LOS ANGELES – After a season high of 42 points at the top Los Angeles Lakers to a convincing 123-110 victory above that Phoenix Suns, Anthony Davis said he was enjoying the seat his team is currently in: only four games left for the play-in tournament.
“It was fun, to be honest,” said Davis on Sunday after the Phoenix win cracked a stretch in which the defending champions lost eight out of ten. “We were a great team last year and this is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve encountered a challenge. This is a different challenge for us.”
Just as challenging was keeping their heads above water for the Lakers, while Davis missed nine weeks with calf strain and Achilles tendonitis in his right leg and right leg Lebron James Missed six weeks with a high right ankle sprain, it got worse when her superstars returned.
L.A. fell 1-5 in Davis’ first six games. Davis described one of those losses as a “must-win” for Washington. Two more of those losses to Sacramento and Toronto were James’ first two games back. And after LA went 0-2 and James said he felt a “sharp pain” in his ankle that he hadn’t experienced during his run-up, he closed it again, missed the Lakers’ last four games and wasn’t even present for three of them as he rested his ankle.
Not to mention Dennis Schroder Out of the way for the past week because of the league’s health and safety protocols and related injuries Talen Horton-Tucker (Calf trunk) and Kyle Kuzma (Lower back tightness) to miss games.
But when Davis shifted gears – he became the first player in franchise history to score 42 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks in the same game – that stat against a Suns team with Als second-best record in the league, the Lakers have found life again.
“He sets the tone with his assertiveness,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “When he comes to play … to dominate, everyone else gets a little more breath and gets more confidence in what we can do that night.”
L.A. is currently number 7 in the Western Conference – a full game behind number 6 in Portland – with home games against the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets (on championship banner night) and street back-to-back games against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans remaining.
If the Lakers go 4-0 while the Blazers go 2-2 (possible considering Portland, Houston, Utah, Phoenix and Denver are left), LA can overtake the number 6 and the play-in tournament avoid.
Striving for perfection with their backs against the wall gives the Lakers a dress rehearsal for the playoffs, according to Vogel.
“I think that’s the silver lining that nobody is really talking about right now. In the last few weeks, the last two games, we’ve really played basketball and it’s all about what matters. Those are the playoffs.” like, “said Vogel.” That’s the intensity of the playoffs [all] Over. And sometimes a playoff seeding is complete and you kind of roll into it. You’re not as keen as you need to go to the playoffs.
“But the urgency we had to play with has shown in Anthony’s performance over the last few games and I think that will benefit our entire group.”
They hope their group will be complete again before the regular season ends. Vogel said the team could welcome Schroder back on their final road trip for one or both games in Indiana and New Orleans.
And James, who was back on the sidelines at the Suns game and apparently on his feet the whole game and cheered the team on, seems to be about to return himself.
“What I saw from LeBron today … he … he’ll be fine,” said Davis. “Trust me. He’ll be fine.”
Although Vogel didn’t set a target date for James to be back in the mix, he sounded confident that the four-time MVP would be on the lineup before the regular season ends in a week.
“Hopefully we have enough time for that [his rhythm and timing] to learn very quickly, “said Vogel.” In situations like this, I was more likely to learn to trust LeBron James. “
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope detailing what James’ team saw while he was on the mend.
“I have a feeling he’s ready for the playoffs,” said Caldwell-Pope. “If he just sees his workouts, he really uses that work to put himself back 100%. He shows it in his workout. He does hard exercises, dips the ball and just sees that we’re very excited.”
It’s a feeling Davis felt confident it wouldn’t be shared by every higher-seeded team facing LA in the postseason.
“I mean, we know we’re confident about anyone we face, especially when we’ve been completely healthy. That’s our attitude,” said Davis. “Other teams to prepare for just because we’re fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, whatever we are, we’re going to come out and fight. And I think the teams know that.
“They know that just because we’re a lower seed we won’t step back from anyone, come out and play Lakers basketball, and I think the teams know that and feel that too.”