Who would have imagined Russell Westbrook getting back into the game in Q4 and the Crypto.com Arena crowd erupting in frenzied cheers?
The Lakers won their first game of the season Sunday night, but their 121-110 triumph over the Denver Nuggets was one of those wins that felt like more than one win.
The arena rocked as the Lakers began to embrace the working-class identity envisioned by first-year coach Darvin Ham. There were “Let’s go Lakers” chants for the team, “MVP” chants for LeBron James and a ceremonial pouring of water on Ham.
The euphoria of a previously winless team improving to 1-5 provided a temporary distraction from the enormous problem in sight.
Anthony Davis limped.
Anthony Davis made a face.
When Davis later asked about the level of pain he was toying with, he replied, “A pretty good amount.”
Here he goes again.
The Lakers are only six games into their season and their key player is already suffering from back problems.
They can address Ham’s defensive principles and continue making as many three-pointers as they did on Sunday, Westbrook can continue to thrive as a sixth man, James can maintain his level of play – none of that matters if Davis can’t stay on the court.
Davis is a player holding together what Ham is trying to build.
Less than two weeks into the season, however, Davis’ publicly stated goal of playing 82 games has already fallen by the wayside as the 29-year-old missed the Lakers game in Minnesota last week because of his back.
Davis was a game decision against the Nuggets.
“The back is a tricky thing,” said Ham, who had similar ailments as a player.
When asked how he might deal with his back problem, Davis scratched his head and basically admitted he didn’t really know what to expect.
“It just comes and goes,” he says.
The Lakers can’t afford to trade him, his performance against the Nuggets is a reminder of his potential value to the team.
Davis pretty much knocked out two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic. Both players scored 23 points, with Davis accumulating 15 rebounds on Jokic’s 14.
“AD’s influence is not only huge on defense but also very efficient on offense which gives us possession on the edge, knocks the knight down, just very efficient all around tonight,” said James.
Davis has averaged 23.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and two blocked shots in five games. He made 53.3% of his shots.
The Lakers can’t win without him. But as their last two seasons have shown, if he breaks down, they can’t win with him.
They knew this could happen when they traded for him. Davis played 75 games in consecutive seasons and never more than 68 in any other season. Davis only played 40 games last season.
The backstory explains why James and Westbrook recently said they were concerned about Davis’s state of mind.
“If his mind is gone, everything else will fall by the wayside,” James told reporters last week.
Davis backed down when asked about her concerns.
“Mentally, I’m in a great space,” Davis said. “I mean it is what it is. I wasn’t allowed to play in Minnesota. I took Minnesota’s game [off] and the next day to do whatever I can to make sure I can play tonight.
“I’ve had a great summer, so I’m not letting that stop me.”
The question isn’t if Davis will feel uncomfortable. He will. The question is how much discomfort he can take.
“There will come a time when you can’t keep hurting yourself once you figure it out,” Ham said. “Then there is some pain tolerance that you have to reckon with.”
Davis sounded resigned to that reality.
“Just try to see what happens, try to deal with it and continue to get treated and relax. Do whatever the coaches and the doctors tell me to do to make it bearable to go out and play,” Davis said confident he could play the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
With more than two minutes into the fourth quarter on Sunday, James missed a three-pointer.
Davis went up and tipped the ball. The shot went wide. He rose again, this time converting a basket that extended the Lakers’ lead to nine points.
It was clear from the way Davis jogged and grimaced after that game that his back was ailing him. Doesn’t matter. He finished the game.
The Lakers need him to finish the season. 76 more games are still on the schedule.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-10-31/lakers-big-problem-with-first-win-anthony-davis-aching-back Hernández: Lakers’ big problem with first win: Anthony Davis’ aching back