Anthony Davis threw up one brick. Two bricks. Three bricks. Four bricks. Five bricks.
It did not matter that he was missing. It mattered that he was shooting.
It mattered that he was getting to the rim again, finding his spots again, leaping over smaller defenders again, playing lunging defense again, and who cares if his shots went through the dumb net?
In his first game for the Lakers in more than two months, on a breath-holding Thursday in Dallas, Davis missed his first five flings, finished with but two baskets in 10 attempts and played only 17 minutes.
There was a “he’s back” play — a moving blocked shot of a Kristaps Porzingis jumper.
There was “he remembers” play — a spin move and one-handed runner on the baseline.
Then there was the most important statistic of the night, his get-back-up plays. Four times he hit the floor. Four times he climbed back up to his feet.
And when he left the game in both the first and second quarters while on a minutes restriction, he did so under his own power. He was not limping. There were no trainers. There was a giant exhale and maybe a tiny cheer.
The final score was Dallas 115, Lakers 110, but, on this night, the only scoreboard that mattered was affixed to the fragile features of the team’s most important player.
AD 1, Achilles 0.
“I felt good out there, I felt really good,” Davis said afterward. “It was just fun to be out there again … long time coming.”
Not only didn’t he favor his leg, he said the leg injury never crossed his mind.
“I didn’t think about it one time tonight, I just went out there and played,” he said. “Excited to be back on the floor … that was my main thing.”
His coach was equally excited.
“Great to see him back in a Lakers uniform and back on the floor for us,” Frank Vogel said. “Had a little bit of rust but thought he played extremely well and super excited to have him out there.”
It marked the beginning of a journey certain to be as long and winding as a Davis floor-length pass. While LeBron James has yet to return from a high ankle sprain, Davis’ comeback after missing 30 games with a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis is far more tenuous.
The feeling is that the durable James will be fine. The fear is that the fragile Davis will not.
Davis is the wild card. He is the great unknown. The Lakers’ championship hopes rests in the lower half of his giant right leg.
Can he deal with any long-term effects of the injury? If there is lingering pain, can he tolerate it? If there another setback, can he overcome it?
James will be good. James is Superman. James has played through many hurts. When James returns in a couple of weeks, knowing him, he’ll probably be at midseason form. Heck, the time off from the injury probably made him even stronger. If last year’s championship season taught us anything, it is that only a fool would question the durability of the Ageless One.
But you question Davis.
Oh yes, you question Davis.
Lakers’ Anthony Davis reaches out for a pass as Dallas Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith defends in the first half on Thursday. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)
Even when he’s healthy, he looks hurt. He’s a walking wince. He’s a human grimace. Many times when he goes down, he stays down.
You don’t question his toughness. These are the greatest athletes in the world, and simply to battle each other three times a week on a hardwood floor requires incredible toughness.
But you question his body. You question its brittleness. You wonder how his mind processes the pain.
“We’re going to continue to fight,” Davis said this week.
That fight must be led by him.
“A lot of teams aren’t healthy. … I am 100% healthy and then we got Bron who is coming back as well who is going to be 100% healthy,” he said. “I think we put ourselves in a good position.”
Only if Davis can stay in an upright position.
With a strong Davis and a sound James, the Lakers have a clear path to a second consecutive title. Without both of them, they won’t get out of the West.
With their two cornerstones, it doesn’t matter where they’re seeded, in today’s injury-riddled and unsettled NBA the Lakers can run the table.
Who is going to beat them in the conference? The Denver Nuggets can’t win without injured star Jamal Murray. The Utah Jazz can’t win without more successful playoff experience. The Phoenix Suns are living a dream.
And the Clippers? Yes, they’re playing as well as anybody in the NBA right now, but are you willing to bet on them? After all those playoff pratfalls? Not yet anyway.
Once the Lakers get to the Finals, now that the Brooklyn Nets are imploding with injuries, they should roll to the title.
It all starts with Davis, and it all started Thursday night, even if, for a few games, he will be somewhat scarce.
“The biggest thing for Anthony is the return to play happening the right way. … Ideally we’d have two or three or four practices before he was throw into an NBA game, but we don’t have that so we’re going to be super careful with his return to play,” Vogel said.
Fine. Bench him for as long as it takes. No rush here, the playoffs are still 14 games away.
Vogel also warned that integrating Davis and James back into the lineup is not going to be as easy as it might seem.
“I don’t think it’s an ideal situation by any stretch,” he said. “It’s just going to be an imperfect season, this is the hand that we’re dealt and we have to make the best of it.”
Thanks to the successful return of their shakiest superstar Thursday, an imperfect season has had at least one perfect night.
Now hold your breath.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Published: 2021-04-23 13:00:43
Tags: #Anthony #Davis #feet #Lakers #good #standing