Anthony Davis’ injury looms as Lakers’ biggest issue after bizarre loss to Warriors


LOS ANGELES — Several minutes into the second quarter, the last seat on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench remained empty.

Anthony Davis, who sits in that spot when he’s not on the court, was nowhere to be found.

The Lakers’ All-Star big man typically re-enters the game with around seven minutes left in the second quarter after playing the entire first quarter. But as more time passed, his return became less and less likely.

Davis was instead back in the locker room, having suffered an inadvertent blow to the eye from Golden State Warriors rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis at the 2:47 mark of the first quarter.  After playing with his eye swollen shut the rest of the quarter, Davis left the bench to have his eye evaluated.

The seven-minute mark passed. Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, left his courtside seat to check on his superstar client. Shortly after, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka also left his perch behind the Lakers’ bench to check on Davis. Later in the frame, a member of the Lakers’ strength and performance team came out, briefly updating the coaching staff and players about what was going on. Once Lakers rookie Maxwell Lewis, who was sitting in the second row and typically does not play in regular-season games, moved up to Davis’ seat, it was a clear indication Davis’ night was almost certainly over.

By halftime, there was no official update on Davis. He was still being evaluated by team doctors, head coach Darvin Ham would later share. The second half opened with Jaxson Hayes, the Lakers’ only remaining healthy center, starting in Davis’ place. Finally, a few minutes into the third quarter, Davis was officially ruled out with an eye contusion. Davis, who sustained a swollen left eye and blurred vision, left the arena without speaking to reporters.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Davis and the Lakers, who fell to the Warriors 128-121 on Saturday night at Crypto.com Arena. The game was essentially a must-win for both teams in the crowded Western Conference postseason picture. With the loss, the Lakers (36-32) fell behind the ninth-place Warriors (35-31) by percentage points in the standings, and are now in danger of finishing with the No. 10 seed barring victories in most of their remaining 14 games.

“It shifts everything,” Ham said of Davis’ injury. “When you lose one of your main pieces, it’s gonna change your rotation, it’s gonna change the groups and the lineups that you’re accustomed to having out there. It eliminates size. They’re a smaller team at the rim, so it takes another seven-footer out of the game for us. It’s tough.”

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Davis will be re-evaluated by the medical staff ahead of Monday’s game versus the Atlanta Hawks. He has been the Lakers’ best and most reliable player this season — Saturday marked Davis’ 64th appearance in the 68 games the Lakers have played (and 65th out of 69 when including the In-Season Tournament championship game agains the Indiana Pacers).

The Lakers rely on Davis against the Warriors, who have an undersized front line. Los Angeles’ defensive approach against Golden State involves funneling the Warriors’ shooters toward Davis in the paint. The strategy, which helped the Lakers defeat Golden State in the second round of last season’s NBA Playoffs, is based on Davis’ unique physical gifts, instincts and intelligence. With Davis on the floor, the Lakers outscored the Warriors by six points in 12 minutes Saturday. Without him, they were outscored by 13 points in 36 minutes.

“When you’ve been preparing for a couple of days with our prep and you lose a key component to your team in one quarter, we tried to pick it up, but, obviously, there’s some things we can’t do without AD,” LeBron James said. “It just hurts the balance of our team. … So it’s just tough when you have a big component to the puzzle and then you don’t have it.”

James tried his best to pick up the slack offensively, rebounding from one of his worst offense performances of the season against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday with one of his best: 40 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. He led the Lakers’ fourth-quarter rally to get back to within four points momentarily.

But their comeback was undermined by a bizarre and absurd sequence to close out the game.

The final 1:50 of gameplay took more than 22 minutes of real time, with back-to-back Lakers challenges, an official review wiped away a James’ corner 3-pointer because he stepped out of bounds and then four consecutive shot-clock malfunctions. The stoppages dragged out a game that had become compelling in crunch time.

Eventually, fans started booing as they grew impatient. After the fourth attempt, Lakers public address announcer Lawrence Tanter announced he would count down the shot clock over the arena speakers so play could continue.

“I’ve never seen that be called before like that, in that particular time,” said James of his 3-pointer being rescinded. “That was kind of weird. … It took some momentum away from us.”

Ham and multiple Lakers pointed out the Warriors getting a 28-second offensive possession early in the fourth quarter due to the shot clock randomly resetting at the 10-second mark. Golden State scored on the possession, extending its lead back to eight points.

“The shot clock malfunctioned during live play at that time and that is not a reviewable matter,” crew chief referee David Guthrie said to a pool reporter. He added that it was the responsibility of the officiating crew to notice the malfunction in the moment, and they clearly failed to do so.

As for James’ 3-pointer-turned-turnover, Guthrie said it was reviewable and the right call.

“James’ left foot is out of bounds as he begins to shoot,” Guthrie said. “Yes, it is reviewable at that time. The rule is Rule 13, Section II(f)(3): Whether the shooter committed a boundary line violation, the replay center official will only look at the position of the player’s feet at the moment they touch the floor immediately prior to the release of the shot. This can be applied during other replay triggers as well.”

Of course, while the reviews and shot clock malfunctions may have decreased the Lakers’ odds of making their comeback and sapped their rhythm, they weren’t the reason they lost. They lost because they lost Davis.

Hayes filled in admirably, finishing with seven points and a season-high 12 rebounds in 28 minutes. But he wasn’t able to impact the game defensively, and the Warriors generated too many easy looks at the rim and beyond the arc. The Lakers had ranked 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions over their previous 15 games. Without Davis — and with Jarred Vanderbilt, Gabe Vincent, Christian Wood and Cam Reddish all also out — they simply didn’t have enough collective size and defense.

“We’re not accustomed to playing without (Davis),” said D’Angelo Russell, who had 23 points and 13 assists. “He’s played almost every game this year, right? So that’s something that is unfamiliar for us. But it’s no excuse.”

The Lakers’ situation isn’t dire yet, but it’s trending that way, especially if Davis is forced to miss any time. A 10th-place finish would mean having to win twice on the road in Play-In elimination games, then starting the playoffs on the road as the No. 8 seed less than two days later — and with Denver, which has had their number the last two seasons, increasingly looking like the favorite to earn the No. 1 seed. Add in the fact that the Lakers close the season out in Memphis and then New Orleans, and they’d potentially have to play four road games in seven days in four different cities, just to have the right to play a fifth one (Game 1 against the No. 1 seed) two days later.

The Warriors have two more games remaining than the Lakers, which gives LA a slight edge. Though the Lakers have the ninth-easiest remaining schedule, the Warriors have the sixth-easiest, per Tankathon. The two teams also play again on April 9 — the third-to-last game of the season for the Lakers — which will determine the tiebreaker between the two teams. If the Lakers win the game, they will earn the tiebreaker because of their superior division record. If the Warriors win, they’ll get it on account of winning the head-to-head matchup 3-1.

Los Angeles has proven it can win in Golden State — they did so in the 2023 playoffs and earlier this season — but it’s far from ideal with how the Warriors are playing recently. At this point, the Lakers appear unlikely to move up higher than No. 8, and even that might be a stretch considering they’re three back of Dallas in the loss column and four back of Sacramento and Phoenix. They seem destined for the No. 9-10 game and face steep odds of making the playoffs.

“It’s going to take everything to scrape out some wins,” Russell said. “At this time of the year, they all matter.”

(Top photo: Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)





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