On Wednesday evening, the Los Angeles Lakers had a chance to close out the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series.
The Warriors defended their home floor (winning 121-106) and have now forced a Game 6 back in Los Angeles (on Friday night).
Currently, the series is 3-2 in favor of the Lakers, and a potential Game 7 would be on Sunday in San Francisco.
However, the more significant concern was the fact that Anthony Davis got injured in the fourth quarter and did not return.
The superstar forward took an inadvertent elbow from Warriors’ center Kevon Looney, and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and the NBA that he was in a wheelchair following the injury.
Davis was placed in a wheelchair and carted to a training room after feeling “woozy,” a source on Wednesday night. Davis, however, was able to leave the arena at the end of the night walking to the team bus without any assistance.
While the Lakers are officially listing him as probable, a source close to Davis on Thursday that there is “no scenario” he can envision where Davis will miss Game 6 and added: “It’s the playoffs.”
Davis had been effective up to that point, totaling 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting with nine rebounds and three assists. It was his third game scoring 20 points or more after putting up only 11 points in L.A.’s Game 2 loss in Golden State.
Davis is averaging 22.4 points on 58.1% shooting, 13.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.4 steals in the series.
“It’s huge,” Ham said when asked if he felt any relief learning about Davis’ status update. “He’s the centerpiece of what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball and for us just in general for our success rate. So that was great, great news.”
Beyond Davis’ expected inclusion, Ham was asked if he could adjust his lineup any further to match the scoring punch that the Warriors possess.
“These type of situations you throw a lot of stuff up against the wall, see what sticks,” Ham said. “But we’re not shooting in the dark here.”
The Lakers coaching staff watched the film of Game 5 together on Thursday afternoon while the team was given the day off from practice. Ham said that while the temptation to tweak the lineup is there, he recognizes his team has already won three games with the same group of starters, and the solution to win the series could very well be to just play better with those players.
“We’ll sleep on some things, some suggestions and some ideas that we have and then wake up in the morning ready to make a final decision,” Ham said.
The Lakers lead the Western Conference semifinal series 3-2 and host Game 6 on Friday night in Los Angeles.
Davis refused to leave the Memphis series. “There’s no way I’m not playing,” he said then. Realizing the stakes right now, he’ll likely adopt the same approach Friday barring a setback or getting red-flagged by the team medical staff.
The biggest pain for Davis instead is a sore reputation. In no specific order or degree of seriousness, he has missed games with shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, Achilles, wrist and hand injuries over his NBA career, never playing a full 82 or even coming close except twice with the Pelicans when he had back-to-back seasons of 75 games played. It’s not by coincidence that those were the finest seasons of his career: A combined average of 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 steals.
When Davis joined the Lakers in 2019 after forcing his way out of New Orleans, his injury ghost made the trip to LA, too. He has played in just 194 of a possible 377 regular season games; some were missed games due to rest and precaution.
In the Lakers’ 2020 championship season, Davis perhaps received a break; because the league briefly shut down for COVID, there were fewer games and therefore chances to get injured, and Davis didn’t miss any time during the playoff run to the title.
The very next season, Davis had Achilles and calf issues and missed 36 games in a 72-game shortened season. Then, in a first-round series loss to the Suns, Davis pulled up with a groin injury in Game 4, missed the next game and had a cameo in the elimination game.
Last season’s omen arrived quickly when Davis missed the opener with a fever. He missed 40 games, including 17 straight, with an MCL sprain along with wrist, foot and knee drama. The Lakers didn’t make the playoffs.
This season Davis missed 26 out of 82 games mainly with a stressed right foot, along with other ailments. Those injuries and the subsequent absences proved costly, as the Lakers stumbled in the standings until midseason trades and improved health to Davis and LeBron James triggered a season turnaround. The missed time removed Davis from consideration for seasonal awards which emphasize player availability, unlike the All-Star team selections. He didn’t make All-NBA or any of the All-Defensive teams as a result.
He’s also getting his own buckets, averaging 22.4 points in this series on 58% shooting, hurting the Warriors on mid-range shots and demanding double teams.
Therefore, his presence means everything to the Lakers in a series so evenly contested even with the Lakers up 3-2. The Warriors have prospered when placed in this position before, and it’ll require more from Davis to close out the defending champions.
“He’s the centerpiece of what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball,” said Ham, “and for us just in general for our success rate.”
He just has to stay healthy. That’s a bigger threat to Davis than Draymond Green. Davis will receive a hearty ovation from the home fans when he checks in Friday. He has earned that with his play. But the noise generated is only partly out of respect of Davis. The applause will also be the sound of relief from fans who have seen this movie before.
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