Los Angeles Times
Davis raises Lakers’ swagger
The sound of nearly 18,000 people gasping in unison was loud and strong, and infused with fear and dread.
Anthony Davis, back in the Lakers’ lineup Wednesday after missing 20 games because of a bone spur and stress injury in his right foot, had fallen in a heap to the court at Crypto.com Arena after taking a jump shot and coming down on the foot of Spurs defender Zach Collins near the end of the third quarter. Davis reached for his right ankle, which had twisted beneath him. Lakers fans reached for their suddenly racing hearts.
Not again, they said with that dramatic intake of breath. Not another injury to add to Davis’ lengthy medical chart and make the Lakers’ already difficult season more challenging. Could Davis have come back for a few tantalizing minutes only to get hurt again?
“Gasp? I heard that too,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I almost fainted, by the way.”
Davis might have been the only person in the building who wasn’t concerned. “I was fine. Didn’t bother me at all,” said Davis, who calmly sank three free throws after officials ruled Collins had committed a flagrant foul. “All the guys were coming to me, ‘You OK?’ And I was like, ‘Man,
was it that bad?’ I didn’t see it.”
It was best that he didn’t see it. And better for the Lakers that he was no worse for the experience. “Foot is fine. Ankle is fine. Body feels good,” he said.
The Lakers are feeling pretty good too, with Davis back on the floor and newly acquired Rui Hachimura acquitting himself well in his debut. Davis recorded team highs in points (21), rebounds (12) and blocks (four) while playing just over 26 minutes of the Lakers’ 113-104 victory over San Antonio, regaining his rhythm and touch as the game went on.
His return came at a perfect time for the Lakers (23-26), who open a five-game trip Saturday at Boston.
Hachimura, acquired from Washington on Monday for surplus guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks, should bring them size and three-point shooting. It was a good first move, but it shouldn’t be general manager Rob Pelinka’s last before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.
In the meantime, though, the Lakers can get a better sense of what they have while Davis works his way back to peak form and Hachimura learns the team’s playbook.
A healthy Davis will lighten the scoring load carried by LeBron James and also revive the Lakers’ defense, as he did Wednesday in his first duty off the bench after 548 consecutive starts. That dated to when he was playing for New Orleans and came off the bench to face the Clippers on Dec. 8, 2013.
“Just having his presence out there, with his dominance, I think everybody sensed it out there,” Thomas Bryant said. “The fans, us and even the other team, I felt like, felt it too.”
Davis’ playing time will be restricted for about a week — Ham said he played about a minute more than originally planned — but a limited Davis is more than good enough for the Lakers to make a push back into a play-in position. Or higher.
As often as they’ve failed to close out close games, and as many injuries as they’ve had, they were only two games behind sixth-place Dallas (and a playoff spot) after Wednesday’s action. And it’s likely
Lonnie Walker IV (left knee tendinitis) and Austin Reaves (left hamstring) will return during the upcoming trip.
They’ve been talking for a while about being close to the pack. With Davis back, they can do something about eliminating that gap.
“He just makes the game look so easy,” said Ham, who gave Davis a big hug when he took him out during the final minutes. “He takes so much pressure off us defensively, offensively. You can go to him, he can score at all three levels. Just really being aggressive and resubmerging himself into the system, into the game action . ... I thought he was phenomenal.”
Davis and Hachimura entered the game together to a loud ovation with four minutes and 22 seconds left in the first quarter and the Lakers down by eight. Davis missed his first shot, a 20-foot jumper, and missed his first freethrow attempt soon after. He looked rusty. That was to be expected.
“I’ve been playing pickup and things, but you can control that pace. In real games, you can’t,” Davis said. “They’re flying down the floor and you’ve got to sprint back or your team is running. You have to run as well. That was kind of the ultimate test for me.
“And then just seeing if something flared up, do I feel any pain or whatever. And after that, maybe first minute, minute and a half when I didn’t feel anything, I just wanted to start playing. And it felt really comfortable.”
The Lakers were 10-10 without Davis, but he said the team’s confidence remains high.
“It’s just about us going out and doing things we need to do. No matter who we’re playing, we feel like we can beat any team. And a lot of teams that are in the top of the West or the top of the East — the top teams — we’ve either beaten or been in really close games,” he said. “So this team is a resilient team and they’ve shown that over the past two, three, four, five weeks, whatever, winning games against big teams. So, we always have our swag, we always have our confidence and it’s about us going on the floor and showing that.”
With Davis in the lineup again, they have no excuse not to turn that swag into victories.