Wednesday, October 4 2023

It took a while, but here we are at a point where most – repeat, “most” – of the questions that were surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers have been answered.

Can they survive LeBron James‘ late-season injury? Can the team even make it to the postseason? Can added pieces like Rui Hachimura offer some positive uplift? Can Los Angeles turn itself into a dangerous playoff team, despite a stuttering campaign?

A four-pronged collection of “yesses” are the only appropriate answers to the above now, coming out of Sunday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening game of their first round series. Yet the most-replayed moment of the contest was also the one that offers the greatest peek into what needs to happen next for a purple-and-gold dream run to be sparked.

Anthony Davis‘ injury and the dramatic few seconds that followed, when he yelled to the bench that “I can’t move my arm,” hushed the crowd, froze the television audience and, until he returned later seemingly unbothered, had the Lakers’ hopes in limbo.

Davis ultimately came back and finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks, and the points differential (+27) when he was on the floor far outstripped any other player in the game.

Yet it was the way the basketball world held its collective breath when he got the stinger that numbed his arm, that was the most telling.

For the question about Davis is the same one that’s been there for a long, long time. Namely, can he stay healthy enough to showcase his best?


Lakers take Game 1 from the Grizzlies, Ja Morant injured

Craig Carton is joined by Victor Cruz and Mike Bibby to talk about the highlights of the game, including Anthony Davis’ performance.

The question isn’t about whether the Lakers could possibly win it all without him, because no one is daring to make that suggestion. For as much as they rely on James, and as much as the supporting cast has stepped up, a deep Lakers run requires the big man to stand tall and deliver his A+ game, much like he did during the COVID bubble title of 2020.

The Grizzlies series is a strange one now, as the Lakers have swiftly moved into the position of strong favorites against a team that was one of the league’s most dynamic and exciting during the regular season. Ja Morant’s hand injury looked excruciating and may keep him out of Game 2, and the early evidence just suggests the Lakers will have too much spice and confidence.

Sterner tests await, though, which is when Davis will be called upon for his unique skills and ability to influence key games.

Throughout his NBA career, Davis has had four outrageously good seasons, and several others that have been disrupted by physical ailments by a variety of physical ailments, from his groin to his back, his feet to his wrist. Each time, the recovery process has been sore and lengthy.

Nearly four years after he made the switch to Los Angeles, the Lakers need quantifiable proof that the move was the right one. It was a huge swing back then, designed to coincide with James’ second season in Tinseltown and with the intention of setting up a sustained run of glory.

The Lakers positioned themselves into a corner when trying to get Davis away from the New Orleans Pelicans. No other team was in the running, but they still had to give up an absolute ransom of picks and pieces, including virtually their entire collection of talented youngsters.

Ever since, the squad has never had the feel of much dependability or permanence about it. In 2020, as sports returned and the Orlando bubble create the kind of one-site, fan-free postseason that had never been seen before, James, Davis and the Lakers were able to get it done.

Since then, the team is 118-118 across three regular seasons, and hasn’t won a postseason series.

This is a tough truth, but if it transpires that the total return on the James/Davis L.A. run is just one bubble championship, it’s not the kind of glittering return that was expected. Another title? Well, that changes the conversation.

James was adamant that Davis was the guy he needed alongside him on this journey, which is part of why the organization was so handcuffed in the negotiating. This is the chance to show why it was the right move all along.

Davis is starting to show the very best of what he can do. During the period when James was out, there were fleeting times when he again looked like the best big man in the league, Messrs. Embiid and Jokic included. Sunday’s stinger aside, he looks not unbreakable, but appears to be feeling as strong as he has in a long time.

The Lakers need the guy who marauds physically and shuts down the paint. The guy that ball-handlers don’t even want to go anywhere near. The guy that, by doing those things, and by adding length and options offensively, allows everything to open up for James and the extra parts that are cruising along nicely.

Davis, strange as it seems, operated for much of this season in the shadows. Everything about the Lakers, for a while, was about James’ pursuit of the all-time NBA points record, and Davis’ medical uncertainty stifled any real bullishness.

There’s no room for such caution now, though. Anthony Davis can feel his arm again, but more than that, can feel opportunity rising.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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Anthony Davis

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