For Lakers’ Anthony Davis the goal is simple: ‘Play all 82’

Two of the best defensemen of the NBA’s last two decades met at the Lakers’ practice facility on Wednesday, and Ben Wallace and Anthony Davis met to… talk haircuts?

“He told me he liked my hair,” Davis said, pointing to his afro. “A headband, some bracelets and maybe I can be Defensive Player of the Year.”

Davis’ afro is nowhere near as tall as Wallace’s, a haircut so tall and sturdy it’s almost forgotten that one of the NBA’s tallest, toughest centers wasn’t even 6ft 10 tall. His trophy room is also missing – Wallace with four of the NBA’s DPOY trophies and Davis, perhaps surprisingly, without just one.

But as he begins a season with the Lakers in which he wholeheartedly emphasizes defense under coach Darvin Ham, Davis said his goal isn’t to be recognized as the NBA’s greatest player. Instead, he focuses on simply being his healthiest.

“For me, I just want to be on the ground. I want to be able to play all 82,” Davis said Wednesday. “And if not, I don’t want it to be injury where I can’t play. That is my goal.”

Given its history, it is certainly a sublime one.

Davis has only played 70+ games twice in his career and not in any of his three seasons as a Laker. After playing just 36 games after the Lakers’ 2020 bubble title, he only played 40 games last season after unusual injuries to his knee and foot.

“The last two seasons that you’ve been injured it’s just been hard to get into a rhythm. You come in for a couple of weeks, three weeks, and then you’re out for six. For me personally, it’s difficult to get into a rhythm,” Davis said. “But I think that was the only thing. I always felt like myself, always confident, always ready to go and play. But I think when you’re constantly getting in and out of the line-up, it’s difficult to get that rhythm going.”

He’s the heart of the Lakers’ defense, with the team implementing a new system based on the team’s big men typically falling into pick-and-roll cover rather than switching to or covering against the offensive player.

“You can see the eagerness in his eyes,” Ham said. “For example, he wants to study. He wants to be on the same page with everyone else when it comes to how we communicate that coverage. So it was good. It was really good.”

Add in a healthy Davis – on Tuesday he revealed he has played much of the season with a wrist injury that affected his shooting mechanics – and there was plenty of early optimism.

Lakers' Anthony Davis and coach Darvin Ham chat during the Lakers media day.

Lakers’ Anthony Davis and coach Darvin Ham chat during the Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo Monday.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

When Davis is tasked with influencing defenses on the inside, Patrick Beverley will set the tone on the outer border.

Like Kendrick Nunn the day before, Beverley described the Lakers’ practices as “vibes.”

“I don’t know, it’s like you go to the office, you have something you thought about the night before, come to work, put it on paper. Everything is fine,” Beverly described the feeling. “Lunch is delicious. The water tastes a little better. You and your colleagues understand each other. The sun is out.

“Work is a mood.”

And Wallace, who was practicing mostly to watch, only improved on it.

“Oh man, that’s the ultimate respect. You know, he paved the way for guys like me. Hall of Famers, these workers, they’re starting to let them in,” Beverley said. “…I mean, what he did without a draft, a lot of people haven’t done and still can’t do it. One of the best rebounders ever made.”

While Ham used slides to show the Lakers how they would defend themselves when camp opened Tuesday, he didn’t let Wallace or Derek Fisher, who also attended practice, speak Wednesday. Her presence, that wasn’t the point.

For the players, Wallace’s presence was a not-so-subtle reminder of the mentality Ham would like to see in his team. And for Ham it was a matter of consolation, a former teammate and close friend turned up to watch his team at work.

“He was just watching. He and Derek Fisher were there today and I appreciate that these guys came and observed and gave me a bit of feedback,” Ham said. “But Ben and I, man, we’ve been best friends since we first played together with the Washington Wizards in 1997. We were both sophomores in the league and he was just a really trustworthy friend, an honest guy. He talked about the energy in the building, how infectious it was, and Derek said the same thing. They’re both looking forward to me.

“But Ben and I have been through some wars together, won championships together, so we’re lifelong friends, lifelong brothers for that matter. It was great to just let him come out and spend a few days with me.” For Lakers’ Anthony Davis the goal is simple: ‘Play all 82’

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