After suffering what initially appeared to be an ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday’s game, Anthony Davis underwent an MRI on Thursday that revealed that he actually has a mid-foot sprain. The Lakers announced that he will be reevaluated in four weeks — meaning that he may not even immediately return at that time, approximately March 17.
The small bit of good fortune with the injury is that it came just before the All-Star break, shortening the number of games Davis would otherwise miss, but this is still a brutal blow that will cost him at least 11 of the team’s final 24 games.
The average time lost for nondescript midfoot sprains resulting in time lost is 12 games (~28 days) but the Lakers are already saying he will be miss four weeks before being reevaluated. I wouldn't be surprised if this stretches out longer.— Jeff Stotts (@InStreetClothes) February 18, 2022
So if it felt like morale was low in the immediate aftermath of this one, it’s because this felt particularly painful, figuratively and literally. As Davis rolled around on the ground in clear agony on Wednesday, the Lakers’ season seemingly hung in the balance.
When he was last injured this season, there was some form of optimism because Davis would be back with plenty of time to spare and for the Lakers to still build some momentum going into the playoffs. This time, that optimism is sapped.
For the second season in a row, Davis and the Lakers will be up against the clock to get him back, healthy and fit for the postseason, whatever form that may be for the Lakers this year. Unlike last season, though, the Lakers have hardly ever shown the ability to consistently compete at a high level. On Wednesday, they did come back to beat the Jazz, but they’ve yet to either beat a legitimate contender or string together a run of solid performances this season.
Perhaps most damning for this Lakers team though — and again different from last season — is there is no legitimate backup option for the Lakers at center. Last season, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and eventually Andre Drummond all could help bare the load at the center position. This season, DeAndre Jordan has proven wholly useless, while Dwight Howard has only looked like his 2019-20 self in short bursts.
During Davis’ last injury — a sprained MCL suffered in another freak manner after a player fell into him — the Lakers turned to a small-ball, center-less style around LeBron James at the 5. After initial success this season, though, the lineups with James as the only “big” on the floor have a net rating of +1.9 in 626 minutes. It’s a figure that has trended downward since its hot start, partly as teams begin to figure out how to defend (and score against) it, and partly because the Lakers have played better teams in recent weeks.
On that note, the schedule won’t get any easier for the Lakers as, according to Positive Residual, they have the joint hardest strength of schedule remaining this season, tying with the Chicago Bulls. It will get even harder without their second star and only consistently playable center.
It’s all set up for a daunting final stretch of the season. If Russell Westbrook was at his best or something close to it, there may be more optimism, but his struggles have been well-documented. Perhaps Wednesday, where he helped the Lakers come back in the fourth quarter, is a spark for his season moving forward but, again, this Lakers season has been full of stops and starts both individually and as a team. It’s hard to believe anything is about to drastically change for the better on that front.
The unfortunate reality is this injury is a bad one and — even if there are no good times for injuries — comes at a particularly bad time for the Lakers. It’s impossible to count any team with LeBron James out, but this one will certainly take his and the Lakers resolve to the absolute max... and maybe past it.