Anthony Davis has been cleared to play basketball again, but the Lakers team he’s walking back in to is very different than the one he left with Achilles and calf injuries a few months ago.
When Davis got hurt, the Lakers were 21-7, with a real chance to catch the Utah Jazz for the best record in the Western Conference. That opportunity is gone now, as Davis returns to a Lakers team that is 35-24, in fifth place in the west but just 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Dallas Mavericks (32-26), who a loss to on Saturday would put them within 1.5 games of. The Portland Trail Blazers (32-27) are just three games back in seventh place.
The remaining schedule is mostly in the Lakers’ favor as they try to avoid slipping down to seventh place and a spot in the play-in tournament that will precede the postseason, but it is still possible they drop and end up in a potential double-elimination scenario with their postseason lives on the line. And for as much as the players on the team themselves have mostly said they aren’t worried about dropping that far, or even claimed to be ignorant of what the play-in tournament is even called, Davis said the quiet part out loud after his first game back: The Lakers really would like to avoid the play-in, if at all possible.
“We know at the end of the day when everyone is healthy we’re a tough team to beat. And no matter where we fall in the playoffs, we’re going to come out and I think we’ll be a challenge for anybody. That’s how I look at it big picture,” Davis said, adding that even with that context in mind, it was still “tough” to sit out the second half of a semi-important game against Dallas.
“We still want to make sure that we control our own destiny and be able to make the playoffs 1-6, and not fall to that 7-10 range.”
The good news is that as the Lakers look to avoid any tumble down the standings, Davis says he’s feeling great as he shakes the rust off.
“I didn’t think about (my injuries) one time tonight. Honestly I just went out there and played,” Davis said. “I tried to not think about it, just go out there and have fun and be excited to be back on the floor. That was my main thing. I was just excited to be back on the floor with the guys. I never thought about it, never did a limit to any moves and didn’t hesitate with anything.”
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I mean, I was upset about missing shots that I normally make. That was probably the most frustrating part,” Davis continued. “That was the reassuring part with those guys though, was knowing that they want me to shoot the ball and score the ball, so it’s good when you have teammates like that.”
And as long as the shots Davis’ teammates are encouraging him to shoot start to drop a bit more frequently than they did in his first game back, the purple and gold should be in fairly good shape as they seek to avoid a play-in scenario.