The embattled Los Angeles Lakers got a major boost on Tuesday night, when star big man Anthony Davis returned to the lineup in their 106-96 win over the Brooklyn Nets. His line was not spectacular — eight points, two rebounds, two assists and four blocks — but his teammates were happy to have him back out there.
“He just makes our team so much more complete. Our length defensively. Our ability to really get up in people’s faces because we know we got him at the rim or our ability to switch a lot of things because he can literally guard 1-through-5,” LeBron James said. “Offensively, it just attracts another set of eyes off myself, off [Russell Westbrook], off [Carmelo Anthony], off [Malik Monk]. Off everybody because he’s such a dynamic player.”
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Davis had not played since Dec. 17, when he suffered a knee injury against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the third quarter of that game, LeBron bumped Jaden McDaniels to try and create space, and sent him tumbling to the ground, where he crashed into Davis’ leg. Davis, who collapsed as he tried to walk to the locker room, was later diagnosed with a sprained MCL and missed the last 17 games.
During his absence, the Lakers went 7-10 and were constantly beset by drama that included the near firing of head coach Frank Vogel. The palace intrigue is unlikely to change anytime soon, but Davis should help improve the Lakers’ play on the court. Even in 25 minutes against the Nets — the Lakers are keeping him on a bit of a minutes restriction for now — he made a difference.
“I felt great,” Davis said. “First four minutes my wind was fine, then the adrenaline goes away and your chest starts hurting a little bit. For that next three [minutes] I was a little winded. But after that I was fine. Trying to fly around, got some good looks that didn’t go through, but tried to do it on the defensive end to help my team. Physically I felt fine, the knee felt fine.”
The Lakers will continue their six-game road trip on Thursday with a showdown against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, which should provide a real test — not just for Davis but the entire team. These are the type of games the Lakers have not been winning this season — 9-15 against teams .500 and above — but will need to do so in the second half to climb up the standings.
They currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference at 24-24, but are only three games behind the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks. While they’ve dug too big of a hole to catch the teams at the top of the West, there’s still plenty of time for them to avoid the play-in tournament, especially now that Davis is healthy.