WITH SIX DAYS remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers were just hours from hosting the Golden State Warriors in a game with major postseason implications between two teams trying to avoid the play-in tournament. And Anthony Davis was an absolute wreck.

An inadvertent blow to the face from Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson two days earlier had forced Davis to miss the final three quarters of an equally important game against the fellow West contender. Without Davis on the court, Minnesota outscored L.A. 46-27 in the second quarter and finished with a 127-117 win at Crypto.com Arena.

Davis arrived at the April 9 showdown against the Warriors with the intention to play, but the headaches and nausea he had been battling since the Wolves game overcame him. While Lakers coach Darvin Ham led his players in an on-court walk-through, Davis found a couch in the back to lay down, only getting up when waves of nausea sent him rushing to the trash can.

The Lakers’ star big man had no choice but to go home before the 7 p.m. local tipoff, a decision, as far as the 31-year-old Davis recalled, was a first for his 12-year career.

The Warriors ran roughshod on the Lakers’ shorthanded defense, shooting 58.8% overall and an even sharper 63.4% from 3 (26-for-41). It was the best shooting percentage beyond the arc by any team in league history to make that many 3s in a game.

“Pretty much impossible to make up for what he provides for our ball club both offensively and defensively,” LeBron James said of Davis after the 134-120 loss briefly sent the Lakers into the West’s No. 9 seed.

As offensive numbers exploded throughout the league this season, the Lakers followed the trend, averaging 115.4 points per 100 possessions — up from 113.9 a season ago. But they languished on the other end, finishing 17th in defensive efficiency and regressing from last season’s fifth-ranked postseason defense that helped spark a conference finals run.

2 Related

Despite the dip as a team, Davis’ individual defense has been elite. Without it, the Lakers rely on the 39-year-old James in his 21st season and offensive-minded starters in guards D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves and forward Rui Hachimura.

But with Davis’ defense — even as the No. 7 seed Lakers face a 1-0 deficit against two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the No. 2 seed Denver Nuggets heading into Monday’s Game 2 of their first-round series — the Lakers feel they have a chance against anyone in this year’s bracket.

“He’s one of a kind on that side of the ball,” Lakers forward Cam Reddish told ESPN of Davis’ defensive impact.

“I don’t even think it’s describable. Without him, we’re a completely different team.”

AS JAMES WATCHED from the bench in street clothes due to a troublesome left ankle, L.A.’s deficit ballooned to 19 points with 8:25 remaining against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 26.

The Lakers were in danger of opening a key six-game road trip with an ugly loss, but Davis and the Lakers turned up their defense; L.A. held Milwaukee to just 13 points on 6-for-21 shooting in the fourth quarter to fuel the comeback. At the end of regulation, Davis defended a lob to Giannis Antetokounmpo at the bucket that could have won the game.

Davis’ clutch stop forced overtime, successfully thwarting the Bucks’ All-NBA big man who won Defensive Player of the Year over Davis in 2020 — one of Antetokounmpo’s three top-four finishes for the Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy.

At the end of the overtime, it was Davis making another key defensive stop, this time against Damian Lillard. The Bucks guard beat Spencer Dinwiddie off the dribble and had a path to the basket going left. Davis was guarding Antetokounmpo and stayed connected to the two-time MVP long enough to cut off any passing angle from Lillard, then sprung up to swat away a finger roll attempt as time expired.


AD blocks Dame’s game-winning layup attempt forcing 2OT

Anthony Davis elevates to block Damian Lillard’s shot, sending Lakers-Bucks in double overtime.

“Just reading the game,” Davis said of the two sequences after L.A. secured the 128-124 win in double-overtime thanks in large part to his 23 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals. “Defensive instincts.”

Davis’ instincts also tell him that his value was overlooked when he was not selected as one of the three nominees for Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’ll never get it,” Davis told ESPN when asked about the award. “They’re not giving it to me. The league doesn’t like me. I’m the best defensive player in the league. I can switch 1 through 5. I can guard the pick-and-roll the best in the league, from a big standpoint. I block shots. I rebound.

“I don’t know what else to do. I’m over it. I’m just going to do what I got to do to help the team win and try to play for a championship. Accolades and individual awards, I’m done with those.”

FridayBucks at Pacers, 5:30 p.m. (Game 3) Clippers at Mavericks, 8:00 p.m. (Game 3) Timberwolves at Suns, 10:30 p.m. (Game 3)

SaturdayNuggets at Lakers, 7:30 p.m. (Game 3 on ABC)

All times Eastern

While Davis will miss out on the award once more, the data — via Second Spectrum tracking — reveals what his presence on the court truly means to this Lakers postseason run.

Help defense: The Lakers allowed 1.01 points per direct play when getting blown by on a drive and Davis was on the court, first in the NBA. That number shrunk to 0.96 points per direct play when the Lakers got blown by on a drive and Davis was the help defender.

Post defense: Davis held opponents to 0.63 points per direct play on post-ups, the best in the NBA among players to defend 50 or more post-ups.

Isolation defense: Davis held opponents to 0.83 points per direct play when defending isolations and post-ups. That ranked in the top five among players to defend at least 200 of those actions.

Rim protection: Opponents shot 60% on layups and dunks against the Lakers this season when Davis was on the floor, which ranked in the top 10 in the league. When he sat or was sidelined, that figure jumped to 65%, which ranked 29th in the NBA, ahead of only the last-place Portland Trail Blazers. Davis’ 2.3 blocks per game ranked fourth in the league.

“I can block shots, I can help from the weak side, I can switch onto anybody, I can guard the pick-and-roll, I can guard the guard and get back on the big and break up the lob, I can guard the post, I can guard the pindown,” Davis told ESPN. “Whatever it is. Whatever it is defensively, I’m able to do.

“So, that’s my ability. My ability defensively is to do everything.”

He might have to for the Lakers to have a chance against the defending champs.

MIDWAY THROUGH THE fourth quarter of Saturday’s Game 1, with the Lakers down six points and the possession belonging to Denver, Davis was matched up with Jokic.

Sprinting to the corner to receive a crosscourt pass from Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed a 3 off the back iron. But rather than the Lakers grabbing the defensive rebound with a chance to make it a one-possession game at the other end, Jokic used a swim move to get around Davis while Caldwell-Pope’s shot was still in the air, causing the Lakers big man to tumble to the floor. Jokic snatched the rebound and scored to put Denver up eight in the eventual 114-103 win.


Jokic-inspired Nuggets overpower Lakers to take Game 1

Nikola Jokic’s 32 points helps steer the Denver Nuggets to a 114-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

While Jokic had a monster night — 32 points on 15-for-23 shooting, 12 rebounds and 7 assists — that sequence was one of the few times he got the best of Davis.

For the game, Jokic went 3-for-8 with Davis as his primary defender, according to Second Spectrum, while he was 8-for-9 with Hachimura guarding him. Jokic nearly equaled the number of field goals he made in last year’s entire conference finals with Hachimura flanking him, when the Denver big man went 9-for-21 with five turnovers in that matchup across four games.

“We’ll make a proper adjustment going into Game 2,” Davis said. “And if that means I’m on [Jokic] for the whole game, then so be it.”

In a way, Davis has never been more equipped to deliver now. Moments like that failed rebounding battle with Jokic, or missing the Warriors game due to his eye injury, or sitting out the end of the regular season finale against the New Orleans Pelicans have skewed the perception of what was the healthiest season of his career. The 76 games he played (77 including in-season tournament championship) were a career high.

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And while Davis has been on an offensive tear lately with at least 30 points in three of his past four games, his defense will fuel any first-round upset.

“I think it puts a bigger emphasis on defensive players,” Davis told ESPN of the postseason. “If you’re able to guard in this new era of basketball where it’s all offense … If you’re able to stand out defensively, I think it’s more credit to you, because it is an offensive era. And there’s not a lot of guys who are defending.”

Davis might have given up on winning Defensive Player of the Year, but he has higher hopes for what the Lakers have left in store this spring.

“I don’t know the standard to win that award,” Davis said, “but my focus is doing the standard for my team defensively and helping us win a championship.”