court with teammate Anthony Davis on the sidelines, or will Davis join James?
(Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)
That’s why Ham didn’t play Davis last week in Oklahoma City.
Of course, the Lakers don’t have the luxury of resting Davis on a regular basis, which means overexerting himself the way James did when he was chasing the league’s all-time career scoring record.
“Obviously, with Bron out,” Davis said, “the team is going to rely on me more for me to make plays for others.”
Prior to his 39-point game against the Warriors, Davis scored 38 in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s just managing the off days, being efficient with what you do,” Ham said. “Yesterday was one of those days. The film (session) was basically our practice.’
In other words, the Lakers will continue to look to Davis to supplement James’ production and pray that it doesn’t break down.
The Lakers are what a team is in a conference full of what-ifs.
There aren’t teams like the Milwaukee Bucks or the Boston Celtics in the West, so there’s a greater sense than usual of a contender catching lightning in a bottle and reaching the NBA Finals.
What if Kevin Durant was paired with the Phoenix Suns? What if Curry’s return could get the Warriors back on track? What if Kyrie Irving would be Luka Doncic’s ideal co-star?
The chance of a healthy James and Davis returning the Lakers to glory is considerably less. There is a reason for that. Other experiments have not yet failed. In the Lakers, last year and the year before.