LOS ANGELES — The Lakers had control for most of the game agains the New York Knicks. Things were a bit sloppy at times and even chippy, but the Lakers were dominating throughout, and everything seemed to be going their way. Then, with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter, Anthony Davis contested Julius Randle’s shot at the rim and fell directly on his back. The Lakers bench immediately got up to surround their star big man, and not only did Davis stay down, pounding the court after his fall, but he also was holding onto his back.
Things looked bad. Staples Center went dead silent for about a minute. The fans then started to chant “AD” for a few seconds, before seeming to realize it may be more serious than they believe. After a few minutes, Davis was able to get up and walk back to the locker room on his own power, but extremely gingerly:
AD walked on his own to the locker room pic.twitter.com/88l5cJUPRL— Ali B (@ali_behpoornia) January 8, 2020
The crowd for the most part was pretty quiet throughout the rest of the game, with silence instead of the normal celebrations that would follow a blowout win. Even with a win on the horizon, without knowing the status of Davis, the night didn’t feel anything like a victory.
The good news is that the Lakers say that Davis is questionable to play on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks with a gluteus maximus contusion picked up by an MRI, and that he will travel with the team.
But when that seemed less certain on Friday night, Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel was asked what Davis means to this team, and he made it clear how critical his star big man is.
“He’s one of our pillars. He’s our present, he’s our future and he’s one of the best players in the world. He obviously means a lot,” Vogel said.
How much exactly does he mean to this team? The Lakers superstar is leading the team in points per game (27.1), rebounds (9.4), steals (1.5), blocks (2.6), and free throw attempts/percentage (8.3/85.9%).
This season, the Lakers are 1-1 when Davis hasn’t played. If he does miss time, the Lakers’ plan is to continue with the same mindset they’ve had throughout the entire season when a teammate has missed a game: “Next man up.”
When Avery Bradley missed a couple games this season due to a hairline fracture in his right leg, the team set up what they called the “Avery Challenge” which was to beat the leagues top defensive rating in each game without Bradley. Now Avery is ready for not only himself, but his teammates to step up on both ends of the court without Davis.
“It has to be next guy up mentality,” Bradley said. “Like I said, we’re gonna miss AD, but... I think we have guys that are going to be ready. We just have to continue to find other ways of trying to move the ball on the offensive end, because we are going to miss him on both ends.”
Alex Caruso had similar thoughts, noting that it has to be a team effort to replace a player of Davis’ caliber, referencing a certain famous sports movie when talking about this scenario.
”It’s the same thing as when LeBron is out,” Caruso said. “Not one person, it’s like that old ‘Remember the Titans scene’ (where the coach says) ‘you cannot replace a Gerry Bertier.’ You cannot replace AD with one person, you’ve got to do it by committee.
“We’ve just got to try and replicate how hard he plays.”
The player that appears set to have the biggest role in the committed replacing Davis is Kyle Kuzma. Going into the season, Kuzma was viewed by some as the Lakers’ third best player. He’s notably struggled this year, going on both hot and cold streaks. Not only that, but his name has now been swirling in trade rumors.
No lineup changes have been announced by Vogel, but there’s a good chance Kuzma will be the replacement for Davis in the starting lineup. There’s no way to replace Davis, but maybe this role will allow Kuzma to play more freely and possibly open up his game. The lineup of James, Bradley, Danny Green, Kuzma, and JaVale McGee has only played a total of 11 minutes this season, but in that small sample size, that lineup had a net rating of 59.4.
“Coach always talks about next man up, and I just feel like if I get that opportunity, I’ll be fine,” Kuzma said. “I’m not Anthony Davis. So I’m just gonna be myself. Just do me.”
Kuzma has been the Lakers’ third highest scorer this season with 12.0 per game on 10.3 attempts per game. Davis shot a total of 18.7 attempts per game, so it’s safe to say Kuzma, who’s already not shy about taking shots, will have plenty of more attempts with Davis out.
When Davis fell onto the court, the entire mood of the fans at Staples Center completely changed. But in a possibly good sign, Davis wasn’t quite as down. According to LeBron James, Davis seemed to be in great mood in the locker room after the game, and only had one thing he wanted LeBron to do for him.
“He’s great,” LeBron said. “His mood was great, as great as it can be with the fall that he took. I asked him if I can do anything for him, he said ‘you got to win for me.’ So that’s what our team is all about.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Ali on Twitter at @ali_behpoornia.