When Anthony Davis sat out against the Houston Rockets on the second night of the Los Angeles Lakers’ most recent back-to-back last week, he (and the team) received quite a bit of criticism locally, and even nationally. Few cared that head coach Darvin Ham described Davis’ foot as “an active injury” that the team is still treating, or about reports that the team had always planned to continue sitting Davis on the second night of back-to-backs regardless of how many minutes he played on night one. The team lost a game they needed to win against a very beatable team, and fans were (justifiably) upset about it and looking for someone to blame.
However, it also appears that aforementioned plan from the team’s medical staff may not be set in stone. TNT and Bleacher Report NBA insider Chris Haynes reported on the latest episode of his “#thisleague UNCUT” podcast with Marc Stein that Davis was only going to be allowed to play in both games of one of the Lakers’ final two back-to-backs. He chose the second one down the stretch of the season rather than last week’s (emphasis mine):
“I know (Davis) received some flack for (sitting out vs. Houston), just with the stakes that the Lakers are in, again, needing each game they can get in the latter stages of this regular season. But the way it was explained to me, Stein, is... just about how powerful the medical staffs of today’s NBA, how powerful they are today. I know a lot of players get criticized for load management, sitting out games and doing all that stuff, but the medical staff has a large part to play in that.
“So the way it was explained to me was that AD had to pick which back-to-back to play in: The back-to-back last week, and then their last back-to-back is... April 4 in Utah, and then April 5 Clippers. How it was explained to me is that AD will play in that back-to-back, so that would be his first back-to-back since returning from injury... That will be his first back-to-back playing in. Again, hopefully he doesn’t suffer an injury before that, but if he’s healthy, he will play in that back-to-back. Which they need that set of games at that part of the season more than their last set of back-to-backs.”
Now, from a standings perspective both now and when the choice was made, it’s hard to argue against which games Davis picked. As of publishing time of this article, the New Orleans Pelicans (34-37) have been in a free fall, losing nine of their last 13 games to fall to 12th place in the Conference, and — thanks to the Lakers beating them last week and that legendary Matt Ryan buzzer-beater — the Lakers already own the tiebreaker against them. The Rockets (18-53) have the worst record in the West and second-worst in the league, and will not be challenging the Lakers for a play-in spot. The Lakers essentially knocked the Pelicans out of any chance to pass them barring a massive collapse, and then hoped they could get past one of the least serious teams in the league the second night (they went 1-2 on that bet).
The Utah Jazz and LA Clippers, however, are competing with the purple and gold for seeding. The Jazz (34-36) are in 11th place in the West, just behind the Lakers (35-37) right now. The Clippers (38-34) are three games ahead of the Lakers, but are also a game where the team will theoretically need him more to have a chance than they did against the Rockets (yes, the team ultimately lost to Houston, but if you were picking games one would have a chance without him in, the Rockets looked like the better bet before playing them). If the Lakers can win both of those, they’ll be in really good shape to at least make the play-in.
But just because Davis probably made the right decision — at least according to this report — doesn’t mean that all questioning of the choice will be over. After all, I’m not a doctor, but it seems awfully arbitrary to me, from a medical perspective, to say he can play in one back-to-back without risking injury, but not two (but again, I am not a doctor. So doctors, sound off in the comments if this is wrong).
There is also the reality that the Lakers didn’t beat Houston without him, after all, and that with just 10 games left in the season as of today, they need all the wins they can get, regardless of who they’re against. They may have been better off securing an easy one vs. Houston than trying to upset the Clippers given how far ahead the latter are in the standings, with hindsight being 20-20.
Still, this is ultimately good news for anyone rooting for the Lakers. Barring any new injuries, it seems like the team will have their best currently available player and the only guy holding their defense together available for all of their remaining games. And with a play-in spot to hold onto and an outside chance of gunning for a playoff spot outright, they’ll need all the help they can get.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.