LOS ANGELES - On the first play of the game Tuesday against the Raptors, the Lakers went straight to Anthony Davis. He struggled with a double team momentarily but got his feet settled, posted up Pascal Siakim and hit a jump hook to open up the scoring for the Lakers.
He followed that up with another hook shot, a layup and a free throw to score the Lakers first seven points. This was just an appetizer in an offensive buffet Davis served the Raptors. He ended the night with 41 points and scored in every way possible, going 13-14 from the charity stripe, 13-17 from the field and even knocked down a couple of threes for good measure.
With the Lakers fighting to reach .500 and string together wins, Davis has been one of the few Lakers Darvin Ham can depend on to produce. He’s been aggressive, efficient and, most importantly, available during not just this homestand but all season. Ham elaborated on Davis’ current form during his postgame availability.
"Just his efficiency," Ham said. "Just him being a presence in the paint, being a presence at the rim. Drawing fouls, knocking down his free throws, times where he got in the trail, they were off of him a little bit, him setting his feet, knocking them down from deep. The efficiency in which he played tonight was awesome. Just his communication defensively; that's a tough team to guard. They're a tough team to guard…him being our defensive middle linebacker, keeping everybody aware. Alert and aware of what they should be doing. Just his relentless in the paint has been huge for us."
On a night where LeBron James wasn’t aggressive, Davis wasn't just the focal point of the defense; he was the epicenter of everything the Lakers did.
The only offensive lapse from Davis came in the second and third quarters, where he only took three field goal attempts...which Max Christie discussed as part of the guards' responsibility to not allow that to happen.
"As guards, we need to get him the ball," Christie said postgame. "Especially when he's playing as well as he is…We just need to feed him the ball. Plain and simple, as guards, when you see one of your best players rolling like that, we have to get him the ball in areas that he's effective.
“I think we did a good of that and, obviously, AD's really talented and really skilled so that makes it easy on us as well."
For the pro-Davis crowd, these performances are par for the course. He's averaging 25.7 points and 12.2 rebounds on the season, and given his championship ring, In-Season Tournament title, Olympic Gold Medal, and NBA Top 75 selection, what else does the 11-year vet have to prove?
For fans and critics alike, the answer is the same: more.
They want the level of play Davis has shown he can reach on a more consistent basis, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Since December, the answer to Davis' offensive consistency has been a resounding yes. He's averaging 29.1 points on 57% shooting and has had highs of 40 and 37 during the closing weeks of 2023 into 2024.
Defensively, he's Anthony Davis.
His ability to protect the rim, switch and defend on anyone one through five has never been questioned. Like Kobe Bryant — who was arguably the best player in the NBA for years but only has one MVP to show for it — Davis is only considered underappreciated defensively because the league has yet to give him the award despite being this level of defender for years. Maybe this is the year he finally earns it.
Performances like tonight's will undoubtedly make the highlight reel for his Defensive Player of the Year bid. With under a minute to play, Davis took a game that was hanging in the balance and turned the tides in the Laker's favor. He blocked a Scottie Barnes layup attempt, grabbed the defensive rebound and attacked the rim on the other side of the court, drawing a foul Siakim.
He converted eight straight free throws in the final moments and the Lakers needed every point as they won the game by the slimmest of margins, 132-131.
As Davis approached the free throw line to maintain the lead, you heard something very rare, MVP chants inside Crypto.com Arena for a Laker not named LeBron.
More MVP chants for AD while he hits two key free throws late. pic.twitter.com/tsUa2qWsr1— Edwin Garcia (@ECreates88) January 10, 2024
The volume and intensity increased with each made basket and by the end, the crowd was the loudest it's been all night, letting the Lakers know he was the biggest star in a city filled with them.
"It's up there," Ham said regarding if this is Davis' best stretch of games period. "The stretch he had last year, he had like an 8-, 9-, 10-game stretch last year (where he was) unbelievable, 55 points in Washington, 40 in Milwaukee. That stretch was unbelievable. You can tell his body's feeling good, he's in a good space, his energy is great. He's just doing what he needs to do. He's not trying to force anything. That's why it's so efficient.
“He's just playing the game the way it's supposed to be played, getting good hits on screens, guys turning the corner and being aggressive which, in turn, is going to allow him to roll free. His game, he's feeling good about his game. He's constantly working, watching film, giving us suggestions. He's in a really good mental space, spiritual space and, again, physically, he's at a high level right now."
Davis is in uncharted territory for himself with these performances, but it's waters Lakers fans know all too well. Fans have been spoiled with a plethora of all-time bigs with Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pau Gasol and George Mikan.
And now, Anthony Davis is adding his name to that list.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.