Head coach Frank Vogel voiced concern prior to Wednesday night’s game that Anthony Davis may not have the legs still to play four quarters at a high level as he continues to work back from the knee injury that sidelined him for over a month.
While those worries about his conditioning came to reality, Davis was still a dominant difference-maker late for the Lakers. In the fourth quarter alone against Portland, Davis managed 11 points and eight rebounds with three of those offensive boards. When the Lakers’ shooting plummeted to just 35% in the final frame, it was Davis making the effort plays on the glass to keep possessions alive, guiding the Lakers to a 99-94 victory.
“It was all mental tonight,” Vogel said of Davis. “He didn’t have the legs. He had a couple possessions where I didn’t know if he was going to get over half court and a couple of possessions where he was late to rotations. Like we saw down the stretch against Atlanta, I’m worried about him just playing all four quarters and having his legs under him and they’re not there yet.
“Tonight was definitely about mental toughness. In the face of fatigue, finding a way to find that energy, find that focus and make enough plays and make enough shots, quite frankly. When you don’t have legs, to still make tough shots is tough to do. So, hell of a game by Anthony.”
Davis was dominant all night long as he continues to produce statistically as if he never did miss 16 games and was only in his fourth game. His 30-point, 15-rebound performance was just the third time he achieved that stat line this season. That he did it on Wednesday mattered as the Lakers were mired in a three-game losing streak and in desperate need of a win for any sort of hope at a playoff push.
“Just trying to lead the team,” Davis said. “I think we all felt some type of way after that Atlanta loss and just tried to come out with the mindset of ending this (losing) streak – we have a couple at home – play with a force, play with urgency. It’s a hard-fought game. This team is capable of scoring. They shoot the ball, a lot of shooters. We just fought. We just fought hard tonight. It’s a great game for us.”
While any Lakers win is a great result for the team at this point in the season, Wednesday was anything but a great game. Portland shot just 41.7% on shots at the rim on the night, per Cleaning the Glass, which helped counter the Lakers turning the ball over 16 times leading to 24 Blazer points. The hosts managed just one point off 12 turnovers from the visitors, but the Lakers made up for it by holding Portland to 35.7% shooting overall on the day.
But with the Lakers firmly in the play-in race and Portland the one team below them, a win was absolutely imperative. Davis — with some help from Carmelo Anthony’s 24 points off the bench — recognized the moment and played with an effort level he was often criticized for not always exhibiting.
Matched up against the physical Jusuf Nurkic, Davis was challenged all night and answered the bell. Nurkic shot just 7/15 from the field while Davis was a far more efficient 10/18 including going 10/14 at the line — though three of those four misses came in the final frame.
“I’m just trying to get back to my old self,” Davis said. “Playing with a lot of energy, playing to exhaustion and there were just things that happened in the game – end of the third, I was upset with our last shot. We end up giving them the last shot then (Smith Jr.) made the pull-up. But then just trying not to lose the game. We lost three in a row, we had this game won, we had the Atlanta game won…Just playing with energy in the fourth that the team needs me to to be able to win games. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
All he did on the night was be the engine as the Lakers snapped their three-game losing streak and placed some distance between themselves and the worst-case scenario of not even making the play-in game. Thursday will present another big challenge for the Lakers against the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back, but on Wednesday, Davis gave the Lakers everything he had.
And they needed every bit of it.