No team had the deck stacked more against them to repeat as NBA champions than the Lakers did last season. After a memorable victory inside the bubble in Orlando, the shortened offseason made it a near impossibility for the purple and gold to properly defend their title.
Injuries mounted after not having anything close to a real offseason to recover, with no player getting hit harder than Anthony Davis. After struggling to get back into game shape to start the season, Davis went down with an Achilles injury that took him out of action for more than 30 games.
His return late in the regular season provided optimism for the playoffs, but eventually another injury in the first round against the Phoenix Suns ended his year prematurely, and killed the Lakers hopes of winning another title with it.
One of the main pieces of those title-winning and title-defending rosters was Alex Caruso. In a piece discussing his departure from and time with the team by Bill Oram of The Athletic, Caruso revealed that — like most of us on this Lakers blog — he believes that Davis’ injury was the main reason the team’s playoff run ended abruptly.
“If A.D. is healthy I think we beat Phoenix in the first round,” Caruso said.
Unfortunately, the word “if” will forever be associated with the 2020-21 Lakers, and not just with how it ended. Even as the Lakers were winning games early in the season, it came largely in spite of Davis, who struggled to find the groove that made him spectacular in the playoffs.
Caruso noticed those shortcomings playing alongside Davis on the court to start the year, particularly on the defensive end, where Davis has always made his impact felt:
“We couldn’t get healthy and part of that was the quick turnaround (from the bubble), too,” Caruso said. “Like, I don’t think AD ever really got back to full strength after the Finals run. I don’t even know if Bron did. He did a better job of hiding it.”
Caruso said there were times when Davis would switch onto opposing guards and he would think: “All right, don’t help. It’s Anthony Davis, he’s gonna get a stop.”
Caruso continued, “There are certain guys that are good NBA guards but probably shouldn’t score on Anthony Davis one-on-one that were getting to him, getting to the rim. So it was like, ‘Yeah, something’s not right with him.”
When the Lakers are at their best, it features a versatile, dynamic and deadly version of Davis on the defensive end as an anchor. And with him hobbled and less than 100% last season, the Lakers didn’t look their best.
There’s also no better way to tell that Davis wasn’t 100% than to compare last season’s start to this season. There’s no doubt this year that Davis is healthy and he’s off to an impressive start, including a dominant game against the Spurs on Sunday in a matinee victory.
Unfortunately, while that serves to help the present-day Lakers, it won’t change how the 2020-21 season ended, and that campaign will always remain a big question mark as a result.