National Post (Latest Edition)

Davis’s Achilles’ injury will be first test of Lakers’ title defence

Defender leaves with strain in loss to Nuggets

- Ben Golliver

until Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ title defence could be summed up in two words: cruise control.

While Lebron James and company haven’t quite risen to super team heights, they have skated to a 21-7 record with precious little drama and few surprises. The Lakers have largely avoided major health protocol absences, James has establishe­d himself as an early MVP candidate, Anthony davis has captained the Nba’s top-ranked defence and their off-season additions have jelled nicely, giving coach Frank Vogel an impressive­ly deep bench.

Their biggest weakness — as evidenced by three straight overtime wins against sub-. 500 teams last week — has been letting less-talented opponents hang around before finally putting them away. but with a 12-3 record on the road and an 113 record in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, only mild concern was warranted. If every team enjoyed perfect health, the Lakers had earned the right to be viewed as 2021’s clear championsh­ip favourites.

The “if” in that statement took on greater meaning Sunday when davis departed with a right Achilles’ strain after playing just 14 minutes during a 122-105 loss to the denver Nuggets.

The Lakers said davis underwent an MRI exam and the results displayed that the Achilles wasn’t ruptured.

davis, who also has a strained right calf, will sit out Tuesday’s road game against the Minnesota Timberwolv­es. He will then be evaluated by team doctors in Los Angeles after the club returns home and a timetable will be establishe­d.

Multiple reports indicate that the Lakers plan to be conservati­ve about his return, likely keeping davis out until after the March 5-10 All-star break.

davis’s injury represents this season’s first real test for the Lakers, who have weaponized his versatilit­y and length to great effect on the defensive end since his 2019 arrival. during the 2020 title run, davis shifted to centre at key moments to anchor smaller lineups that blitzed opponents off the court. davis has eased into this season after the short turnaround, but he has been a vocal leader organizing his new teammates and he frustrated Nikola Jokic during the Lakers’ first Western Conference finals rematch with the Nuggets on Feb. 4.

The Lakers will miss davis because he brilliantl­y covers up the flaws of his frontcourt partners. When veteran centre Marc Gasol struggles to keep up with quicker matchups, davis can step in and shut things down. undersized backup centre Montrezl Harrell is susceptibl­e to off-the-dribble attacks and vertical challenges, whereas davis’s presence generally establishe­s a nofly zone around the basket. Kyle Kuzma has defended with better focus and energy this season, but he isn’t an interior presence. James has displayed far better night-tonight effort on defence in Los Angeles than he did during his second stint in Cleveland, but it would be a mistake to add more to his plate.

Indeed, the 36-year-old James was already gunning for his fifth MVP, averaging a team-high 34.6 minutes per game without taking off a night yet this season. Vogel must resist the temptation to chase wins in the short term, even though a three-team race for the West’s top seed is developing with the utah Jazz, Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Talent and chemistry were key factors to the Lakers’ bubble title, but so was availabili­ty, as seven key rotation players — including James, davis and Kentavious Caldwell-pope — appeared in all 21 playoff games.

Offensivel­y, greater opportunit­ies should open up for Kuzma, Harrell and guards dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-tucker. Vogel said Sunday that he hoped that the Lakers’ perimeter attack, which ranks 26th in three-pointers per game and 16th in three-point percentage, will pick up.

“If (davis) is going to miss time, which we don’t know yet, we’ve got plenty of firepower to win games,” Vogel said. “We have great depth. We remain confident. We are struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter for a couple weeks now. you just stay the course, continue to focus on execution and generating quality shots and have our guys continue to honour their work. We want to continue to emphasize who we’ve been: attack the paint.”

 ?? MEG OLIPHANT / GETTY IMAGES ?? Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis was to undergo an MRI Monday after leaving Sunday’s game with a strain to his right Achilles’. He played just 14 minutes.
MEG OLIPHANT / GETTY IMAGES Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis was to undergo an MRI Monday after leaving Sunday’s game with a strain to his right Achilles’. He played just 14 minutes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada