All that pent up energy on the sidelines must have fired up Anthony Davis.
Davis made his highly anticipated return from a sprained MCL in his left knee in the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets, playing 25 minutes in his first game back in a little over a month. The eight-time All-Star scored the first two of his eight points on the opening possession and three of his four blocks helped set the tone early for the Lakers, who moved back to .500 with a 106-96 win over the Nets.
Much has been said about how Los Angeles will fare when Davis makes his return and for at least one game, the energy within the team was different. It felt like the Lakers’ 23 assists (to Brooklyn’s 20) were too little with the way they were moving the ball around. Los Angeles also finished with eight turnovers, with Russell Westbrook (five turnovers) at one point in time having all of the team’s turnovers. Davis himself, who had two of those assists, was not a ball-stopper as he found ways to get his teammates open and even turned defense into offense.
Nevermind that Davis missed five of his eight shot attempts; it is nearly impossible to simulate game action. The fact that Davis was swatting shots, diving for loose balls, and finishing off lobs was a welcome sight especially as he wasn’t crumpled on the floor afterwards. The offense will eventually return for the four-time All-NBA selection and in the meantime, Malik Monk (22 points on six 3-pointers), Westbrook (15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field), and Carmelo Anthony (13 points) can carry the offensive load.
That Davis’ defense is coming along nicely in his first game back may be just what the Lakers need to develop some consistency on that end. Prior to today’s win over the Nets, Los Angeles had allowed their last 10 opponents to score an average of 114.4 points per game, with the Lakers going 5-5 in that span. Los Angeles limited Utah to under 100 points in a 101-95 win, but that was two nights after they suffered a 133-96 drubbing at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.
Against Brooklyn, Davis was everywhere, switching when the need arose and more importantly, providing rim protection that would give the Lakers’ perimeter defenders more confidence in staying aggressive in passing lanes. Gambling on defense can be a double-edged sword, but the four-time All-Defensive Team selection and perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender closes a lot of the holes in Los Angeles’ defense that were exposed throughout this season.
A lot of what made the Lakers successful in their title run back in 2020 was how they had a healthy Davis, a versatile defender who could at times defend or provide help on the opposing team’s best player while also serving as the anchor to the overall team defense. For comparison, Giannis Antetokounmpo took on that role with the Milwaukee Bucks on the way to a championship last season.
Los Angeles will have to continue preaching patience when it comes to Davis’ form even as it has reaped some early benefits considering his colorful injury history. The minutes restriction will fluctuate depending on how the 28-year old’s body responds, but nights off will likely be on the horizon.
The Lakers will have a little under 48 hours to rest and recover before they close out their Grammy road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, and the Atlanta Hawks, teams that will likely exert pressure on Davis on the defensive end. Clearly Los Angeles needs Davis sooner rather than later, but the Lakers know that success in the NBA is a marathon and not a sprint.
The Los Angeles Lakers (and in turn, the NBA) are much better when Anthony Davis is healthy and on the basketball court. A return to full strength will likely take more than a handful of games, but at this point in the season, time still remains on their side. In the meantime, the Laker faithful can only hold their breath everytime Davis rises up for a blocked shot or a dunk.