For as much as it may have felt like good news that Anthony Davis wasn’t lost for the season when he was diagnosed with a sprained MCL over the weekend, it does still mean the team will be without one of its centerpieces for at least a month.
On the season, Davis has played 70% of his minutes at center — far, far and away the highest percentage of his career — which has changed how the Lakers have been able to play on both ends of the court.
Naturally, then, there is no one player that the team can expect to step in and replicate or replace his production, though a veteran team that has embraced a “next man up” mentality could be most prepared to handle the situation.
“It takes a team,” Davis said. “No one guy can guard everybody... Everyone is going to be on the same page. And I think we’ve got a lot of guys who can do that. A lot of leadership who can put us in the right position on the floor, and on the bench from the coaching side to make sure we’re successful. So even when we’re out guys or out coaches, we’re still in constant communication about game plans and what we can do to win basketball games.
“It just takes everyone to be able to continue to play the high-level defense that we want to play, and be the defensive team that we want to be, and we’re just waiting on guys to get back healthy. Whether it’s injuries or the protocols or whatever, we’ve just got to be able to stay the course.”
One of the ways the team can survive without Davis is the return of Trevor Ariza. Long seen as one of the keys to unlocking the best version of this team, Ariza can, at the very least, eat up the forward minutes that were designated to Davis each game. His versatility, particularly defensively, can also help the Lakers play with space and shooting offensively.
“I think with this group, we’re an older group,” Ariza said. “So we understand when someone goes down, someone else has to step up. This group has a lot of older players, so the idea that one person is gonna like clean up the slack of what (AD) brings to our team is impossible. So we have to do it by committee. And that’s what the plan is to do.”
In the team’s first game without Davis in Chicago, Ariza helped show a glimpse of how they could find success sans their generational big man. As the Lakers continue to embrace LeBron James at center lineups, Ariza provided a new dynamic. While they only played together for five minutes, he, James and Carmelo Anthony had a net rating of +26.3 against the Bulls.
“Obviously we’re doing things on the fly,” said Russell Westbrook. “Trying to figure out how to play with the lineups we have and the people we have available. New guys are stepping in that haven’t been here, so we have to do what we can. And that’s it. Just go out and play hard and let the rest take care of itself.”
Davis’ injury is the latest setback and challenge the team has had to deal with this season. The Lakers still have not been whole this year, and Davis’ injury pushes up against the trade deadline in February, meaning this iteration of the roster may never get a chance to play together.
But the nature of NBA this season with COVID wreaking havoc on rosters means that many teams have had similar circumstances to the Lakers. Pair that with a veteran locker room, and the Lakers are focused on rolling with the punches for now.
“These are things that are part of the game that we can’t control,” said Carmelo Anthony. “COVID, we can’t control that. Injuries, we can’t control that and whoever puts that uniform on, it’s next man up... Some things are just out of our control.
“It’s going around the league. It’s going around other leagues. This is reality. This is life. This is stuff that we have to deal with, not just as basketball players but as people and as society, these are things that we’re dealing with right now.”
Having Davis out of the lineup moving forward will be suboptimal, to say the least. But the Lakers are a team that has dealt with fluctuating lineups all season, and one that is filled with players capable of stepping up to fill the void. While replacing Davis’ production is impossible, the Lakers could still find ways to be successful in the coming month without him.