Over the course of his eight-year career, Anthony Davis has made the NBA playoffs just two times: once in 2015 and again in 2018. In both instances, the New Orleans Pelicans were the lower seed. In fact, prior to this season, Davis had never finished higher than sixth in the Western Conference.
This season, Davis has helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers climb back to the top of the Western Conference for the first time in a decade and the expectations for both him and the team are as high as they’ve ever been. Davis knows that this year will be different than any other time he’s been in the playoffs, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I think in New Orleans, most of the time we were underdogs,” Davis said after practice on Sunday. “Here, we’re the favorites, so I think that target is a lot bigger. When you’re the underdog, you get wins and win games you’re not supposed to. You don’t necessarily have a target on your back. But when you’re the favorite, the pressure is more on you to win games.
“I’m fine with it. It’s no problem for me. It makes a little bit more exciting, more fun to go out and try to compete under all of the pressure people talk about for our team. I’m just trying to go out there and prove them wrong.”
Since the Lakers’ season restarted on July 30, Davis has averaged 21.6 points per game on 42.2% shooting from the field, in addition to 8.6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. During that stretch, he had a 42-point outburst against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz and a 34-point performance against the LA Clippers.
However, he also had games where he went missing, like his game against the Indiana Pacers where he scored 8 points in 35:28 and posted a team-worst plus-minus of -20. Davis had two games where he scored less than 10 points and three games where he shot under 30% from the field.
Despite his up-and-down performances, Frank Vogel was satisfied with he saw from Davis in the Lakers’ seeding game, and thinks Davis and the team started finding their rhythm towards the end of their schedule.
“Anthony played well,” Vogel said. “He gained the respect of the opponents that we were facing and get a lot of double teams and we got better throughout the bubble at attacking those double teams and making teams pay.”
Davis fully expects to see more double teams once the playoffs start on Tuesday, and he’s comfortable being in those situations so long as he and his teammates are doing what they’re supposed to be doing: making the right plays, making plays for themselves and, most importantly, hitting open shots.
“That’s the biggest thing for us,” Davis said. “We didn’t shoot the ball extremely well in the seeding games, but if we find our rhythm offensively and we’re making shots, then the double team has to stop. Obviously it’s playoff time so guys are going get in sync, lock in and make adjustments and we’re going to make adjustments as well. It’s more about me being more aggressive now in the playoffs to complete our goal.”
“It’s more about the people around him than what he’s doing,” Vogel added. “He’s doing the right thing, he’s taking care of the basketball, delivering the ball to the open man, but our spacing needed to improve and it has over the past week or so and in these last few practices.”
The Lakers will make their first playoff appearance since the 2012-13 season on Tuesday. It’s been a long and windy road for them to get to this point, and for a moment there was no guarantee that they would. Now that a championship is within their reach, they plan on flooring it all the way to the finish line.
“That’s the reason why we came here: to finish what we started back in October,” Davis. said. “And now we have the opportunity to do so, especially now starting with the playoffs. It’s something that gives us a chance to get going and continue to our goal, and that’s to win a championship.”