As far as demoralizing injuries go, Anthony Davis’ sprained ankle on Wednesday was about as big of a gut-punch as there is. It wasn’t just the gruesome nature of the injury that forced even Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell to recoil and walk away after it happened. In that sense, it almost felt like good fortune the injury wasn’t worse.
No, it was what Davis’ injury represented for this team this season that made it feel all the more deflating. For an organization that has had so few things go their way when it comes to injuries this season, Wednesday felt like a final death blow to the doomed campaign.
“Just shaking his head about really everything,” head coach Frank Vogel said of his interaction with Davis at halftime. “Just being frustrated about looking like he’s going to miss some time again.”
That the Lakers somehow rallied in the aftermath of Davis’ injury made their victory over Utah as impressive a win as they've had all season. But after the game, the mood was still relatively somber around Davis’ injury.
“Obviously it was sickening to see AD go down in that fashion,” said LeBron James. “I hope he’s fine. I mean, obviously I know he’s not great, but obviously his health is what’s most important for him individually and for our ball club... I just wish him the best.”
James revealed that Davis was on crutches at halftime when the team saw him. X-rays were negative on his ankle and an MRI is slated for Thursday but the early diagnosis is that Davis will miss at least multiple weeks with the injury.
“Anytime you see a guy on crutches, it’s not a good sign,” James said. “The good thing is he’ll be a lot better when we come back than he is today. No matter where he is, he’ll be better a week from today when we come back... Time heals all, and like I said, it was an unfortunate play.
"He’ll get back obviously as soon as he can, but (it is) nothing to rush.”
Even if it’s been a recurring trend for the Lakers to lose players this season, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, or any less frustrating to go through. James, Davis and Russell Westbrook have played just 20 games together out of a possible 58, with the latter number only set to continue growing as the former remains the same with Davis out again.
“We know it’s been like this for us all year, unfortunately,” Westbrook said. “The most important part is making sure AD is healthy and his spirits are right. Hopefully, it’s not that bad and he’ll be back as soon as he’s ready. But until then, we’ve got to hold it down. Guys have got to be ready to step up and be ready to play. Like tonight, guys did it in the spur of the moment, and it was good for us.”
That the team was able to rally together on Wednesday was as improbable as any win felt this season. After hanging with the Jazz for much of the first half, Davis’ injury gave way to Utah (predictably) seizing control of the game as the Lakers looked shell-shocked and ready for the All-Star break. But a dominant performance in the fourth quarter by James and Westbrook helped the team find some positive energy on a night that previously seemed doomed.
“Yeah, it was very deflating to see AD go down in the way he did,” Vogel said. “And our guys tried to rally the necessary energy to start the second half, but there’s an energy you have to overcome and there’s ‘how are we going to adjust, tactically, coverage-wise.’ ... You have to make adjustments.
“We came out in the second half flat for all those reasons, but credit our guys for really hanging in there and continuing to fight even when we seemed to be deflated a little bit to start the half. I thought Russell (Westbrook) was really good about talking to the guys in the timeouts and saying ‘let’s go, keep fighting,’ and keeping everybody engaged.”
“It just shows the resiliency,” Westbrook added. “You’ve got a group of guys that have all been through so many different things in their careers. And when a talent like AD goes down, it’s difficult to be able to overcome right away, but our group in our locker room stuck with it, stuck together and fought through adversity and found a way to come out with a win.”
The Lakers can ill afford any losing streak as they try to move up in the Western Conference playoff picture, a task made substantially harder with Davis out once again. James and Westbrook have experience playing without him this season that they can rely upon, but the team is still just 10-11 without Davis this season.
It’ll require some herculean efforts over the coming weeks, but the Lakers have no choice. Even with Wednesday’s victory, they are in ninth place, six games away from the sixth-seeded Nuggets and only four games up on the 11th-seeded Pelicans.
“Win games until we get him back. It’s that simple,” Vogel said of the team’s mindset moving forward. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t know, obviously, how long it will be, but we’ve got to win as many games as we can down the stretch and believe in the group that we have. And hopefully we’re able to get whole as quickly as possible, and like we’ve been saying all along, we have a strong belief in this group if we’re able to stay healthy and stay whole. We’ve just got to win as many games as we can during that stretch.”
It’ll be the most important stretch of the season for the Lakers, and it’ll come without Davis, further testing the resolve of the team this season.