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Los Angeles Lakers Are In Big Trouble Without Anthony Davis

Los Angeles Lakers Are In Big Trouble Without Anthony Davis

Lakers 8-time All-Star Anthony Davis went down with an injury Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves after teammate LeBron James accidentally pushed Jaden McDaniels into his left knee. AD revealed to reporters that after the initial contact, he thought he was going to be sidelined for an extended period of time:

“I just reached a point where it was tough to walk,” Davis said per ESPN. “I had to take a break. ... I did hear something pop -- and the first thing I thought of was [a major injury]. Which, I was emotional, I was just like everywhere. But like I said, thank God that it wasn’t that.”

Luckily, AD didn’t need surgery. He underwent an MRI that showed a sprain but no structural damage. Davis will miss a minimum of four weeks before he’s reassessed, leaving the Lakers without their second-best player for a sizable chunk of the season.

Are the Lakers in danger of tumbling down the Western Conference standings and out of one of the coveted top-6 seeds without their superstar big man?

According to recent reports, Lakers management is considering an Anthony Davis trade, implying he’s no longer a key ingredient in the Purple and Gold’s championship recipe.

Seriously?

This is a jaw-dropping hot take.

Who are the Lakers going to trade AD for?

The Pacers’ Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, Justin Holiday, and T. J. McConnell?

Or maybe the 76ers’ Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and Matisse Thybulle?

The Lakers will never find equal value for AD because no other organization in the league would be willing to part with a superstar who makes the same type of impact as “The Brow.” It makes no sense for the Lakers to trade Anthony Davis, a bona fide top-10 player who has a chip in his pocket, for an assortment of high-end role players (yes, with the time Ben Simmons has missed this year, we can’t consider him an All-Star for now).

That’s like trading in your Lamborghini for three Audi A6’s and expecting to win a street race.

Superstars win titles.

People forget last year the Lakers were up 2 games to 1 over the Suns in the first round of the Western Conference before AD went down with an injury. The Lakers were physically dominating the eventual conference champion Suns too, and that was with an array of roster problems:

1. LeBron James was playing somewhere around 80% after missing most of the second half of the 2020-2021 season with a high ankle sprain.

2. Starting point guard Dennis Schroder was struggling to work his way through the aftermath of the coronavirus. He averaged 14.3 PPG, 2.8 APG, and 3.0 RPG during the postseason, a far cry from his regular-season numbers.

3. Montrezl Harrell was a borderline locker room cancer after seeing his minutes diminish towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.

4. Andre Drummond, who was acquired after the All-Star break, had difficulty assimilating with his new teammates on the Purple and Gold.

The devil's advocates out there will fire back: If the combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is really so potent, why have the Lakers hovered around .500 through the first two months of 2021-2022?

That’s a valid question.

Indeed, the Purple and Gold haven’t looked like a contender, but they’ve had more issues than nearly any other team in the league (we see you, Denver).

LeBron James, the best playmaker in the NBA, has missed double-digit games this year.

The Lakers have had numerous injuries to key reserves. The Purple and Gold have played 317 unique five-man lineups through the first third of the season. Compare that to the top team out West, the Phoenix Suns, which has brought out only 145 different five-man units, and the best squad in the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets, which has shown 255 various five-man groups. It’s easy to see LBJ and AD have had little chance to find continuity with the many new faces GM Rob Pelinka brought in over the summer.

Perhaps most importantly, most teams in the league, especially small market squads, circle the Lakers on their calendar. The Purple and Gold made the splashiest move over the summer, trading for Russell Westbrook. They also have the most famous athlete in the world, LeBron James, and the Lakers are the most-watched team globally. Teams go 110% against the Purple and Gold.

Last Friday night in Minnesota (the same night AD suffered an injury), Karl-Anthony Towns went about as hard as you’ll ever see a player go during the regular season. He pumped his fists, shouted to the crowd, and eyeballed every Lakers player. You could almost see the wheels turning inside LBJ and AD’s heads, saying, “Dude, relax. This is a regular-season game in the middle of December. You don’t need to push this hard.”

Good for Towns. He helped his squad pick up the victory. Still, that was a prime example of what the Lakers deal with nightly. Every player wants to perform well in front of the Purple and Gold’s giant, star-laden fanbase.

Here’s the point: The combination of LBJ and AD isn’t nearly as bad as people are making them out to be. They’ve had the cards stacked against them this season. The Lakers will genuinely miss Anthony Davis. He’s an essential member of one of the best, if not the best, twosome in the NBA.

The Lakers have already gone 0-3 since AD went down (including the game he suffered an MCL sprain against the Timberwolves where he played only 20 minutes).

Here’s a breakdown of those three games:

Lakers at Timberwolves: Minnesota won 110 to 92 as Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns scored 28 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Minnesota as a whole scratched out 48 points in the paint and scored 23 second-chance points.

Lakers at Bulls: Chicago won 115 to 110 as Bulls center Nikola Vucevic notched 19 points and 13 rebounds. Chicago scored 42 in the paint and had 16 second-chance points.

Suns at Lakers: Phoenix won 108-90 as Deandre Ayton scored 19 points (on 9-11 from the field) to go with 11 rebounds. LA limited the Suns to only seven second-chance points but allowed Ayton and company to drop 52 in the paint.

It’s easy to see the Lakers have gotten shoved around on the inside since AD was sidelined. The Purple and Gold don’t have another center capable of handling the middle for an extended run.

DeAndre Jordan saw his minutes fall off a cliff in early December, notching multiple DNPs. Now, with Davis out, he’s been called back into action. Jordan’s numbers are ugly. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers are 10.3 points per 100 possessions worse with the Texas A&M standout on the court. Jordan is allowing his assignments to shoot 2.2% higher than their normal average. His rim protection (the one area he should excel in) has been subpar; the opposition is connecting on 61.0% of their attempts against DeAndre within five feet of the rim.

Somewhere over the last three years, DeAndre Jordan lost his athleticism. Now, he’s too slow to help on the perimeter and break up pick-and-roll actions.

The Lakers coaching staff has turned more and more to LeBron James to fill in at the 5, a task he can occasionally manage against opposing small-ball lineups. Still, even the King is too small to guard Deandre Ayton, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, and the other hulking centers who inhabit the NBA.

The Lakers are missing nearly half their regular rotation due to coronavirus protocols and injuries. As players like Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, and Kendrick Nunn filter back in, things will improve slightly for the Purple and Gold.

Either way, the Lakers are genuinely in jeopardy of digging a deep hole without their All-Star big man, AD.

Here’s the Lakers' upcoming schedule:

Dec 23: VS San Antonio

Dec 25: VS Brooklyn

Dec 28: @ Houston

Dec 29: @ Memphis

Dec 31: VS Portland

Jan 2: VS Minnesota

Jan 4: VS Sacramento

Jan 7: VS Atlanta

Jan 9: VS Memphis

Jan 12: @ Sacramento

Jan 15: @ Denver

Some squads the Lakers are set to play over the next few weeks have also been hit by the coronavirus (Brooklyn) or by injuries. Nevertheless, San Antonio is performing much better of late, and Brooklyn will be a tough out no matter what. Throughout December, Memphis, Minnesota, and Denver have played solid basketball, picking up wins against solid competition.

It’s going to be very difficult for the under-manned Lakers to get enough stops and rebounds against their upcoming slate of opponents to pull off any type of meaningful win streak.

So, yes, the Lakers (16-16, 7th in the West) are in trouble of losing ground to the Clippers, Mavericks, and Timberwolves for a top-6 playoff spot without AD’s mobility and rim protection.

Don’t be surprised if the Lakers head into the second half of the season under .500, backs up against the wall, fighting to avoid the play-in, and a tough first-round matchup against the Suns, Warriors, or Jazz.

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